The Russian Government and its agencies have infiltrated every element of European society, a French MEP has claimed. Socialist Raphael Glucksmann said that the Russian invasion of Ukraine contradicted European beliefs that the Union does not have any adversaries and that democracy could survive without being defended.
Addressing a press briefing hosted by the European Parliament office in Athens, Glucksmann, who heads the Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, highlighted the difference ways and means that the Russian state has used to control elements of the European way of life.
The first element revolves around disinformation campaigns and cyber warfare, which has been undergoing for a number of years. Since 2014, over 13,500 cases of disinformation (nearly 40% of all cases identified) have targeted Ukraine. In recent weeks, the pro-Kremlin disinformation narrative on the situation in Ukraine has been gaining momentum; it includes a misrepresentation of the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and claims that the West is imposing censorship through state
institutions and privately-owned social-media companies
The second element is the financing and support of European political parties, campaigns, NGOs, foundations and key actors in the European debate. It also includes what is known as elite capture, the act of paying significant sums to sign up top political actors who have or had access to EU decision-making, knowledge and information, naming former German Chancellor Gerard Schroeder and former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon as two high-profile names involved.
Former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon recently resigned from the boards of two Russian firms in protest over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine while the entire staff of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s taxpayer-funded office have quit as the long-time friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin resists growing pressure to cut his ties to the Kremlin following its invasion of Ukraine. Schroeder, who took several jobs at Russian energy companies after leaving office in 2005, and other politicians from the ruling Social Democrats (SPD) have come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks for their lobbying for Russian firms.
Glucksmann explained that the Russians do not necessarily follow a specific path when supporting specific movements, but rather involve themselves to sow discord and chaos. As an example, he mentioned the Spanish example, where agents close to the Russian State supported ultra nationalists and Catalan independentists, who are evidently radically opposed movements. According to leading Spanish newspaper El Pais when Russia’s official media speak about Catalonia, the Catalan referendum was presented as one of the many problems overwhelming Europe, and also as a proof of the ineffectiveness and failure of the European project, and by extension, of all Western projects.
Thirdly, Russia has invested in strategic infrastructure to create specific dependencies.
“These are systemic threats which have to be addressed in a systemic manner”, the MEP said, referring to the work of the Special Parliamentary committeee.
He highlighted key elements of a report debated and approved earlier this month, which calls on the European Commission to propose a multi-layer and cross-sector strategy to equip the EU and its member states with deterrence tools to tackle hybrid threats and attacks orchestrated by foreign countries. The strategy should focus on areas such as collective sanctions, media literacy, foreign interference using online platforms, critical infrastructure and strategic sectors, covert funding of political activities by foreign donors, cybersecurity and the protection of EU institutions.
The event was also addressed by Lutz Guellener, Head of Strategic Communications at European External Action Service (EAAS), who recalled that after the Crimea invasion, the EU Council had already highlighted the disinformation problem, noting the need to address such issue in the Eastern neighbourhood. It had noted that elements close to the Russian security apparatus had created structures that were designed to undermine the information space in sowing distrust, discord, putting out false information, decontextualising issue.
He noted how this issue was not troubling Europe alone, referring to the Muller report in the United States which had established that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election principally through two operations.
The report had found that the Russians had carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents.
Focusing on the way forward, Guellener said that the first step was to raise awareness among the public and institutions and to take the necessary action to address such challenges, including with social media platforms on the matter.