The general accused "autocratic rivals" of "manipulating the information environment" to exploit COVID-19 / REUTERS

Russia is seeking to destabilise countries around the world by sowing disinformation about coronavirus vaccines that is shared rapidly across social media, the head of the armed forces has warned.

As The Guardian reported, Gen Sir Nick Carter, the chief of defence staff, said the propaganda tactic reflected a strategy of "political warfare" aggressively undertaken by Beijing as well as Moscow "designed to undermine cohesion" across the west.

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The senior general accused "autocratic rivals" of "manipulating the information environment" to exploit the COVID-19 crisis for strategic gain – including "pro-Russian vaccine politics" – in a speech at the Policy Exchange thinktank.

Their "disinformation narratives" were designed to permeate anti-vaccination social media groups, Carter added, pointing to an example uncovered earlier this summer by Australian researchers that spread rapidly from the Russia-occupied part of Ukraine.

In July, a fake press release was posted to websites of the Russia-controlled self-proclaimed "Luhansk People's Republic," eastern Ukraine. It falsely claimed that the U.S. had conducted vaccine trials on Ukrainian volunteers, some of whom had died.

The trials never happened but the misleading narrative spread in several languages, including on a prominent Australian anti-vaccination Facebook group, despite multiple attempts to fact-check and debunk it.

Carter said it was an example of "digital authoritarianism" alongside well-known Kremlin cyber and hacking attacks.

A similar approach was adopted by China, he added, where "the Chinese Communist party is forging a future of mass surveillance" and ranking and monitoring of individuals based on how they behave online.

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