Vladimir Putin at the World Economic Forum. Photo by Remy Steinegger
A number of European security experts have signed an open letter addressed to EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, in which they call to triple the capacity of the European External Action Service (EEAS) East Stratcom Team, which operates the EU’s only counteraction to the vasts amounts of anti-EU Russian disinformation – the Disinformation Review.
The letter’s signatories, including Pulitzer Prize–winning author Anne Applebaum and former President of Estonia Thomas Hendrik Ilves, warn against downplaying the danger of Russian disinformation, which according to them is working to “undermine our societies and to destroy the world order that has been established after the World War II:”
“The aggressive actions of the Kremlin are unprecedented in the modern era. Invasion of neighboring countries, massive bombings and killings of civilians, and the first annexation of a foreign land by force in Europe since World War II, constant violations of other states’ borders, kidnapping foreign citizens, harassment of foreign diplomats, or massive cyber attacks are all in Russia’s current regime toolkit.
All these offensive incidents are accompanied by a massive, persistent, ongoing, brutally aggressive disinformation campaign. A campaign that has been active in Europe for at least three years, establishing its channels, finding the right amplifiers and multipliers for its message – which is aimed at destabilising our societies, meddling in our elections and referendums, misleading our political leaders and breaking up the EU unity by supporting those who want to destroy it,”
write the authors, adding that the EU’s response to the problem has been “irresponsibly weak” and the issue has been marginalized to the extent of claiming that no disinformation campaign exists.
The experts claim that Federica Mogherini has constantly appeased Russian aggression, and tries to avoid naming Russia as the main creator of hostile disinformation. Despite the EU Parliament’s calls in October 2016 to reinforce the EEAS East Stratcom team in response to Russian disinformation and jihadi campaigns, the disinformation squad is severely understaffed and operates with a team of only 11 members, the open letter states, adding that “reportedly [this reinforcement is] not going to happen at all.”
An EU official familiar with the issue clarified to Euromaidan Press that the budget amendment that passed the EU parliament in October envisioned additional people and funds for the anti-disinformation service, but a few weeks later the funding was cut out and in practice no additional people were going to be allocated to the existing team. At present, the team is financed mostly by member states and not the EU.
1.Despite requests from member states and the European parliament, @EUvsDisinfo has learned EEAS will not allocate a single staff member
— Anne Applebaum (@anneapplebaum) March 14, 2017
“Based on decision of the EEAS leadership run by Federica Mogherini, the EU spends literally nothing on countering one of the biggest challenges of our world today – a hostile disinformation campaign, which is successfully undermining our democratic societies. The right thing to do would be to triple capacity of the EEAS East STRATCOM Team and give it a budget in single millions EUR, so it can start fulfilling its mandate,”
the letter’s authors conclude, warning Ms.Federini that if nothing is done to counter the threat, enemies of democracy will keep winning, and the damage to our societies might become beyond repair.
The EU originally established the Task Force team in March 2015 to address Russia’s disinformation narrative and strengthen the bloc’s own communication strategy. Since then, some 400 experts, journalists, NGOs, and officials have been involved in analyzing media reports and social media posts. The team releases a weekly Disinformation Review of pro-Kremlin disinformation stories and highlights the disinformation trends propagated in each respective country.
After 15 months of operation, the Stratcom concluded that Russia’s disinformation campaign in the EU is reaching its goal – to destabilize and weaken the West by exploiting existing divisions or creating artificial new ones, noting that the disinformation campaign relies upon consistency and repeating of the same lies over and over again:
“A disinformation campaign, just like any other PR campaign, works over time by building familiarity with and acceptance of its messages, through multiple channels; sowing mistrust in mainstream media, authorities, or any solid sources of information in general… The purpose of a disinformation campaign is not to make consumers like the outlets but to buy the disinformation message as credible information,”
stated the report, which highlighted that the disinformation methods vary and are target themes, methods, and topics which are specific to each separate country.