EU accuses Russia of ‘orchestrated’ disinformation campaign
The European Union on Wednesday accused Russia of pumping out thousands of pieces of disinformation in an "orchestrated strategy" aimed at destabilising the bloc.
Russia faces a barrage of accusations of interfering in a string of seismic political events, including the British vote to leave the European Union, the US election of President Donald Trump and the Catalan independence crisis.
EU Security Commissioner Julian King gave the European Parliament an unusually blunt assessment of the scale of the Kremlin’s propaganda efforts.
“There seems frankly little doubt that the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign is an orchestrated strategy, delivering the same disinformation stories in as many languages as possible, through as many channels as possible, as often as possible,” he said.
“This conclusion is based on two years’ work by the EU’s East Stratcom Task Force, which has gathered more than 3,500 examples of pro-Kremlin disinformation, contradicting publicly available facts, repeated in many languages on many occasions.”
The Stratcom East team was set up in 2015 to counter inaccurate and malicious reports about the EU in its eastern neighbourhood — countries such as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia — to promote the bloc’s policies.
The task force runs a “mythbusters” website and social media feeds to debunk false media reports, most of them promoting Russian government agendas.
Recent fake reports include claims that France was banning Christmas symbols, Denmark was using unwanted family pets to feed carnivores in zoos and Sweden was introducing a law requiring written consent before sex.
– ‘Disinformation extremely successful’ –
King told MEPs that Moscow was “not exactly shy about the goals of this disinformation campaign and disinformation activity”.
“In Russia’s official military doctrine, as well as statements by top Russian generals, they describe the use of ‘false data’ and ‘destabilising propaganda’ as legitimate tools; and information as ‘another type of armed force’,” he said.
In a sign of how seriously the EU takes the Russian disinformation threat, late last year the bloc agreed to fund Stratcom East directly from its main budget for the first time, to the tune of 1.1 million euros a year for the next three years — up from 200,000 euros.
“If we look at opinion polls measuring how many people accept obvious disinformation planted in pro-Kremlin media, then unfortunately we have to conclude that Russian disinformation can be extremely successful,” King warned.
“So that’s why we need to redouble our efforts to debunk this propaganda.”
On Monday the EU launched a task force of around 40 experts, including a representative from AFP, to draw up ways to tackle the broader phenomenon of fake news.
Britain, which is in the process of leaving the EU, has taken a tough line on Russian propaganda, with Prime Minister Theresa May accusing Moscow of attempts to “weaponise information”.