France, Germany and Poland join forces to strengthen defense against Russian disinformation

French Minister Delegate for Europe Jean-Noël Barrot, German Deputy Minister for European Affairs Anna Lührmann, and Polish Minister for EU Relations Adam Szłapka held a meeting in the Weimar Triangle format.

The representatives of France, Germany, and Poland called for increased joint efforts to protect against disinformation operations by foreign actors associated with Russia. Jean-Noël Barrot wrote this on his X account.

Weimar Triangle experts call the EU for increased joint efforts against Russian disinformation operations

“Russian interference, war in Ukraine, support for democracy—in the face of these challenges, Europe must be ambitious. In a statement, he expressed the unity of France, Germany, and Poland in their determination to make their voices heard in the EU.

The representatives of the Weimar Triangle also proposed to put this issue on the agenda of the General Affairs Council on May 21, which is the body that prepares the European Council meeting.

French agency Viginum disclosed several Russian disinformation attacks

According to Jean-Noël Barrot, the French agency Viginum, tasked with combating foreign digital interference, has identified 31 new disinformation websites. Investigators report that all the domains, created between March 20 and 26, are part of the Portal Kombat information network, aimed at nearly all EU member states, according to Barrot.

The French watchdog for countering foreign influence, Viginum, announced in February 2024 the exposure of a Russian special operation known as Portal Kombat, in which a network of Russian websites disseminated Kremlin propaganda about Russia’s war in Ukraine, targeting European audiences with the intention of undermining the EU’s support for Kyiv.

In April, the French watchdog for countering foreign influence, Viginum, exposed several other Russian information operations aimed at different countries.

Christine Dugoin-Clément, a geopolitical analyst and researcher specializing in influence strategies, cybernetics, and artificial intelligence, told about this in the podcast “(Un)Safe Country.”.

Russia’s disinformation campaigns in France

In particular, this refers to Russia’s influence operation in Europe named “Duplicate.” The Russians created clones of mainstream media and spread reputational attacks on Ukraine, trying to split the unity between the European Union states.

Experts have recently discovered Matryoshka, another Russian special operation that specifically targets fact-checkers. As part of this, fake accounts ask fact-checkers or mainstream media to verify certain information that is deliberately fake.

“And if you refuse, they can feed their narratives, saying, You see, this is censorship.” They say they want to check the facts, but they don’t do it when we give them information.” On the other hand, you can say, “Okay, I’m going to check these things.” But you can’t be in two places at the same time,” says Christine Dugoin-Clément.

The French expert explained that this scatters fact-checkers’ attention, so the Russians benefit in both cases. “This operation is a win-win for them,” the expert emphasized.

Several waves of disinformation operations

In addition, the researchers found networks of about 500 “unreliable news websites.” These are pages that create narratives with the help of generative AI language models, which significantly increase the speed of news article production, but with low quality.

These sites disseminated content that met the Kremlin’s geopolitical goals in 15 different languages. In addition to French, Spanish, and other European languages, they also included Thai and other Southeast Asian languages.

Since March, experts in Viginum’s Paris offices—the new state service tasked with monitoring and protecting France against foreign digital media interference—have had to deal with an incredible series of attacks and fake news propagated by Moscow and its influence outlets, a Mediapart investigation has revealed.

In June 2023, French authorities revealed a Russian digital campaign that involved Russian agents of influence to spread disinformation against France. In this network, state entities or entities linked with the Russian state were amplifying fake stories.

These efforts consisted mostly of the creation of fraudulent web pages that imitated prominent national media and government websites, as well as false social media accounts.

Pro-Russian news website network in Europe

Insight News conducted a study in February and March that identified a network of news websites in Europe that propagate pro-Russian narratives, interconnected by quotations, hyperlinks, and user traffic.

The identified network of websites disseminates negative materials against the political establishment in Europe and favorable materials about right-wing radical and Eurosceptic parties in the context of the European Parliament election campaign.

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 these circumstances, experts, watchdogs, and EU states need to monitor websites spreading pro-Russian views, and readers should question such content because efforts that favor Russia in the information field in times of geopolitical confrontation play into the hands of the Putin regime and are detrimental to Europeans. Russia has shown that it is waging not only a war on the battlefield to destroy Ukraine but also an information war to break up a united Europe.

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