“We confirm sending a letter by the Russian ambassador to the New York Times editor-in-chief demanding a retraction,” the embassy told Sputnik on Thursday.
A Russian State Duma commission into the NYT story, as well as a parallel story by the Financial Times also published on Monday, recommended the Ministry of Foreign Affairs take action against the two publications, up to and including revoking their accreditation. However, the ministry decided on a more diplomatic course of action.
"Revoking accreditation, expulsion of journalists or any other repressive measures are not our methods," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday. "We always respond, first of all, with a word. In a word, backed up by deeds, specific steps."
She indicated that further steps against the papers could follow, depending on how they react to the ministry's request.
The stories in question claimed to have uncovered discrepancies between official Russian statistics and those reported by local morgues, alleging deaths from COVID-19 in Russia were as much as 70% higher than Moscow has stated.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO) told Russian news channel 24, "There are no facts indicating deliberate understating [of COVID-19 mortality rate] … At this moment, I do not see anything that would prove that Russia is knowingly not providing data about lethality from the coronavirus."