Amid vaccine tensions, several Italian regions are vying for the Russian shot. The disinformation campaign surrounding Sputnik V took Italy by storm, but COPASIR, Italy’s intelligence committee, is readying to counter it

Beware of Russian vaccine-related disinformation. Enrico Borghi, member of the Italian intelligence committee (COPASIR) and head of security of the centre-left Democratic Party, recently called for an investigation into the online campaign that’s propelling the jab’s global standing.

Amid tensions over vaccine shortages, some Italians are eyeing Sputnik V as the solution to their woes, even as the Russian vaccine lacks European (and Italian) approval and the Russians themselves are struggling with mass production.

Several Italian regions are randomly pushing ahead, calling for Sputnik to be approved by Italy’s medicine regulator (AIFA), striking future production deals with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF, the entity who markets the jab) and even purchasing a handful of doses, bypassing national and European authorities.

This enthusiasm is boosted by the Russians themselves, as the Kremlin is advertising the jab aggressively (Sputnik even has a Twitter page) and employing propaganda tactics to whip up support for it.

Mr Borghi and the rest of COPASIR were at the frontline of the infodemic that Italy faced during the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, countering the psychological offensive carried out by Russia and China. “We must not make the same mistakes,” he told Formiche.net, “[we must remember] the existence of a hybrid menace.”

The centre-left MP spoke of closely monitoring the online disinformation surrounding Sputnik V, as COPASIR did last year with other manners of Russian online operations. He remarked that the pandemic brought about “a spike in disinformation campaigns and fake news” and an expansion in the “interventions of hostile actors, who combined several instruments in the interest of manipulation.”

A few days ago, prime minister Mario Draghi stopped the Sputnik enthusiasts in their tracks, warning them not to get ahead of themselves and citing the low impact that the Russian jab would have on Italy’s vaccine drive even if it were hastily approved. He also declared that Rome would only operate within the European infrastructure.

“Science decides on vaccines, politics cannot jump ahead. At this moment Sputnik V has not been approved by [the European Medicines Agency] and according to predictions it won’t be approved before June,” commented Mr Borghi.

The whole of COPASIR seems to be closing ranks with the government, regardless of the political colour. On Thursday Elio Vito, a centre-right Come on Italy MP and member of the committee, expressed his preoccupation for the Sputnik deals struck by the Russians and some Italian regions.

“It’s clear to me that within this geopolitical match […] Italy must remain firmly in the European and Atlanticist field, avoiding the uncertainties and skids that we committed in the past,” he wrote on Formiche.net.

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