Memes attribute Russian President Putin to statements that weren’t his

Sanjog Shiwakoti / August 20, 2020

A collage of memes circulating on social media in Nepal

The news of Russian President Vladimir Putin announcing last week a vaccine for COVID-19 has grabbed the attention of the whole world. In a videoconference with Russian government officials and ministers on August 11, Putin said the vaccine was effective and that one of his daughters had already received it. However, there are widespread concerns about the vaccine. The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged Russia to follow international guidelines for the production of a COVID-19 vaccine. WHO has discussed with Russian authorities about reviewing the vaccine, according to media reports.

People across the world including Nepalis have shown a lot of curiosity about the Russian vaccine, and this is reflected in their social media posts as well. On Twitter and Facebook, Nepali users have posted or shared statuses and memes with claims that they are statements made by Russian President Putin. 

These memes have attributed Russian President Vladimidir Putin to statements that he never made.

On August 14, a Facebook user ‘Arjun Giri’ shared a meme containing a photo of President Putin and the following text:

At a press conference, a reporter asked Russian President Vladimir Putin, “You said that the vaccine against COVID-19 should be given to doctors and teachers first. But isn’t the common man entitled to live?”

Putin asked, “Who will produce doctors if the teachers die, and who will treat the ordinary people if the doctors themselves perish?” 

This meme has been widely shared on Facebook and Twitter. 

Various versions of the meme have also been shared by social media users. A similar August 16 Facebook post by ‘Kamal Karki’ has been shared 11 times and liked by 87 people.

Fact Check

South Asia Check performed Google Advanced Search and found a news report published by the Russian news agency ‘TAAS’. The news headlined ‘Doctors and teachers will be first to get Russian COVID-19 vaccine, health minister says’ quoted Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko who is reported to have said that Russia would offer vaccination to medical workers because they come into contact with infected persons at work and to the teachers as they are responsible for children’s health.

Some Indian and Nepali news websites have also published this news.

We searched Google and other news sources to see if Putin himself had made such a statement during his announcement of the COVID-19 vaccine. Although he did talk about the efficacy of the vaccine and stated that one of his daughters was a recipient, he didn’t say who would be prioritized to receive the vaccine first. 

We translated the alleged statement [Nepali] into Russian via Google Translate and searched for the text in Russian using Google and other sources to see if such a statement was published in Russian language. But we couldn’t find any such report.

The memes and social media posts in question make the three following claims:

  1. Russia is vaccinating medical workers and teachers first.
  2. The statement was made by President Vladimir Putin to journalists.
  3. They are prioritizing doctors because doctors treat ordinary people and they are prioritizing teachers because teachers produce doctors.

The first claim that Russia would vaccinate medical workers and teachers first is true. However, the second claim that the statement was made by President Putin to the journalists is false. It was Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko who during a videoconference with Russian government officials and ministers said said they were prioritizing medical workers and teachers for the COVID-19 vaccine. The third claim is also false because the major reason Russia is prioritizing the medical workers for the vaccine is because medical workers come into contact with the infected persons the most. Similarly, they are prioritizing the teachers because teachers are responsible for children’s health. 

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