Russian State Television Pushes Conspiracy Theory Bill Gates Is Behind Coronavirus Pandemic

The conspiracy theory that Bill Gates is responsible for the coronavirus pandemic has been pushed on Russian state television, with the European Union warning that some state media outlets in Russia are trying to create confusion with bogus theories about the virus.

The prime-time program Man and Law, which is broadcast on the country’s Channel 1 network, ran a 15-minute segment in which Gates was described as a billionaire sponsor of the World Health Organization (WHO) who sought to “reduce the population of the planet.” Some 51% of Channel 1’s shares are owned by representatives of the Russian state.

Radio Free Europe reported that the segment, broadcast on April 24, drew on a number of controversial online sources including a homeopathy website, an anti-vaccination campaigner and a Canadian pro-life, site to smear Gates, who has pledged $250 millionto develop a coronavirus vaccine.

The Russian TV show also referred to a TED Talk that Gates gave in 2015 in which he warned about the dangers of a coming pandemic, suggesting that he knew about the coronavirus in advance. It also insinuated that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would profit from the vaccine.

Newsweek has contacted the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for comment. In a podcast with Vox, the philanthropist said such misinformation was dangerous, “particularly in this type of crisis where people’s willingness to believe wild things is heightened.”

Such theories linking the Microsoft founder to the coronavirus are not new, with analysis last month by The New York Times and media analytics company Zignal Labs, saying that the link was mentioned more than 1.2 million times on TV and social media between February and April.

However, analysis by the European Commission shows that Russian media has been peddling a number of other conspiracy theories about the coronavirus.

When contacted by Newsweek, a European Commission spokesperson pointed to research it published on April 30, conducted by its EU Versus Disinformation branch, which described how COVID-19 “is still the dominating topic in the pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem.”

These included claims that the virus was man-made, a biological weapon or that it was created in foreign laboratories.

“It is likely that the COVID-19 outbreak will continue to dominate both in professional news reporting and in the content of disinformation outlets, ” EU Versus Disinformationconcluded, although it did note that given Europe’s response to the virus, “it appears that the topic is starting to become less comfortable as a vessel for pro-Kremlin disinformation.”

Mark Galeotti, Russian expert and honorary professor at University College London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies, said that while such conspiracy theories about the coronavirus were common on Russian television, they did not represent a plan by the Kremlin.

“There is a whole kind of ecosystem within Russia of all kinds of creators and propagators of bizarre and often toxic conspiracy theories. That’s not the same as suggesting that there is some kind of government program,” he told Newsweek.

“All these various individuals, and programs and pundits, act as content providers, and when it wants to, the Kremlin reaches out and decides which of these it is going to use and adapt and propagate.

“I am seeing that the Russian state is unusually reticent about getting involved in these disinformation campaigns about COVID-19,” he added.

Last month, Russia’s Supreme Court ruled it illegal for Russian media outlets to circulate false information about the coronavirus “of public significance that threatened people’s health and lives.”

“It is likely that the COVID-19 outbreak will continue to dominate both in professional news reporting and in the content of disinformation outlets, ” EU Versus Disinformationconcluded, although it did note that given Europe’s response to the virus, “it appears that the topic is starting to become less comfortable as a vessel for pro-Kremlin disinformation.”