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Bloomberg: France pushes for new EU sanctions targeting Russian disinformation machine

As the EU prepares for parliamentary elections in June, countering the increasing flood of Russian fakes has become a top priority for the bloc.
Ukrainian and EU flags flying in front of the European Parliament in Brussels. Photo via
Bloomberg: France pushes for new EU sanctions targeting Russian disinformation machine

France is asking the European Union to set up a new sanctions regime to target Russian disinformation and election interference operations worldwide, according to Bloomberg.

Ahead of the EU parliamentary elections in June, the EU has made it a high priority to fight back against a growing tide of Russian disinformation that tries to split allies on aid for Ukraine and relationships with countries of the Global South.

At the same time, the Group of Seven countries are also getting ready to work together more than before to design a strategy against fake news and meddling from other countries, especially during this year’s elections.

EU officials are concerned about the elections in June because they’re seeing more fake news on social media now than they did five years ago, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg.

In the conclusions drawn after last week’s EU leaders’ summit, the bloc emphasized its commitment to vigilantly oversee and mitigate any threats arising from disinformation, including fake news created with artificial intelligence technology, as well as foreign interference and manipulation in electoral processes.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s reelection campaign team is aware of the challenge of disinformation and Russian interference. This concern was highlighted during discussions with US President Joe Biden earlier this week, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Additionally, the issue of disinformation has been a focal point in conversations between European Parliament President Roberta Metsola and other national leaders during her recent visits to several capitals.

Last week, Moldova’s Foreign Minister, Mihai Popșoi, disclosed that Russia is using a range of methods, including AI-generated deep fakes and financial incentives, to destabilize democracy in Moldova, in a preview of what the West should expect.

If the French proposition is implemented, it will allow the EU to target the successors of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, known for previous disinformation campaigns, and individuals collaborating with the Kremlin or providing additional services.

Similar to other EU sanctions regimes, penalties would include travel bans and asset freezes.

In February, Viginum, the French foreign disinformation watchdog, announced that it detected preparations for an extensive disinformation campaign in several European countries. Recently, France and Germany have exposed propaganda networks targeting the two countries.

In April, Belgium initiated a criminal investigation into suspected Russian election meddling following revelations from the Czech government about a Russian network attempting to sway politics, which included payments to European politicians.

In the UK, officials are ramping up their efforts to combat disinformation before the upcoming election, focusing mainly on addressing the threats posed by deepfakes and the manipulation of artificial intelligence fake reports.

Meanwhile, in a recent move, the US Treasury Department took action against two individuals and two entities allegedly linked to a Russian foreign influence campaign. This campaign, according to reports, involved attempts to disguise platforms spreading fake information as legitimate media outlets as part of a broader effort to spread misinformation. The sanctions serve as a warning that Moscow is actively engaged in such activities, using various tactics to undermine the interests of not only the US but also its allies and partners across countries in Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe.

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