Weekly monitor of pro-Kremlin disinformation effort in Europe. We follow best European analysts, best counter-measures and trends.
Dear readers of the Kremlin Watch Monitor,
In recent weeks, we have consulted with experts and practitioners in Washington DC, Berlin and Warsaw. Here are the key takeaways:
For countries like Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine and Georgia, which are experienced in countering the Kremlin’s hostile influence operations, there is a window of opportunity to win some hearts and minds in Berlin and Washington. If these countries could deliver tailored packages of practical lessons learnt, they might mitigate perceptions in Berlin and Washington that they “should be helped but don’t have much to offer in return.”
In Germany, the issue of the Kremlin’s hostile influence should be packaged as (1) an EU issue (which it is, considering that 13 EU member states are already highly concerned about it), and (2) not only about Russia, but also for example about Turkey. It is important to clearly define and understand what is ‘hostile’ – that is, illegitimate foreign influence. Everybody turns to Washington (for good reasons), while there appears to be a lack of advocacy and suggested policy options in German public discourse.
Almost every government official we consulted with mentioned the work of the EEAS East STRATCOM team. “It is the only EU/NATO team which produces some weekly content we can work with,” several officials said. Right now, neither Poland nor Germany have their seconded national experts in place, so they are missing out on crucial developments and inside information. This is something that could easily and economically change.
The 13 concerned EU member states that already participate in the special structures of the EU and NATO are clearly missing opportunities for coalition building. It is true that this group of countries lacks a clear leader. As a result, when HRVP Federica Mogherini continues to downplay or ignore this threat, there is almost no feedback from the concerned member states, which constitute almost half of the EU. It is therefore essential that several of these concerned member states (e.g., Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Sweden, Finland or the Czech Republic) step up to the task and become pro-active in formulating their positions towards the EEAS leadership, for example when the leadership fails to deliver paid reinforcements for the EEAS East STRATCOM team.
While there is growing interest in this topic amongst other member states at the national level (e.g., France, Denmark, Slovakia, the Netherlands and Germany), there is a clear opportunity to make this an EU-level issue. This again would require standard coalition-building efforts to establish a stable, like-minded group of states that would expand beyond the usual Baltic-Nordic format. The formation of such a coalition would also place appropriate pressure on Berlin.
Two of our new commentaries have been published by the Atlantic Council.
In the first one we explain what actions governments can take to work effectively with Google and Facebook to counter the spread of mis- and disinformation.
In the second one we focus on why it is so crucial for Germany to play a frontal role in fighting the Kremlin’s hostile influence, not only for its own sake but in order to set an example for other EU member states.
Jakub Janda, the Head of the Kremlin Watch Program, also gave an interview to Civil.ge. He argues that the response of EU institutions to the Kremlin’s proliferation of malign influence is insufficient.
Weekly Update on the Kremlin Disinformation Efforts
Despite criticising a new bill that approves more sanctions against Russia and limits presidential power to ease them, Donald Trump ultimately signed the legislation. The Kremlin responded to the bill even before President Trump’s signing by ordering the United States to cut its diplomatic personnel in Russia by more than half and seizing two U.S. diplomatic properties. Dmitry Medvedev, the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, also stated that the signing indicates a “fully-fledged trade war [has been] declared against Russia” and called President Trump an “incompetent player who must be eliminated” in a Facebook post.
At the same time, other U.S. efforts to counter the Kremlin’s hostile influence in Europe, including the activities of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, have been stuck at a dead end. The main reason for this seems to be that the State Department has yet to accept funds that have already been allocated via the Counter-Propaganda Bill. Even though many State Department officials and diplomats might welcome the funds, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been rejecting them. The lack of action has been criticised by Senator Portman, co-author of the legislation.
The German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy recently launched the Hamilton 68 dashboard, a new project monitoring and tracking activities and accounts on Twitter linked to the Kremlin’s hostile influence in near-real time. You can read about the dangers posed by automated bots on social media in an interview with Philip N. Howard, the principal investigator of the Computational Propaganda Project at the University of Oxford, published by the National Endowment for Democracy. Also, Jeff Stein explains in an article for Newsweek how LinkedIn, not just Twitter and Facebook, provides fruitful ground for the Kremlin’s abusive behaviour.
The International Republican Institute published new polls concerning the Czech Republic’s geopolitical inclinations, views about international organizations, democracy and identity.
Putin’s Champion Award
Our Expert Jury consisting of Jessikka Aro, Peter Kreko, Nerijus Maliukevičius, Anton Shekhovtsov and John Schindler regularly votes on the dangerousness of several candidates you can nominate via e-mail or Twitter.
The 15th Putin’s Champion Award Recipient is:
Serbian filmmaker Emil Kusturica
for constantly advocating for the Kremlin’s positions.
Medija centar Beograd, CC 3.0
The Expert Jury ranked his Putin-supportive job with
(out of 5) mark.
The rating signals how much the recipient contributed to the interest of the Putin’s aggressive regime. It is calculated as an average of ratings assessed by the Expert Jury of this Award.
You can find more details about the award and the former recipients here.
Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion
Fellow travellers: Russia, anti-Westernism, and Europe’s political parties;
by Gustav Gressel, published by ECFR
Read the full study here.
According to a narrative of “anti-Westernism”, there is important common ground between Russia and many European political parties, both fringe and mainstream. This study offers a clear summary of the attitudes of individual parties – it divides 181 political parties in 22 EU countries into four groups according to their ranking on the ‘anti-Western’ scale. It is also worth looking at the issue from a broader perspective, which is why the paper also applies the same method for evaluating the national political systems of these countries.
Sympathy towards Russia and its ideology, existing within many European political parties, is more than beneficial for the Russian government, which can profit from these attitudes both at home and abroad. In response, European politicians who are pro-Western must actively counter the ideological threat that Russia and its apologists represent. Strengthening counter-intelligence services, tightening anti-corruption legislation and supervision, strengthening anti-trust laws and strictly implementing the third energy package would make it more difficult for Russia to develop and exploit its various channels of influence.
Good Old Soviet Joke
A man parked his car in the Red Square in Moscow. A policeman rushed to him, shouting, “Are you crazy? Here is where the government is!”
“No problem,” the man answered, “I’ve good locks in my car.”
Euroatlantic experts on disinformation warfare
Max de Haldevang details in his article for Quartz magazine how three British companies have helped the family of Vladimir Yakunin build a better reputation and life abroad.
Kaan Sahin argues that Germany should be a role model for other EU countries when it comes to countering the Kremlin’s hostile influence and offers several recommendations for reducing its vulnerabilities in an article for Carnegie Europe.
Janusz Bugajski, Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, testified in front of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee in July, explaining the goals of the Kremlin’s hostile influence in Europe and the Western reaction.
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Czech Disinformation Corner
Sudeten Germans are on the rise
If Czechs do not stop improving their relationship with Sudeten Germans, the Czech Republic may experience the year 1938 all over again. At least, Aeronet thinks so. According to the outlet, there are several entities that would like to see the Sudetenland under German rule again – not only the “massive” pro-Sudeten lobby but also the European Union. And how is the EU supporting this cause? An EU-funded website of the Southern Moravia region contains an ad for a local restaurant, in which one may find a historic map of Sudetenland.
Who wants to get rid of Czech pigs?
An article on the Czech Free Press website is speculating whether the Czech government is intentionally sabotaging the fight against the African swine fever virus, which is currently spreading in the Czech Republic. According to the article, it is possible that the purpose of this action might be to strip the country of local-made pork. Why? Because incoming Muslims do not eat pork, and the rest of the population will become more dependent on imports.
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