Sixty-five European security experts and parliamentarians from 21 countries have signed a declaration explicitly blaming EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini for not doing what she should do to name Russia “as the main source of hostile disinformation” and for not taking adequate counter-measures.
Czech expert Jakub Janda, Head of the Kremlin Watch Programme and coordinator of the initiative, brought the declaration to the attention of EURACTIV.com on Thursday (9 November). The declaration is timed for maximum impact ahead of the 13 November meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, where Russian disinformation will be discussed as several EU ministers are reportedly openly disappointed by Mogherini.
The signatories of the Declaration represent major sectors of the Western political and security establishment – from a Vice-President of the European Parliament, architect of Magnitsky laws Bill Browder, to the main architect of the Finnish response to Russian disinformation Mantila Markku, who served as director of government communications in the prime minister’s office of Finland, and former president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Jedmin Jeffrey.
Other signatories are leaders of major US think-tanks such as the Brookings Institution or the American Enterprise Institute, the UK’s Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, The Polish Institute of International Affairs, Estonia’s International Centre for Defence and Security, the French Centre for Study and Research on Political Decision, the Hungarian Political Capital Institute, the Czech European Values think-tank, the Latvian National Defence Academy, and the Slovak GLOBSEC Policy Institute, which came under the fire of the country’s pro-Russian President Miloš Zeman.
The 65 experts urge EU leaders, naming specifically Mogherini, to “stop trying to avoid naming Russia as the main source of hostile disinformation” or to take practical steps such as to “triple the capacity of European Externa Action Service East STRATCOM Team“.
This is not the first time when Mogherini as attacked for not taking hybrid threats from Russia seriously, and in particular for not giving sufficient funding and manpower to the East STRATCOM team, which works next to her office in the EEAS building.
“As EU leaders decided to make EEAS counter Russian disinformation campaigns two years ago, the specific team (East STRATCOM Task Force) is still gravely understaffed with only three national experts focusing on this particular and crucial task. EEAS should triple the capacity of this team so it can finally start fulfilling its mandate in earnest”, the experts write. They further call that this unit be transformed from a temporary assignment into a permanent EEAS structure and provided with at least €1m for targeted research.
Calling Russia the aggressor
The experts write that despite the seriousness of this threat, few Western political leaders are calling out the aggressor. “For example, the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini has spent the last two years trying to avoid naming Russia as the main source of hostile disinformation. If Europe wants to defeat this threat, its leaders need to call it out by name. Russian leaders need to hear from European representatives that these hostile subversive efforts against our democracies must stop,” they write.
Further, the experts call on EU member states to acknowledge the hybrid threat from Russia and to conduct together targeted research to obtain clear data on which segments of their society believe the most common Kremlin disinformation narratives.
Mogherini, who has a lot of dossiers on which she counts on Russian cooperation, would probably not embark on a confrontational campaign vis-à-vis Russia.
Officials from East STRATCOM have said that there is no need to centralise all efforts to counter Russian propaganda and disinformation in Brussels, and a more productive approach would be for member states to do more themselves.
Not all member states perceive the Russian hybrid threat in the same way – far from it – and some of their leaders have even occasionally called for the lifting of EU sanctions on Russia. However, when it comes to voting on renewing sanctions every six months, no national leader has used their veto power.
At a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, Bulgarian Prime Minister Bokyo Borissov asked Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to explain where the threats to the EU were coming from. He did not get a straight answer.