EU creates a task force to fight Russian interference and disinformation

In light of allegations of Russian intervention ahead of the European June elections, European Union leaders thought about how to respond, with a number of members asking for sanctions aimed at “malign activities” by the Kremlin.

To combat Russian election meddling in Europe, the EU has launched a task force. Although this task team is only temporary, the EU leaders are considering long-term solutions. According to reports, the Russian influence network sought to assign agents to work for MEPs.

The decision was made in response to allegations made by Czech and Polish authorities of pro-Russian influence operations in Europe involving far-right candidates for the June EU elections and members of the European Parliament, as well as evidence discovered by Belgian authorities that Russian influence groups were interfering with European elections.

According to Euractiv, the temporary emergency task force will be established under the Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR) structure, which enables Belgium, the nation presently holding the rotating EU Council Presidency, to facilitate quick coordination and decision-making during times of crisis.

Belgium’s prime minister, Alexander De Croo, announced that permanent systems will be considered after the temporary task force.

“The Commission, the European External Action Service, the Parliament, and the EU Council will monitor very closely what’s going on to coordinate information and pass it on to national bodies and authorities so that they can intervene if necessary,” De Croo said during an EU leaders summit.

Brussels has warned more and more that Russia is trying to sabotage Western support for Ukraine by spreading misinformation ahead of the vote in order to repel Moscow’s invasion.

The problem has come to light more dramatically in recent weeks, after Czech intelligence discovered proof that EU legislators paid for the dissemination of Kremlin propaganda on a news website headquartered in Prague. Belgium, the home of the EU’s highest institutions, is currently investigating these claims.

Speaking on the first day of a summit in Brussels, President Charles Michel of the European Council stated that EU leaders had discussed the threat posed by Russian meddling and decided to work together to combat it.

“We need to bring together the tools we have—the European institutions on the one hand, but also the national authorities on the other,” he stated.

Russian efforts to “skew narratives and strengthen pro-Kremlin sentiment” ahead of June polls, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola told leaders, stressing they were no longer “just a threat, but a possibility that we must be ready to counter.”

“The European Parliament stands ready to support the Member States in pushing back and addressing any malign interference with our democratic decision-making processes in every way that it can,” Roberta Metsola stated.

Alexander De Croo, prime minister of Belgium, and Petr Fiala, prime minister of the Czech Republic, have pleaded with other world leaders to take further sanctions into consideration in order to oppose Russian “malign activities.”

EU leaders mentioned the concern in their draft summit conclusions, pledging to “closely monitor and contain” vulnerabilities, such as “foreign information manipulation and interference in electoral processes.”

The site Voice of Europe, which is notorious for posting articles that replicate Russian propaganda and airing far-right and Eurosceptic guests that do the same, is at the center of the accusations made by the EU parliament.

Regarding the network’s operations, Prague has imposed sanctions on Voice of Europe, as well as two pro-Kremlin Ukrainian politicians, Viktor Medvedchuk and Artem Marchevsky, who now live in Russia.

Czech and German media have identified Petr Bystron and Maximilian Krah, two candidates from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, as potentially receiving funding from Russia.

Legislators in the EU are subject to severe regulations about their independence and ethics, and breaking them can result in both financial and non-financial consequences.

The federal prosecutor’s office in Belgium is investigating foreign people or groups accused of providing “donations, loans, or advantages” in order to acquire influence.

The European Public Prosecutor’s Office and the European Anti-Fraud Office should handle cases involving this type of political involvement, as requested by the prime ministers of Belgium and the Czech Republic.

EU officials have discovered that Russian disinformation strategies go beyond simply disseminating false information. Readers can become confused or misled to the point that they start to doubt all news sources, even reliable ones, when factual pieces are mixed in with deceptive narratives.

The Voice of Europe website, which was at the center of a scandal over the spread of Russian propaganda in Europe and possible bribery of MEPs, was not closed for long. The pro-Russian website has resumed its work after migrating to a hosting in Kazakhstan.

The Voice of Europe’s articles are focused on negative coverage of Ukraine, the EU, and European leadership. They probably target fueling tensions, unrest in Europe, and anti-EU sentiment.

We have reported a year ago that RT’s (Russia Today) closure in Europe would not stop pro-Kremlin propaganda from spreading in France, Germany and other EU nations. Pro-Russia propagandists, and even some journalists from RT, have disguised themselves in global media and publish their stories on new platforms, such as Omerta and Reseau International.

In our recent investigation based on the website and search analytics revealed that a network of pro-Russian news websites which are interconnected not only by similar topics and pro-Kremlin narratives but also by mutual citations and referral traffic from one site to another, as shown on an interactive infographics.

The websites on the list have different levels of bias, from constant criticism of the West, choosing only negative information about Ukraine and positive coverage of Russia, to spreading well-known Russian fakes and harsh Kremlin propaganda quoting Putin’s state media. 

In Europe, especially in Germany and France, a whole network of websites has developed that in various ways support the Kremlin’s agenda or openly spread Russian propaganda and demonize the United States, the EU, and the collective West. Such authors blame the West and NATO for all the troubles, often promoting conspiracy theories and disseminating the opinions of “pseudo-experts” about the decline and imminent fall of the United States, the European Union.

According to the prominent Spanish media outlet EL PAIS, Russia’s hybrid war in Europe employs a variety of techniques, including espionage, misinformation and propaganda efforts, and influence activities, to cause havoc and destabilize Europe.

Two months before the vital European Parliament elections (June 2024), the EU has cautioned in many confidential reports, which EL PAIS has seen, that the Kremlin is intensifying its campaigns. The latest coordinated investigation by multiple European intelligence agencies against a Kremlin influence network has raised anxieties.

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