EU sanctions against Russia should hit Putin propagandists

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Krzysztof Bobinski. [EAP-CSF]

The EU should not shy away from adding the names of the Russian media representatives in charge of running Putin’s propaganda machine to the list of those covered by its sanctions against Moscow, said Krzysztof Bobinski.

Krzysztof Bobinski is the co-chair of the Steering Committee of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum.

The European Union’s sanctions against Russia remain controversial among the member states, even if Brussels is currently considering stepping up restrictive measures. But it was Boris Nemtsov, who often wondered out loud why the West and the EU were sanctioning politicians and business people but not Russian media managers and editorial bosses.

When I heard him speak at a conference in Visby, Sweden last autumn, Nemtsov argued these are the people who produce the propaganda, which underpins Russia’s aggressive policies both at home and abroad.

Nemtsov even put together a list of media people who should be sanctioned. He said these people lie about the West on Russian TV all week, and then spend their weekends in their private vilas on Lake Como in Italy to relax.

While many Russian commentators blamed the national political atmosphere for his murder, Siergiej Kowaliow, a veteran human rights defender, blamed the Kremlin-run media machine. Ironically, Nemtsov little knew that media people on his list would be indirectly responsible for his death.

So far, the EU has shun away from sanctioning media people. Dmitry Kiselyov, the head of Rossiya Segodnya news outlet, was the only TV commentator to be sanctioned in 2014.

The Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership countries (CSF-EaP), representing NGO platforms from the six partner states, is asking the EU member states to extend the sanctions’ list by adding names of the top Russian journalists that are loyal to Putin. If the EU recognises the challenge Russian propaganda currently presents, it must be ready to enforce such steps.  

Russian media people should not get away with running a powerful propaganda machine while buying properties, sending their children to school, and obviously enjoying their life in the West. 

The European Commission and some of the member states, including the United Kingdom and Lithuania, are busy thinking of ways to counter Russian propaganda both at home as well as in the Eastern Partnership countries. Many are looking to a feasibility study on the subject which is currently being prepared by the European Endowment for Democracy (EED) on the subject.

The CSF-EaP, which is committed to supporting the rule of law reforms which the Eastern Partnership espouses, is well aware of the dangers Russian propaganda present.

Accordingly, CSF-EaP is monitoring Russian TV content currently being broadcast. The CSF-EaP is also looking at ways in which media regulations in the Eastern Partnership could be brought to bear against Russian broadcasters who violate legal codes on fair and truthful coverage of events.

It is worth remembering that it was the nationalist media in the Balkans in the early 1990s that laid the groundwork for the murderous wars which engulfed Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia.

Without that propaganda, the leaders of these countries would not have been able to mobilise their people to kill, wound, and maim thousands of victims. Those in the EU, who are arguing for an extension of sanctions, should bear in mind Boris Nemtsov’s list and consider sanctioning these people before it is too late.

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