Disinformation: EU-Russia “battle of narratives”

Brussels 07.02.2023 “…Years ago, the Council asked the [European] External Action Service, and the High Representative, to work on [countering] disinformation. It is not something that happened yesterday. When was it? I do not remember, but it was much before I came to Brussels” said the EU top diplomat Josep Borrell (pictured), while addressing the European External Action Service Conference on Foreign Information Manipulation and Interference (Brussels, Concert Noble).

“The Council started detecting that there was a lot of toxic information spreading around and asked the [European] External Action Service to react to it. And then, we started working and, today, we are going to present the result of our work” Borrell continued.

And, today, that is clear: this war is not only conducted on the battlefield by the soldiers. It is also waged in the information space, trying to win the hearts and minds of people.

And you will tell me: “nothing new on that, Goebbels already invented [that] during the Second World War – to lie and to spread disinformation is nothing new”. Well, what is new today is the intensity, the will and the instruments. Goebbels had no internet, and no social media instruments.

But, today, people that behave like Goebbels – telling a lie 1,000 times – have a powerful capacity of multiplication at the speed of light and reaching everyone everywhere.

Inside Russia, the crackdown on freedom of expression and freedom of the media has reached unprecedented levels. As in any authoritarian regime, particularly when one is at war, it has to hide to their population the number of casualties they are suffering.

Just 10 days ago, one of the last independent media outlets in Russia, Meduza, was designated as an “undesirable organisation”. And anyone who is trying to say the truth is immediately considered a “foreign agent”.

“We try to support them. We stand by the Russian independent media, by the civil society, the human rights defenders who, despite the continuous crackdown they are suffering, continue to defend the human rights and oppose authoritarianism and war. When I say that, it is not just rhetoric. I cannot go into details, but believe me, we support them in practical terms. But I am not going to tell you why because it would be detrimental for them. Because there are still some independent voices that continue working under serious threat.

“For years now, Russia has invested in disinformation and information manipulation as an industry. They have been investing massively, much more than we invest in fighting against disinformation.

“Believe, I know it very well: I have been one of the favourite targets of [Russian] disinformation – me, personally –, much before coming here, and especially these days. They are masters of that, they invest a lot, they use thousands of people, and they do that on a systematic, permanent and industrialised manner – as a weapon.

“Disinformation and propaganda outlets are today a weapon of the Kremlin. And this weapon is a weapon – it hurts, it kills. It kills the capacity of the people of understanding what is going on, and, as a consequence, the position of governments and the decisions of international organisations. We will see that in the next UN General Assembly.

“They try not only to control what is happening at home – as any authoritarian dictatorship regime – but they [also] try to destabilise others.

“Russia has built networks and an infrastructure to mislead, to lie and destabilise. I want to use these strong verbs: to mislead, to lie and to destabilise in an industrial manner. To erode trust in institutions.

“This is a major threat for the liberal democracies, which are based on information. Democracy is a system that is based on the information that people have, because they made their choices – their political choices – according to their own perceptions and information that they receive about what is happening in the rest of the world”.

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