Russia slams New York Times, Financial Times on virus deaths

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FILE - In this Friday, Jan. 17, 2020 file photo, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova gestures as she attends Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's annual roundup news conference summing up his ministry's work in 2019, in Moscow, Russia. Russia's Foreign Ministry has accused the Financial Times and the New York Times of spreading "disinformation" after the two newspapers alleged that Russia's coronavirus death toll could much higher than officials report. The Ministrys spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Wednesday May 13, 2020, that letters demanding a retraction would be passed on to editors in chief of the newspapers on Thursday. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

MOSCOW – Russia's Foreign Ministry has criticized the Financial Times and The New York Times after they reported that Russia's coronavirus death toll could be much higher than government officials are saying.

The articles said that they were based on a spike in total mortality rates reported by officials in Moscow, who said the capital registered about 1,800 deaths more in April 2020 than the monthly average.

The New York Times reported that total is far higher than the official COVID-19 death count of 642, which the newspaper said was an indication of significant underreporting by the authorities. It quoted Tatiana N. Mikhailova, a senior researcher at the Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration in Moscow, as saying that the number who died from the virus is "possibly almost three times higher than the official toll.”

The Financial Times pointed to a similar surge in deaths reported by authorities in St. Petersburg, and it concluded that nationwide, Russia could have 70% more coronavirus deaths than it reports.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova complained about what she called “disinformation” by the two newspapers and said letters demanding a retraction would be passed on to both on Thursday.

Danielle Ha, vice president for communications for The New York Times, told Russian news agencies the report was accurate because it was based on data released by an official state agency.

The Financial Times didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

Russia has reported over 250,000 coronavirus cases on Thursday and 2,305 deaths. The comparatively low death toll raised questions in the West, with some critics suggesting it could be much higher.