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It would seem that such a phenomenon as the coronavirus pandemic should have minimized all sorts of special operations of the Russian intelligence network to destabilize countries that are in the scope of the Kremlin’s revanchist interests. But, as time has shown, Russia not only failed to address the issue of the COVID-19 spread in its own country, but also built a major strategy of exerting external influence amid the ongoing pandemic beyond its borders.
These efforts range from propaganda-driven “humanitarian” supplies and “rescue” missions, from the spread of fake news about the coronavirus and cyberattacks on medical institutions and health ministries to direct destabilization through protest action.
Over the past few days, a wave of street rallies swept across Europe, linked between each other not so much by a single topic (quarantine restrictions) but rather a common potential external catalyst of disorder.
On Saturday, May 16, on Castle Square in Warsaw, the Poles protested against the COVID-19-related bans. Protests were initiated by local radical right-wing movements in Poland.
Similarly, right-wing groups stand behind protests in Germany. Chairman of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution of Germany, Thomas Haldenwang, said that right-wing radicals are exploiting the quarantine issue, organizing massive disobedience action, attracting ordinary citizens, not just their group members, as well as spinning propaganda slogans, fake news, and conspiracy theories .
And now, it would seem, right-wing radicals and extremists in Europe simply decided to ride the tide of the corona hype to earn some political points, as populists throughout the EU once did in relation to the humanitarian crisis caused by the influx of refugees from Syria and other hot spots.
But the most interesting thing in this story is that almost all right-wing radical groups, extremist cells and various kinds of national populists, no matter how influential, have some sort of connection to Russia. Be it the German Alternative for Germany or the Polish nationalists, be it the French Yellow Vests and their radical wing, which is a mobilized group led by the Kremlin puppet Marine Le Pen, or even a number of Ukrainian nationalist groups.
Since Soviet days, financial support has been provided to nationalist groups of all kinds, the seeming antagonists to socialist ideas. Radicalism, extremism and nationalism were put at the service of the communist party to play a direct role in a range of KGB projects.
Over time, absolutely nothing has changed. Euros earned from energy resources keep flowing from Russia to Europe to support similar parties and organizations. And the European Commission seems to be well aware of it today.
Peter Stano, spokesman for the EU external action service, said that Russia stands behind the spread of fake news and conspiracy theories regarding the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus. Mr Stano notes that the purpose of this disinformation campaign is to undermine public confidence in the European Union and its member states. Judging by the pro-active stance of radical groups across Europe, the Russian asset network has moved from “undermining public trust in media space” to the stage of direct destabilization in a number of EU countries.
But, most importantly, it’s not only quarantine that is now becoming a pretext for undermining public order in Europe. For example, in Montenegro, this is a religious issue as the Kremlin believes its interests were harmed in this country, while France in the near future could see another wave of protests that started tonight in the Paris suburb Argenteuil.