Briefs

Estonia - 15-21 February 2016

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  • EESTI - 15-21 veebruar 2016  Artiklit saab lugeda ka eesti keeles
Zika virus - a biological weapon of US


In the beginning of February, RIA Novosti published a story titled „Onishchenko: the spreading of the Zika virus could be caused by a biological weapon“ („Онищенко: причиной распространения вируса Зика может быть биооружие“ ). In the article, Gennadiy Onishchenko, former Chief Sanitary Inspector of Russia, an assistant of Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev, answering the following question of RIA Novosti, could the virus be associated with biological weapon, said „that possibility has been taken into the consideration“, but noted that one must not jump to conclusions. 

At the same day, the 2nd of February, Sputnik covered the story by the title: „Zika Virus Outbreak May Be Result of Bioweapon - Ex-Russian Surgeon General“ , reporting that „Russia’s former Surgeon General said that one of the possible caus-es for the spread of the deadly Zika virus outbreak could be the use of biological warfare.“

After that, it seemed that the conspiracy theory would not spread any further,  two weeks later, on the 15th of February, BBC Russian Service picked the story up again and published an article titled „Onishchenko: it is possible that Americans in-fect mosquitoes with Zika virus“ („Онищенко: американцы могут заразить комаров вирусом Зика“ ). That was a long article, containing several comments by Gennadiy Onishchenko, including the statement that there is military microbiology laboratory of the United States Army near to Abkhazia where the mosquitoes have found, and his concern about  „deliberate interference in the natural course of epidemy“.

The BBC story was a trigger to multiple articles:

At the same day, on the 15th of February the Russian language online edition of Estonian biggest daily newspaper Postimees published an article titled “The Assis-tant of the Prime Minister of Russian Federation: it is possible that Americans infect deliberately mosquitoes with Zika virus”(„Помощник председателя правительства РФ: американцы могут намеренно заразить комаров вирусом Зика“ ).

On the 16th of February, story was published by Radio Free Europe („Former Rus-sian Health Chief Suggests U.S. Plotting Zika Attack“ ), and by RT („Gennady On-ishchenko: it is possible that the US deliberately infect mosquitoes with Zika virus“, „Геннадий Онищенко: США, возможно, намеренно заражают комаров вирусом Зика“ ). Eurasian Daily added more fuel to the fire with the article „Zika virus from Georgia: Onishchenko points to „Lugar´s lab“ near Tbilisi“ („Вирус Зика грузинского разлива: Онищенко указывает на «лабораторию Лугара» под Тбилиси“ ), Kom-somolskaya Pravda published the interview with Onishchenko „Gennady On-ishchenko: it is possible that The US military microbiologists in Georgia deliberately infect mosquitoes with Zika virus“ („Геннадий Онищенко: Военные микробиологи США в Грузии могут намеренно заражать комаров вирусом Зика“ ), stating that „a dangerous insect is already at our borders“. 

When it finally was published in Estonian language in the online edition of Estoni-an biggest daily newspaper Postimees on the 17th of the Ferbuary, the titled of the article was indicative: „Former high government official of Russia: the US is behind the Zika virus“ („Venemaa endine kõrge ametnik: Zika viiruse taga on USA“ ). Even though the article contained information that the connection between the US and the Zika virus is not certain, the impression readers got from the headline left no doubts that that connection exists.
The article reached approx five thousand readers. It is hard to tell how many people read just the headline, but the online edition of Postimees has approx 300 000 daily readers .


The False Fact or Narrative

The narrative created by Gennady Onishchenko with the help of the media suggests that:  -  The United States could be infecting mosquitoes with the Zika virus in the Black Sea area as a form of biological warfare against Russia;

- For this purpose, the US uses the military microbiological laboratory of the army of the United States, which was built by the U.S. Defense Threat Agency in 2011 and handed over to the Georgian National Center for Disease Control for operation and ownership in 2013 .

Truth

There is no proof that US or „Lugar´ s lab“ has anything to do with spreading Zika virus. 

Technique

Conspiracy theory

Analysis

It was a classical case how anti-American conspiracy theory was created and spread. It started with RIA Novosti´s question „could the virus be associated with bio-logical weapon?“ and with the answer to it „that possibility has been taken into the consideration“, and with the help of  the media and Gennady Onishchenko itself, it started to grow like a snowball and ended up with the title „The US is behind the Zika virus“.

It is also interesting that after two first articles in the beginning of the February (in RIA Novosti  and in Sputnik ) the story seemed to fade away, but after BBC as a credible source fueled it up again two weeks later, it was picked up by several (and not only pro-Kremlin) media channels.