Did NATO donate HIV-infected blood to Ukraine? — Radio Free Asia

Date:

Over the past two weeks, “Guyan Muchan”, an influential account with more than 6 million followers, originally posted and spread on Weibo a conspiracy theory alleging that NATO members had donated blood infected with HIV and hepatitis to Ukraine.

Asia Fact Check Lab (AFCL) tracked down and confirmed that the pro-Putin Telegram channel Breaking Mash was the source of the disinformation. Subsequent investigations by Ukraine-based fact-checking organization StopFake caused the Ukrainian government to release a formal statement debunking the disinformation.

On November 3, Guyan Muchan, a widely followed Weibo user, posted a post claiming to expose a tainted blood scandal involving NATO and Ukraine. The statement says:

Ukraine asked NATO to provide more than 60,000 liters of blood for wounded soldiers in the Odessa, Nikolaev, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov and Zaporozhye regions. NATO member countries provided Ukraine with canned blood.

However, Ukrainian medical staff found HIV and hepatitis B and C viruses in the blood after random tests. kyiv has written to NATO requesting an independent assessment of the donors’ blood and asking that the blood “not be collected on the African continent”.

In the first group, 6.3% of the samples had HIV, 7.4% hepatitis B and 3.2% hepatitis C.

In the second group: 5.9%, 6.8% and 3.1%, respectively.

The information is obtained through files leaked after the computers of the Ukrainian government office were hacked..”

The post contained three images. The first was an image of a statement that the hackers had allegedly obtained confidential documents from the email of Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. The second was an alleged letter from the Ukrainian Health Minister to Shmyhal. The third was the English translation of the letter. The background of each image contained the word “mash” as a watermark, which AFCL used to trace the post back to its original source.

Guyan Muchan is one of China’s “patriotic” influencers who rose to prominence in recent years by pandering to national nationalist sentiment. Hundreds of people liked her post claiming the use of tainted blood, and other influential social media figures reposted it to millions more. This “news” quickly spread on various Chinese-language websites, including the popular Internet news portal 163.com.

What is the source of the claim?

AFCL was unable to find any reports on the claim from reliable English media. Some English-language websites with little news credibility reposted it, including the pro-Russia website info.news and the gun lovers community forum snipershide.com. A host of unreliable Twitter accounts also posted the claim in English. The main one is ZOKA, a user with more than 105,000 followers. Marcus Kolga, director of DisinfoWatch, a fact-checking project of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Canada, told AFCL that ZOKA is a “well-known pro-Kremlin account.”

AFCL also found that the Russian version of the claim is spread across many websites, forums and social media platforms. After comparing both the posting time and the watermark, AFCL traced the claim to a post on the “Breaking Mash” Telegram channel, first published at 1 a.m. on November 3. Since then, the original post has gained over 1 million views.

Breaking Mash is the official Telegram channel of the Russian-language website Mash.ru. The website’s content is full of lies and is highly aligned with Moscow propaganda, according to Christine Eliashevsky-Chraibi, a media veteran and translator for Euromaidan Press. Mash’s senior staff are suspected of being close to the Russian government, with company executive Stepan Kovalchuk’s uncles Kirill and Yuri Kovalchuk labeled “elites close to Putin” by the US.S.

In short, both the original Russian source of the claim and the English-language websites and social media accounts spreading the claim suffer from low credibility.

Is the claim true?

AFCL considers Guyan Muchan’s post to be false. It came from a pro-Russian Telegram channel with little credibility. The Ukrainian Ministry of Health refuted the claim in a statement offering more details about donating blood in Ukraine.

The claim alleges that the “scoop” leaked from the hacked email of Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. But no credible news outlet reported on the leaked emails.

The statements on which the claim is based use questionable language that would not normally be appropriate for official documents. For example, the complaint alleges that the Minister of Health required that blood from NATO donors “not be collected on the African continent.” The possibility of such racist language appearing in an official government document is unlikely.

Eliashevsky-Chraibi said the alleged government letter is “highly suspicious” as it “has no date, no signature, no stamp” and that it was “not a formal procedure.”

Through Ukraine-based fact-checking organization StopFake, AFCL verified with the Ukrainian government the veracity of this claim. On November 7, the Ukrainian Ministry of Health published a statement on its official website refuting the claim.

Ukraine has never solicited blood donations from any organization outside the country, and all donor blood needed for the battlefield comes from Ukraine and meets European standards, according to the ministry statement. Whenever there is an urgent need at a blood center, people are quick to respond to requests for donations, denying the need for any supplies from outside the country.

The statement adds that Ukraine does not have a system of “random sampling” of blood from donors. Instead, it tests all donations to ensure they are safe and reliable.

The alleged letter from the Minister of Health of Ukraine is a forgery, the statement said.

The complaint about blood donated to Ukraine originated from the Russian telegram channel Breaking Mash [left] and was later picked up by a pro-Kremlin Twitter account [center] and a few hours later for a Weibo account [right] with 6.44 million fans. Credit: Asia Fact Check Lab Screenshots


Context information

In late October, the Kyiv Post, a leading English newspaper in Ukraine, published a report that Russia’s Wagner private military company had recruited Russian prisoners suffering from serious infectious diseases, particularly HIV and hepatitis C. This news item has some similarities to the claim made on the Breaking Mash Telegram channel, including mention of HIV, hepatitis and war, but no mention of NATO or blood donors. The disinformation published by Mash could be aimed at discrediting NATO as part of Russia’s information warfare.

Fabricating and spreading disinformation related to the virus has been one of the most used tactics by Russia since the days of the Soviet Union. In the 1980s, the KGB and its East German counterpart, the Stasi, carried out the “Operation Denver” disinformation campaign.

The campaign claimed that HIV was an American-made bioweapon; that the virus had been tested on prisoners, ethnic minorities, and homosexuals; and that the virus originated in Africa. Since the outbreak of both COVID and the Russia-Ukraine war, “virus” has become a buzzword in public discourse, often attached to false or misleading information.


References

1. Guyan Muchan’s Weibo Post

https://weibo.com/2150758415/MdmEqF9Zu?from=page_1005052150758415_profile&wvr=6&mod=weibotime

two. ZOKA post on Twitter

https://twitter.com/200_zoka/status/1588134915064971264

3. The original source on the Telegram channel “Breaking Mash”

https://tlgrm.ru/channels/@breakingmash/39593

4. Proekt report on the Mash Telegram channel: Cart from the Kremlin

https://web.archive.org/web/20190111184923/https://www.proekt.media/narrative/telegram-kanaly/

5. Statement of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine: we refute another Russian fake about low-quality blood for patients

https://moz.gov.ua/article/news/sprostovuemo-chergovij-rosijskij-fejk-pro-nejakisnu-krov-dlja-pacientiv?fbclid=IwAR1_HkjYI78ueYZfhsCwPj0GuEwM5mEvVIDsnzpoCwaD29iAC5rlwdx5vB4

6. Wagner recruits prisoners with HIV and hepatitis C

https://www.kyivpost.com/russias-war/wagner-recruits-prisoners-with-hiv-and-hepatitis-c.html

7. Operation “Denver”: KGB and Stasi Disinformation about AIDS

https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/operation-denver-kgb-and-stasi-disinformation-regarding-aids

8. Guyanmuchan spoke on a youth.cn forum

https://qnzz.youth.cn/tegao/201612/t20161217_8958271.htm

Asia Fact Check Lab is a new branch of RFA, established to counter misinformation in today’s complex media environment. Our journalists publish daily and special reports that aim to sharpen and deepen our readers’ understanding of public issues.

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