Russia’s interference in Central Europe rises

Russian influence over Central European public opinion has been of great concern in Slovakia, France, Hungary, and Bulgaria. Slovakian and Hungarian government officials have frequently repeated the Kremlin’s line on its war with Ukraine. 

The EU is concerned that Russian disinformation will impact the European legislative elections, where radical right-wing pro-Russian parties are likely to perform well.

In a statement, EU Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, Vera Jourova, said that Russia is waging a propaganda war against the EU and that it is important not to let this happen.

The European Parliament has urged the European Union’s political leaders and member states to respond to Russian influence campaigns as soon as possible and strongly.

A media poll about Russia’s interference 

A new poll conducted by MEDIAN on behalf of the Prague-based Committee for Editorial Independence in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Czechia, found that two-thirds of Central Europeans are concerned about Russian interference in their country’s media or public opinion.

Those who expressed concern varied from 61% in Hungary to 77% in Poland, with Russia viewed as the greatest threat in all countries, ahead of China, the United States, and US-Hungarian philanthropist George Soros.

“As the region grapples with political shifts and Russian influence, our findings underscore the critical importance of safeguarding media independence.”

Tessa Szyszkowitz, the Chair of the Committee for Editorial Independence.

The research also revealed that people in Poland and Hungary view social networking sites and messaging apps as more trustworthy and free than mainstream media. This could lead to citizens living in information bubbles, relying solely on skewed and biased reports.

Populist politicians like Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico and Czechia’s oligarch Andrej Babis frequently use such channels as an alternative to mainstream media. Social network usage in communication often helps legitimize conspiracy theories and Russian propaganda.

Pro-Russian threat in Slovakia 

Slovakia is now the country with the most public concern about media freedom. Following its victory in the September parliament election, Fico’s government is gaining control of the media.

The Slovakian government has proposed a law to strengthen its control over the national broadcaster, and it has shunned independent media. There have also been calls for private broadcasters to tone down their political coverage.

As a result, the poll found that only 20% of Slovak respondents are “not concerned” about the current level of media freedom. People now perceive the government as the biggest threat to media freedom, more so than businesses and media platforms.

Veronika Munk of the Slovak independent daily Dennik N stated that what is happening in Slovakia is quite similar to what happened in Hungary when Viktor Orban took power in 2010.

Slovakia’s government under Fico

Roberto Fico is known for pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian statements. Fico described the EU sanctions placed on Russia in 2014 for the Crimea annexation as “senseless” and a “threat to the Slovak economy.”

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Fico opposed transferring weapons from Slovakia to Ukraine. He supported Kremlin narratives and dissipated Russian propaganda that “Ukrainian fascists” rather than Moscow started the 2014 Donbas war.

Fico compared a NATO battlegroup in Slovakia to Nazi soldiers and presented the Ukrainian conflict as a clash between the United States and Russia. He claimed that allowing Ukraine to join NATO would lead to World War III.

Russia’s persistent propaganda in France

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.

The French official services entrusted with monitoring it state that this onslaught of skewed and twisted ‘news’ encompasses all facets of Russia’s disinformation machine. It is consistent with the Russian services’ known intentions—to divide French opinion on the Russia-Ukraine war—and their typical procedures, as revealed in a large data leak known as the Kremlin Leaks.

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.

In February 2024, French Viginum’s analysts discovered “Portal Kombat,” a Russian propaganda network that attempted to undermine Western support for Ukraine by disseminating falsehoods to European audiences. The network was managed directly by the Putin government, the report concluded.

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. 

Bulgarian elections and EU countermeasures

MEPs expressed their concern about Russian interference in the upcoming Bulgarian elections on June 9, along with Russian-owned properties on Bulgarian territory, according to a draft resolution of the European People’s Party on new allegations of Russian interference in the upcoming European elections and their impact on the EU. 

Following recent discoveries of Kremlin-backed attempts to tamper with and damage European democratic processes, MEPs passed a resolution on April 25 strongly condemning this interference.

The European Parliament expressed concern at serious reports that certain MEPs were paid to promote Russian propaganda and that many participated in the operations of the pro-Russian media outlet “Voice of Europe” during Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

MEPs ask EU and member state leaders to address Russian meddling activities not only in EU institutions but throughout the Union. They stress that the EU and member states must share a cross-cutting, holistic, and long-term policy approach for the EU’s response to these risks to be effective.

Call for sanctions against media spreading Russian propaganda

The European Parliament’s resolution urges the EU Council to include in the 14th package of sanctions on Russia Kremlin-backed media outlets, other media organizations, and individuals involved in spreading propaganda and disinformation in the EU.

MEPs want to replicate the Czech government’s penalties against “Voice of Europe,” Ukrainian pro-Russian businessman Viktor Medvedchuk, and his close ally Artem Marchevskyi.

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.

After all, 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.

Read all articles by Insight News Media on Google News, subscribe and follow.
Scroll to Top