Information Warfare · Russia

This Is How Russia Implants ‘Alternative Facts’ Over Europe

24 April, 2017

What You Need To Know:

✅ The Kremlin Watch Program concluded a study on Russian interference and disinformation operations that target European countries. The findings evaluate the individual policies of the 28 European Union member nations towards Russia;

✅ The Russian policy, put simply, is to “divide and conquer”;

✅ Of the 28 EU member states: “Eleven countries are basically on the front line, and understand the threat coming from Russia,”- Jakub Junda, Head of the Kremlin Watch Program;

✅ “If you read through the reports of European Intelligence agencies, most of them are openly saying that Russia is the threat, not only in Ukraine or in the Baltic countries, but domestically,”- Jakub Junda.

The Kremlin Watch Program, which is a part of the European Values Think-Tank, recently concluded a study on Russian interference and disinformation operations that target European countries. The findings evaluate the individual policies of the 28 European Union member nations towards Russia.

Jakub Junda, who is head of the Kremlin Watch Program, explains that of the 28 member nations, “eleven countries are basically on the front line, and understand the threat coming from Russia.” Six of those countries—Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, United Kingdom, and Denmark— understood the threat before the start of Russian aggression in Ukraine. The other five— Finland, Sweden, Netherlands, Germany, and the Czech Republic—shifted their policies following the aggression.

On the other hand, Junda highlights that there are countries like Greece, Italy and Cyprus, that don’t stand up to the Russian Federation: “There are countries which are very much hesitant or countries which are pretty Kremlin-friendly, as we would say, which are helping out Russian foreign policy objectives.”

The Russian policy, put simply, is to “divide and conquer,” says Junda. Apart from disinformation or influence operations, and meddling in elections, the Russian Federation tries to provide special offers or deals to specific countries to get them on their side. “If you read through the reports of European Intelligence agencies, most of them are openly saying that Russia is the threat, not only in Ukraine or in the Baltic countries, but domestically.”

In its report, the Kremlin Watch program lists seven recommendations, acknowledging Russia’s threat and suggesting ways in which European countries can protect themselves from it.

Hromadske’s Nataliya Gumenyuk spoke to Jakub Janda, Head of the Kremlin Watch Program via Skype on April 23, 2017.

There is a general understanding that the Kremlin is trying to interfere with the policies of various European states. But what new information have you managed to prove with this research and maybe what you didn’t manage to confirm something? What are the main findings and what do we and the public need to know?

Actually, this study is an outcome of several months of work of my colleagues and myself as well. Basically, there are several things, which we can take away from it. First that the EU was able to put together the sanctions against Russia’s behavior but right now we can see that there are 11 countries out of the EU’s 28, which first had the overall experience or knowledge on expectations of the Russians’ aggressive behavior. Or that those countries have shifted their policies following the Russian aggression against Ukraine. So those 11 countries which are basically on the front line, which understand the threat coming from Russia…

These are what countries?

We have a small group of 6 countries, which to our understanding had held the concerned views of the Russian behavior: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, United Kingdom, and Denmark. So those countries basically knew it all along. So they were warned against Russia’s behavior. And then we have another 5 countries, which is to our understanding basically shifted their national policies and strategic documents, following the Russian aggression against Ukraine. And that’s basically Finland, Sweden, Netherlands, Germany, and the Czech Republic. So those are the countries that are on the front line of the response to Russian aggression. Every country is different so we are not saying the everybody is the same but basically this is the core of European response to Russian aggression. So those are the key countries.

Moreover, if we would be more specific, looking at the threats coming from Russia, there are 13 countries out of those 28, which are concerned with Russian disinformation and interference in European domestic affairs. And those countries are taking part in international projects which the EU or NATO is doing on Russian disinformation, primarily. But this means that those 11 or 13 countries are the core advocating for more options against the Russian aggression in Ukraine. And obviously there are countries which are very much hesitant or countries which are pretty Kremlin-friendly as we would say, which are basically helping out Russian foreign policy objectives sometimes, and it’s unfortunately for example, Greece, Italy or Cyprus.

What are the particular policies? What is the Russian strategy? What exactly do they do?

They do several things. To put it very simple: Russia tries to divide and conquer. When those EU countries—even smaller countries such as the Czech Republic where I come from—are faced with dealing with Russia bilaterally. So one to one. They are basically very weak. But the EU’s 28 can work pretty well if there is a united voice on this. At this moment, we still have a united voice on the sanctions, even though there are countries that are voicing their concerns, we still have the sanctions running and prolonged. But what is Russia basically doing, it tries to provide special offers or deals to specific countries to rule them on their side, for example. Or we can see disinformation or influence operations, trying to do something we can call a soft regime change. For example, trying to help specific candidates in specific countries—France, Germany and other countries as well—to help them be elected. And there Russia expects that those candidates would be pretty tolerant to do something what Russia calls a sphere of influence. Basically being tolerant to anything Russia is doing in Ukraine or Georgia, for example.

You have reason that the game changer in this situation would be the next German government coalition. And these days we are closely watching the elections in France. So the biggest EU countries, with the UK being out already. Can you elaborate more about those states?

If you look at France, we can see that France has been very hesitant in supporting Ukraine or being open and vocal against Russian aggression. But the French still support the sanctions. So that has been the long-term position of France, let’s say. But now with the presidential election, basically happening right now, there are a lot of question marks. You could have a winner who could basically be a Russian Trojan horse. If Marie Le Pen would get elected, which is still a possibility, it would mean that Russia would have one of the most vulnerable and good friends in Europe, with and executive office in France, in the Presidential Palace, which could mean a lot. But there are obviously other candidates who are Kremlin-friendly as well or there’s Mr. Macron who would, as I expect, continue the current French policy, which basically stands behind the sanctions in a way, even though they criticize them somehow. But they are more or less pretty silent on the positions which are happening at this moment. So I wouldn’t expect big changes if Mr. Macron would get elected.

But the more important or similarly important, I would say, would be the elections in Germany, because everything is open. On one side, there could be something that we would call a red coalition. So the social democrats with the post-communist party which is again, I would say, a Kremlin Trojan Horse—they basically copy-paste anything the Kremlin says, and they want to get out of NATO as well. For Germany, it would be a huge blow is it would happen. I wouldn’t expect it really happen but this chance is there. And on the other side, we could have the CDU, the current Chancellor Angela Merkel be in charge, the question is: with whom she would form the coalition? If again with the social democrats, I would expect that the current position of the German government wouldn’t be changing much. Or she could do a coalition potentially with other coalition parties if those numbers would add up. It would fulfill what she really feels about Russia and that would be a really principled position on every side of the aisle. Not only militarily which is happening right now, but more on the political level as well.

There are those that would say there is too much hysteria; Russian threat, sometimes it’s overestimated and those kind of talks would give more weight to the Kremlin than it really has. Seeing Moscow as more powerful than it is compared to the European Union. What would you say on that? And also, what is really a hardcore evidence that Russia is really meddling in the different countries’ policies, beyond the Baltics where we do have this evidence? But if we speak about the European Union as a whole.

There’s other evidence, not only in the Baltic countries. We have seen Russia threatening countries like Sweden, Finland and Denmark with military aggression. So that’s something we’ve seen and those countries take it very seriously. When we are speaking about the interference in elections, for example, we have seen an open support of the Kremlin for Marie Le Pen in France, we have seen disinformation being created by the Kremlin authorities or Kremlin proxies inside Europe which are trying to meddle and support the far-right procurement politicians, or to openly attack the current politicians who are in power, for example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. This is the usual policy.

Then we have, for example, seen the hacks, which German authorities have concluded that there is a high-level of threat coming from Russia in the cyber domain. For example, in 2015, we have seen hacks in the German Parliament, in the Bundestag, which were probably coming from Russia, as authorities said. Or right now, if you read through the reports of European Intelligence agencies, most of them are openly saying that Russia is the threat, not only in Ukraine or in the Baltic countries, but domestically.

For example, the report of the Dutch Counter-Intelligence Agency recently went out. They are saying that Russia tries to influence domestic affairs in the Netherlands. Even small countries. And that is something, in most countries, that you can read it in their intelligence reports. By their intelligence and espionage means. So we could see that another threat is coming from Russia as well and that European authorities, on various level of national centers and for example in European Parliaments, our authorities are basically saying it loud, that this threat is growing and we should take it seriously.

This is what our authorities are saying pretty loudly. And I think we should take it very seriously, because they know what they are saying.

You mentioned in this study that there is some gap between national security, representatives of the Ministry of Defense and Intelligence, and large political establishment. So how important is that and is it spread all over Europe?

What I could conclude from my personal experience when I attend intelligence briefings by various countries, and when I speak with those insiders, what is visible to my understanding is that let’s say in the north and east part of Europe, mostly the nations security establishments including intelligence agencies are basically on the very same side with the majority of their political spectrum, understanding the threats. Obviously there are various understandings of what should be done about it—that’s a legitimate political debate. But the general understanding is very similar in those countries. But if you look at the western part and basically the southern part of Europe, you could see that sometimes there is a big difference between what the national security establishment, including intelligence agencies are saying or at least thinking and what their political leaders, at least some of them are basically saying or doing.

I have already seen quite a lot of complaints for example that in some of those countries, there would be very little interest from their politicians to listen to their own intelligence agencies or security institutions in understanding what kind of threat could be coming from the Russian side. Because it’s not very pleasant to some of those politicians when they are openly advocating for business relations and good economic dealing with Russia. And at the same time, their own security people are telling them to be aware because those guys are not really the usual business partners and they can and are already doing a lot of harm for our allies or to ourselves as well.

What would be your recommendations, as that is probably the most important things of a policy paper?

We are coming up with 7 recommendations. First we are saying that the aggressiveness of the Russian Federation is probably not going to go away overnight, and will stay with us unfortunately for quite some time, until the regime in Russia implodes. So we are saying this is not going to disappear, only depending on what is happening in Ukraine. Second, we are saying that even smaller countries in Europe should be focusing on assisting Germany to adopt the position of the prime defender of the liberal international order, which is something many people are thinking about. The German military is pretty much on the right side of this, even having large capacities done in the Baltics right now. But politically, it’s still pretty hard for the Germans to play this role, so I think smaller countries could help out the Germans on this one slightly. Number three; we are saying that it’s probably not reasonable to expect that some positions of the Kremlin-friendlies like Greece, Italy or Cyprus would be moving. Because we have seen quite a lot of atrocities or even crimes from the Russian side in Ukraine or Syria and those countries, like Greece, Italy, and Cyprus didn’t change any of their big policies on this. So we are saying probably nothing can move them. Number four, we should be looking at how Russia uses energy dependence of some European countries and is trying to make it even bigger. And that’s something that would be looked through not only the energy lens, but also from security and intelligence matters. Because we can see Russia trying to lure some of the current or former politicians to work on the Kremlin’s behalf, as we have seen with the former German Chancellor. Number five would be that we are saying that European countries should really form their own defense mechanisms against hostile foreign influence because we could see Russia trying to interfere in elections and this is probably not going to go away. So for this reason, every country needs to seriously look into it. Number six we are saying that there are 13 countries which apparently take Russian disinformation pretty seriously and they should ask Federica Mogherini to reinforce the team she has in her service because it still has only 11 people. So for this reason, it should be strengthened. And number 7, the last recommendation is basically saying that we are pretty much missing Polish engagement on this field because Poles have the capacity, have the history—everyone understands why they are concerned about Russia’s behavior. But because of how the current Polish government is behaving in the European institutions and internationally, they are not seen as the legitimate leader at this moment. And I think that it’s pretty much a wasted opportunity at this moment because everybody, let’s say including the Italians, would be understanding if Poland would be the leader of the countries which are concerned with Russia. But right now, it is very tough because of how the Polish government is behaving on so many levels. So this number seven, we are saying this would be great if it would change, because these 11 countries could have an informal leader and would be respected because of history, size and regional aspects as well.