EUROPEAN POLITICS OF RUSSIAN DISINFORMATION: Federica Mogherini’s squad working to counter Russian disinformation and propaganda — known as the East StratCom team — has a problem. Unfortunately for Mogherini, it’s her.
Activists, analysts, national foreign ministries and political opponents in the European People’s Party have piled pressure on the EU foreign policy chief this week over what they say is her insufficient support for a team on the front-line of keeping democracy clean.
MEP Siegfried Mureşan, a member of the budgets committee, is considering offering the team a €1 million grant, in part to make sure European elections do not fall victim to a Russian disinformation campaign.
The funding would be a boost to a team that has been offered no discretionary budget by Mogherini’s European External Action Service.
Ben Nimmo, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and signatory of an open letter organized by the European Values think tank that called Mogherini “irresponsibly weak” on the issue, told Playbook that her anti-disinformation efforts are “the most token of token efforts. The East StratCom team is tiny.”
Nimmo said the team relies on staff loaned from EU member countries and Playbook sources said much of its information gathering is carried out by volunteers in countries such as Ukraine and Georgia. In contrast, the work of most EEAS teams is funded by generous diplomatic salaries and operating budgets.
Mogherini told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour this week that European societies have the “wisdom to make the right choices” in the face of Russian fake news and cyber warfare, and took credit for setting up the East StratCom team in 2015, at the request of the European Council.
An EU official familiar with the group’s work said, “It’s known that she [Mogherini] is not keen. She is considered to be soft on Russia compared to others in the Commission, or what some Eastern countries would like. Officials who work on these issues get no support from her.”
Sandra Kalniete, a Latvian European People’s Party MEP born in Siberia, told Playbook: “In a world where Donald Trump becomes a purveyor of RT [Russia Today] disinformation, I don’t believe the EU can afford to save on strategic communication, information literacy and critical thinking.”
Mureşan said “I am deeply disappointed at the EEAS’ meager efforts to counter the Russian information warfare on European countries.” He said: “It is unacceptable that our societies are under daily assault from [the] Russian propaganda machine. We cannot just keep on stating intentions and work with a understaffed unit in the EEAS when our democracies are under threat.”
The next act in this political theater will be at the EPP’s annual congress in Malta on March 29 and 30, where the party is expected to adopt a resolution on “Russian disinformation undermining Western democracy.”
The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Playbook it was a core supporter of the East StratCom team: “We believe that the task force is doing an excellent job in exposing and explaining Russian disinformation,” it said. However, Estonia wants “more permanent resources” beginning with “permanent staff and sustainable budget.”
[Ed. Comment …end of SC related topic.]