Kseniya Kirollova explores how the more extreme Coronavirus conspiracy theories emanating from Russia are created for export to US Ultra Conservatives.
In the first half of April, BBC News prepared material that described various conspiracy theories on the origin of the Coronavirus put forward by the state Russian media.
In particular, the journal of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Affairs, and the publication of the Ministry of Defence, Zvezda, called the virus a “biological weapon” developed respectively in British and American laboratories.
To make Trump a hero in the eyes of right-wing Russian radicals seems to make no sense at first glance.
Similar theories are standard for Kremlin propaganda and are repeatedly broadcast on Russia’s main television channels. However, there is another type of conspiracy theory in Russia – the fringe, radical kind. Such a theory does not have a wide distribution within the country and it seems that it was created specifically for broadcast in the West.
Fighters against the “One World Government”
According to this theory, the Coronavirus was developed by the so-called “Roman Club” – a secret “one world government” – in order to finally seize power on the planet.
Valentin Katasonov, Professor of Economics at Russia’s top university MGIMO and chairman of the Russian Economic Society (who publishes his articles in well-known Russian news agency Regnum), is one of the main proponents of such theories.
According to him, the “world secret cabal” – having provoked a pandemic – is using the World Health Organisation’s recommendations to realise the goals of exterminating the population, justifying genocide, weakening states and “creating a one world government that will control diminished human race”.
Katasonov’s ideas, although covered in the Russian media, are not broadcast as widely as other conspiracy theories, since they constitute a danger to the Russian authorities themselves.
Referring to the “hated West”, the professor is also spreading fears of mass “microchipping” of people and vaccination as a way to achieve his claims. According to Katasonov, anyone who advocates the need to comply with quarantine measures during an epidemic is an intentional or unintentional agent of the “one world government” – a Satanist organisation planning to control people through the introduction of a “nanochip”.
It is clear that the Russian authorities – which, on the one hand, were compelled to impose quarantine to reduce the spread of the disease, and on the other hand are trying to use this pretext to establish tighter control and total surveillance of the population – don’t need dissident conspiracy theorists opposing this with religious fanaticism.
Nevertheless, Katasonov, despite the odiousness of his views, does not face censorship or harassment from the authorities. He remains a professor at MGIMO.
The question arises: what explains such an atypical response for the Russian authorities?
US/Russian Friendship of the Radicals
To answer this question, it is important to understand the target audience of Professor Katasonov and his fellow champions of conspiracy theories.
First of all, it includes the ultra-conservative part of Orthodox believers and some Protestants, and right-wing extremists of various kinds. Anton Shekhovtsov, a well-known Ukrainian political scientist and a researcher into right-wing radical groups, has often written about the connections of Russian right-wing extremists with American and European radical groups and about the way they use extreme right-wingers for Moscow to exert its influence on other countries and foment their destabilisation.
In turn, the American radicals are pleased with their relationship with the “Slavic brothers”. The far-right racist organisations, the Traditionalist Youth Network and the Traditionalist Workers’ Party, worked closely with the Russian Imperial Movement (RID) – an organisation recently sanctioned by the US. The RID went so far as to recruit Americans to undergo training in camps near St. Petersburg. The extreme-right American organisation, the League of the South, followed the example of “traditionalists” by creating a section in Russian on its website a couple of years ago.
In addition to sharing ideas and conducting joint combat training, Russian and American radicals actively swap conspiracy theories. At the same time, by some strange coincidence, all the most extremist conspiracy theories circulated among the Russian ultra-right today concern the intricacies of American domestic politics which, in theory, should be of no interest to the average Russian citizen. However, they appear and are broadcast on regular basis.
Trump vs. Satanists and Cannibals
A striking example of this, which appeared in the media only this month, is a theory that America has apparently been ruled by a certain Satanist cult for more than 100 years. This cult is not only corrupt, but it is religious, and its obligatory rites include eating children, sex trafficking, paedophilia, occult rituals and so on. It is this cult that controls the world financial elite and the main “enemies of people” – the Western media. Opposing this deadly cult is none other than the US President Donald Trump, who leads the mythical Alliance of Positive Military Forces.
Using the real facts of celebrities arrested for pedophilia in the US, conspiracy theorists claim that Trump was able to “look into the future” using special technology and found out that the “cult” planned to infect humanity with a new Coronavirus. Then, the President launched a counter-attack: he used quarantine to arrest pedophiles. The authors claim that members of the “cult” are hiding in underground military bases and that it is they who cause earthquakes in the United States.
At the same time, the creators of the Russian video refer to a certain English-speaking anonym Q, which is described as a “Trump administration insider”. It appears that the purpose of this account is to disseminate conspiracy theories in English.
The same theories are disseminated in Russian by a certain Elena Kaiser, who simultaneously reports on the victory of Trump and Patriots over the world financial elite and promises that Trump will boost the world economy. According to her information on social networks, Elena lives in Moscow, calls herself a “banking expert” and is a graduate of the Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration under the President of Russia.
“Liberal democrats are people with the worldview of fascism,” explains Elena in her videos. “Social democracy is now a form of state fascism.”
She is echoed by the Bulgarian veterinarian, former candidate for the presidency of Bulgaria, Plamen Paskov. According to him, the Coronavirus was developed as a biological weapon in Wuhan’s laboratory by Trump’s political opponents precisely in order to prevent the President from boosting the US economy and winning the upcoming 2020 Presidential Election.
Support for Export
Of course, Russian media always defends Donald Trump at a higher level than these marginal conspiracy theorists. In particular, the business newspaper Vzglyad regularly quoted Trump’s passages regarding CNN as a source of “fake news”, translated his Twitter messages about a “deceitful media out of control” and also published its own “analytics” on this topic. Similar material still appears there.
In February 2018, Russian military analysts openly admitted that Trump was acting in their interests. At the beginning of June 2018, another Russian analyst, Rostistav Ishchenko, in an article titled ‘Thanks, Comrade Trump‘, pointed out that only Donald Trump deserves credit for the rapprochement between Europe and Russia. Similar maxims about Trump’s usefulness to Russia are regularly expressed by an American political analyst of Russian origin and currently a host of the Great Game television programme, Dmitry Simes, and his invited ‘experts’.
However, such subtleties are reproduced only in Russian programmes and publications with a claim to serious political analysis. For ordinary laypeople, propagandists do not distinguish between Trump and the American system and often refer to “Trump’s decisions”, even in the case of the introduction of anti-Russian sanctions, which the White House actively opposed.
To make Trump a hero in the eyes of right-wing Russian radicals seems to make no sense at first glance. However, bearing in mind the close ties between Russian and American ultra-conservatives, the conclusion that comes to mind is that conspiracy theories are prepared exclusively “for export” in order to be broadcast among American “like-minded people”. It seems that such attempts to split American society are another part of the Russian hybrid war, using the pandemic for Russia’s own purposes.