When the number of confirmed coronavirus cases started accelerating in Russia last month, western media pounced, presuming the increase would be followed by the kind of spike in casualties seen in the US and many European countries.
That hasn’t happened, and the same outlets that were licking their lips waiting for the Russian body count to explode now seem to feel cheated.
“Experts want to know why coronavirus hasn’t killed more Russians,” Bloomberg mused on Thursday, shocking more than a few people with its headline’s air of disappointment. The article’s title was subsequently revised to “Experts question why coronavirus hasn’t killed more Russians,” which is…so much better.
The outlet hinted that a “recalculation” was in the works that would beef up Russia’s death rate significantly, citing an interview with Melita Vujnovic, the lead World Health Organization representative in the country. But Vujnovic only said a “recalculation” might occur – and she clarified on Russian TV on Tuesday that “there are no facts indicating deliberate understating” of the death rate.
The concern-trolling outbreak focused on Russia’s body count struck other outlets, including the New York Times and Financial Times. The former claimed on Monday that Covid-19 death totals in Russia were 70 percent higher than reported, citing “independent demographer” Aleksei Raksha, whom they praised for “spotting” data “buried in an obscure government statistics website.” The irony of using an “independent demographer” (read: non-expert) to manipulate official statistics in order to accuse Moscow of manipulating statistics appeared to be lost on the Times, especially when the same article admitted “the death toll will be updated…by the end of this month” – meaning the numbers they took issue with weren’t even final.
China’s statistics were subjected to the same ghoulish analysis after the country announced in mid-March it had no newly-diagnosed Covid-19 cases. Western outlets insisted that Beijing was merely refusing to test patients, or coronavirus deaths were being covered up as something else. The idea of China beating its own epidemic at the same time the virus was arriving in the US in force and triggering economically devastating lockdowns was clearly a blow to national pride, just as Russia’s “failure” to lose more of its citizens to coronavirus robbed the US of a chance to declare its healthcare system – the most expensive in the world – superior to Russia’s “underfunded” one.
While the Russian Embassy to the US has asked for a retraction from both the New York and Financial Times, they’re probably not holding their breath. Smear stories about China’s virus response were a constant presence in western media during the first few months of the pandemic, and analogous attacks on Russia – from dark speculation that doctors committing suicide are actually being murdered, to claims they’re quitting their jobs en masse – have only just begun.
Noting that NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg had accused Russia and China of “spreading a lot of disinformation during the Covid-19 pandemic, trying to change the world order,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova drily observed in a Facebook post on Thursday that a ‘world order’ in which it’s considered acceptable to lament why a virus didn’t kill more Russian people could probably use a change.
‘Example of infodemic’
Russia’s Foreign Ministry will send letters to the Financial Times and New York Times demanding they retract reports claiming the actual death toll from Covid-19 in the country is much higher than the official figures.
The editors-in-chief of the outlets concerned will be given the letters on Thursday by the Russian embassies in London and Washington, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said during a briefing.
Moscow will also address the UN, OSCE and UNESCO on the situation, as the reports in the FT and NYT represent “an example of that very ‘information war’ that the UN General Secretary, Antonio Guterres, urged everybody to tackle.”
Earlier, a parliamentary commission on meddling in Russia’s internal affairs warned that the publication of these stories may well see the two outlets losing their accreditation in Russia altogether.
The Financial Times and New York Times both published articles on Monday claiming that the Covid-19 death toll in Russia could be 70 percent higher than the official figure, which now stands at 2,212 people.
In their report, the New York Times cited independent demographer, Aleksei Raksha, who got his numbers by interpreting official data released by the Moscow authorities. The man, who is a TV personality in Russia, isn’t affiliated with any official body or research institute.
The Financial Times insisted that they’ve carried out their own analysis of the Moscow records, which, according to the outlet, showed “a spike in all-causes of mortality” during the pandemic compared to previous years.