European Union Steps Up To Fight Russian Disinformation

November 30, 2017

Last Friday the EU announced that 1.1 million euros a year would be set aside for a special anti-propaganda unit, set up in order to combat fake news coming from Russia, the Guardian has reported.  The decision was made after Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, declared during the Eastern Partnership summit that the real problem for Europe is “cyber-attacks, fake news and hybrid warfare”.  The money is already allocated into the EU budget for 2018-20.

Back in 2015, Donald Tusk instructed the head of the European External Affairs Service (EEAS), Federico Mogherini, to create an operational group for strategic communication on the East – The East Stratcom — in order to intercept and confront deliberately misleading information coming from Russian news sources. The group was formed of diplomats, Russia experts, journalists and social media specialists.

Initially the East Stratcom unit was established with the primary aim of debunking false or deliberately misleading information related to the conflict in Ukraine.  Until recently it had been sponsored by voluntary contributions from EU member states.  However, as confirmed by Donald Tusk last week, annual funding is now going to come directly from the EU budget.

In March 2017, the European People’s Party (EPP), which holds the majority of seats in the European Parliament, adopted a resolution on countering Russian propaganda that was titled “Russian disinformation undermines Western democracy”. It was also suggested that a Russian-speaking channel in Europe should be set up in order to provide an alternative to the Russian state-funded international media outlet RT.

Russia, and its place at the centre of an ongoing information war, has dominated the news cycle across the western world in recent months. Shortly before the Eastern Partnership Summit, Theresa May claimed that Russia is a hostile state that “threatens the potential growth of the eastern regions” and “seeks to destroy their collective strength”. However, as we have learnt from the diplomatic duel between Russia and the US over so-called ‘foreign agents’ fiasco, Russia doesn’t hesitate to respond. The first Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs Vladimir Jabarov already stated that Russia would respond to the EU claims using a variety of means, both political and diplomatic.

The interim commission of the Federation Council for the Protection of State Powers has already laid out plans for an annual report on foreign interference in Russia’s internal affairs that will be presented at the end of January 2018. The report will investigate foreign involvement into the upcoming presidential elections and to what extent western countries have attempted to stimulate protest in Russia.

Russian politicians have also warned that the West is trying to entice young people into carrying out another “colour revolution” such as those that took place in Georgia and Ukraine, as well as causing social destabilization.  Parliament is planning to draft bills that would attempt to prevent other countries from interfering in Russia’s domestic affairs.  Such measures have already been taken, for instance with the sweeping restrictions lumped on to foreign NGOs in Russian, and through adding several names to the “Black Book”.

As usual, attempts to anticipate foreign interference in Russia’s domestic affairs have more often than not implemented restrictions far beyond the openly states aims of the government.  As the rhetoric of ‘foreign agents’ and interference escalates, we will more than likely see further attacks on freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Russia.