Czech EU presidency to prioritise fight against hybrid threats, deputy minister says

Jan Havranek, Deputy Minister for Defence Policy and Strategy of the Czech Republic [Czech Ministry of Defence]

The Czech EU Council presidency will put the focus on hybrid threats, by accelerating discussions about disinformation and interference set out in the EU’s Strategic Compass, Deputy Minister of Defence Jan Havranek told EURACTIV.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought the cyber and disinformation component of war back to the forefront. “Cyber is an integral part of the war”, Havranek said.

“It’s not necessarily a war that is happening only in cyberspace, but it is also happening in cyberspace and the information domain”, he said.

On Wednesday (11 May) however, Mykhailo Fedorov, the vice-prime minister and digital transformation minister of Ukraine, told reporters in Paris that the Russian cyber offensive did not achieve major breakthroughs, stressing that “no real Russian victory in cyberattacks against critical entities can be reported since the start of the war”.

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Russia’s military and cyber capabilities were significantly overvalued, according to Mykhailo Fedorov, the vice-prime minister and digital transformation minister of Ukraine, who opened the 2022 Paris Cyber Summit on Wednesday (11 May).

“The conduct of the war has been surprising on many levels”, admitted Havranek.

On the disinformation side, on the other hand, Russia has been performing better. Despite the banning of RT and Sputnik by the European executive, Russian state media content fell through the cracks and is still being spread on social media, according to a recent report seen by EURACTIV.

“Russia’s disinformation campaign is individually targeted and tailored” and is “very sophisticated in terms of being able to tap into certain aspects of societies”, recognised the Czech minister, noting that “there is no one solution the EU apply in all countries” and that it needs to constantly adapt.

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The Czech Republic is planning to address these issues while holding the rotating presidency of the EU Council, which starts in July.

Prague wants to accelerate the discussions about two blueprints that were introduced in the Strategic Compass, the EU’s new military strategy: the Hybrid Toolbox and Response Teams and the Foreign Information Manipulation and Interference Toolbox.

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“The threats are rising and the cost of …

“These are two interconnected sets of measures that the European Union could take, and they are building on existing tools, including the analytic capacity of East StratCom Task Force”, Havranked declared.

This task force was set up in 2015 to tackle Russia’s disinformation campaigns. “It has proven very valuable and I would say that it needs to continue to expand”, he said, calling for similar task forces to be established.

“I am thinking about Mali, for instance, where we are not winning the hearts and minds of the populations through our ability to communicate and where we are facing disinformation, potentially sponsored by Russia”, the minister added.

The Czech government also wants to use its six month presidency to contribute to the post-war stability and reconstruction of Ukraine, enhance energy security and increase the resilience of the European economy and strengthen the European defense capabilities, Havranek said.

“We will also be looking at the EU-NATO cooperation, including in hybrid and cyber areas”, he added.

Better coordination

European cooperation on cybersecurity has sometimes proven difficult. The head of ENISA, the EU’s cybersecurity agency, recently warned that the current incident reporting system is too bureaucratic and “does not work”.

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The head of the EU’s flagship cybersecurity agency has warned that its incident reporting system is too bureaucratic and “does not work”, and called for a more resilient system, as well as a better legislative environment and information sharing with member states.

“There has been a lot of progress achieved in coordination but, of course, there can always be more”, said Havranek.

“On paper, we have a solid base, but then it gets to practical implementation by individual member states”, he added, noting that there could be different ways to strengthen the resilience of the critical infrastructure, often privately owned. “It makes it a little more difficult for the government to make sure it’s secure”, he said.

The EU’s forthcoming cybersecurity directive (NIS2) is meant to address the blind spots of EU countries to improve their resilience. But Czech private companies are concerned this new legislation will impose additional financial and administrative burdens on their businesses.

“We have to remember that not every company has the financial resources or staff capacity to build special departments dedicated to this issue,” Kateřina Kalužová, digital economy manager at the Czech Confederation of Industry and Transport (SPCR), told EURACTIV.cz.

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The forthcoming set of broader EU cybersecurity requirements could hit obstacles in the form of insufficient financial and staff capacities, prompting fears in the Czech Republic that they could create new headaches, particularly for private companies.

[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi and Benjamin Fox]

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