Diplomat: EU is losing the propaganda battle

A war for hearts and minds, everywhere. Moscow, 2014. [Shutterstock]

Two EU diplomats told EURACTIV today (18 March) that they believe that the European Union should take measures to react to Russia’s propaganda targeting member states, but that they find it stupid that the bloc is going to make its plans public with a text in the conclusions of the two-day EU summit that begins tomorrow.

Russian government-funded TV stations, like RT, broadcasting in English, Spanish, Arabic, German and French have been steadily expanding their operations, reaching a wide audience in EU countries.

European Union leaders are expected to adopt summit conclusions saying that the Union needs to challenge Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns. According to a draft obtained by EURACTIV, they would also task EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini to prepare an action plan by June on strategic communication in support of media freedom. They will also decide on the establishment of a communications team, as a first step.

>> Read: EU sets up ‘communication team’ to counter Russian propaganda

One EU diplomat, who asked not to be named, said: “Russian propaganda in Europe is a problem everywhere, because it is efficient. They are masters of it. My problem is that we have put it on the agenda. We need to deal with it. But I question whether this is the best way.”

Another diplomat from a different EU country said that the Union needed to do something “because everybody knows we are losing the battle”.

“I don’t understand why we are putting this tasking the paper. If I was Russian, I would absolutely be pleased, because we are providing evidence for Russians how successful they are. I don’t think we should discuss that too much, we should deliver, and Federica doesn’t need any tasking, because she knows we have to do something,” the diplomat said.

Asked by EURACTIV if the EU has a problem because its culture of transparency prevents it from being more effective and less discrete, the diplomat strongly agreed.

The same official expressed scepticism to the idea of setting up a TV station, or other media projects, in Russian.

“We are sceptical whether we can develop a structured strategy which we can oppose to the Russian propaganda. Can such a strategy be developed with the free European media? I’m not sure,” the diplomat said.

The other concern he voiced was that it seems impossible to set up any such media project quickly.

Sanctions over dinner

The draft conclusions do not contain any text about possible further sanctions against Russia, or the roll-over of the existing sanctions when they will expire in July. It is expected that a text will be proposed at the summit itself, diplomats said. It is expected that the issue of sanctions will be discussed over dinner.

One of the possible decisions is that leaders won’t decide on new sanctions, but will agree on an automatic roll-over in July. This means that if the leaders believe that the situation on the ground doesn’t call for an easing of sanctions, there would be no need for a formal decision, and the roll-over would be automatic.

Latvia, which took over the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU on 1 January, intends to launch an independent quality media Russian which could include a Russian-language TV channel to counter Kremlin propaganda.

>> Read: Latvia proposes ‘alternative’ to Russian TV propaganda

Johannes Hahn, the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy, hinted last December that the EU executive was aware of the surge of Russian propaganda against the background of the Ukrainian crisis, and that it had some ideas about how to deal with it.

>> Read: Hahn: We have some ideas how to deal with Russian propaganda

  • 19-20 March: EU Council summit in Brussels.

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