Russian media have deployed a "significant disinformation campaign" against the West to worsen the impact of the coronavirus, generate panic and sow distrust, according to a European Union document.
Pushing fake news online in English, Spanish, Italian, German and French, the Russian campaign uses contradictory, confusing and malicious reports to make it harder for the EU to communicate its response to the pandemic, said the report seen by Reuters.
The Kremlin denied the allegations on Wednesday, saying they were unfounded and lacked common sense.
"A significant disinformation campaign by Russian state media and pro-Kremlin outlets regarding COVID-19 is ongoing," said the nine-page internal document produced by the European External Action Service, dated March 16. "The overarching aim of Kremlin disinformation is to aggravate the public health crisis in Western countries ... in line with the Kremlin's broader strategy of attempting to subvert European societies."
A specialist EU database has recorded almost 80 cases of disinformation about coronavirus since January 22, it said.
The EU document cited examples from Lithuania to Ukraine. It said that on social media, Russian state-funded Spanish-language RT Spanish was the 12th most popular news source on coronavirus between January and mid-March, based on the amount of news shared on social media.
The EEAS declined to comment directly on the report, but a spokesman said the EU was in contact with Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft to "to discuss the spread of disinformation around the outbreak of COVID-19."
The EU and NATO have accused Russia of covert action, including disinformation, to try to destabilize the West by exploiting divisions in society.
"Pro-Kremlin disinformation messages advance a narrative that coronavirus is a human creation, weaponised by the West," said the report, first cited by the Financial Times.
It quoted fake news created by Russia in Italy, the second-most heavily affected country in the world, that health systems would be unable to cope and doctors would choose who lived or died because of a lack of beds.
The EEAS has also shared information with Slovakia over the spread of fake news accusing the country's prime minister, Peter Pellegrini, of being infected with the virus and saying he may have passed on the infection to others at recent summits.
EU leaders have been conferring by videoconferences since early March.