• By The Financial District


A network of Russian marketing firms known for selling dubious nutritional supplements and pushing malware is behind a disinformation drive to denigrate Western COVID vaccines, a new Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) investigation shows.

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The revelations, which lead to Yulia Serebryanskaya, a Moscow-based businesswoman active in pro-Kremlin political circles, add new insight into the campaign that targeted social media influencers in France and Germany, and attracted the attention of French intelligence agencies, Mark Krutov, Sergei Dobrynin, Mike Eckle and Carl Schreck reported for RFE/RL.

The woman, Yulia Serebryanskaya, is a veteran of political campaigns for the ruling United Russia party, ran as an independent in the Moscow city elections in 2019 and even worked for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

She also heads an organization called Russian Initiative, which is described as a "worldwide union of Russian speakers" that "helps people carry on our culture and adequately represent our traditions, our social achievements, rather than tolerate a distorted idea of the Motherland, wherever they are."

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The disinformation campaign involving marketing firms adds a new dimension to Russia's murky, under-the-radar efforts to promote its own COVID-19 vaccines -- in particular, the Sputnik V vaccine backed by the country's sovereign wealth fund, the Russia Direct Investment Fund (RDIF).

Known as RDIF, the fund has promoted Sputnik V, extolling, and at times exaggerating, its benefits, while also criticizing Western vaccines such as Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, and Moderna, and amplifying negative scientific results. There is no indication that RDIF is linked to the marketing campaign that began to appear in recent weeks, targeting social media influencers in France and possibly elsewhere.

A French investigative news site called Fact & Furious, along with other outlets including the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, and The Guardian, reported that French bloggers had received e-mails from a person claiming to work for a marketing firm called Fazze.

The e-mails reportedly offered to pay the bloggers to produce videos on YouTube, Instagram, and other platforms criticizing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in particular. Leo Grasset, a French science blogger whose YouTube account has 1.2 million subscribers, reported he had been contacted, and posted screenshots of some of the e-mails to his Twitter account.

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In Germany, another social media influencer with a sizable following named Mirko Drotschman also posted screenshots to Twitter of an e-mail he received asking him to participate in a campaign against the Pfizer vaccine. An employment site, however, describes Fazze as part of a marketing agency called AdNow, which has a presence both in Britain and Russia.

The UK firm, Adnow LLP, was incorporated in 2014 by a British man and a Russian named Stanislav Fesenko. Adnow LLP and Fazze both list the same London address, one that appears to be a "corporate mailbox" to which scores of companies are registered.

Until 2018, the owner of the Russian unit of AdNow was Serebryanskaya. The listed address of the company's Moscow office is on Varshavskoye Shosse, in a southern part of the Russian capital, and is the same as that of an Internet marketing firm called 2WTrade, which is also owned by Serebryanskaya. According to its website, 2WTrade specializes in marketing health and beauty products.


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