Friday

18th Oct 2019

EU counter-propaganda 'harms' relations, Russia says

  • EU message to Ukraine still 'positive' despite Dutch clause (Photo: GeenPeil)

Russia has warned the EU against promoting itself in what it sees as its neighbourhood, amid final preparations for an EU summit with former Soviet states.

Andrey Kelin, the head of EU affairs in the Russian foreign ministry, delivered the message to Thomas Mayr-Harting, a senior diplomat in the EU foreign service, in two recent meetings in Brussels and in Moscow.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • EU should blacklist bogus Russian media, Kiev said

They discussed Ukraine on both occasions, with Kelin telling Mayr-Harting twice that "raising the budget of Stratcom East would harm relations between the EU and Russia", according to one EU diplomat briefed on their meetings.

Stratcom East is a team of 14 officials in Mayr-Harting's service tasked with debunking Russian propaganda and with promoting positive media coverage of the EU in the former Soviet region.

When Mayr-Harting's boss, Federica Mogherini, met EU foreign ministers last week, 17 of them urged her to give her so-called 'myth-busters' more "human and financial resources".

Their call came ahead of an EU summit with Armenia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine in Brussels on Friday (24 November).

But Mogherini's draft declaration for the Eastern Partnership summit appeared to heed Russia's warning.

The text, seen by EUobserver, mentioned Stratcom just once. It said the unit would "support media plurality" and "improve … resilience against disinformation", but it said nothing about scaling-up its activities.

An EU official told press on Tuesday that Stratcom would focus on "explanatory work" about the EU instead of on debunking Russian propaganda.

"Primarily, its role is to explain precisely what the EU is doing in integration in general and more specifically in the framework of the Eastern Partnership," the official said.

But for Mykola Tochytskyi, Ukraine's ambassador to the EU, the Kremlin's warning should have been taken as sign of Stratcom's effectiveness and as an incentive do more.

"Russia's manipulations and 'fake news' are one of the main security threats for the EU and the Eastern Partnership region. If this was not the case, why would they care so much about Stratcom's budget?," he told EUobserver on Tuesday.

Practical steps

Tochytskyi said extra information on EU policies was "very important", but "further effort is also needed to counter Russian propaganda".

He proposed two "practical steps".

He said EU states should "limit or ban" the activities in their jurisdictions of Russian "propaganda outlets such as RT and Sputnik", as well as "hundreds or even thousands of other fake news outlets, such as the Luxembourg Herald, and fake social media accounts".

He said Stratcom should also "compile a list of such outlets that are used by Russia and its proxies".

Asked by EUobserver if Brussels could learn anything from Moscow on how to win people's hearts, he said: "I'm not sure that the EU could learn something positive from Russia - a country where political ratings are achieved by harsh Soviet-style propaganda, complete violation of human rights, and demonisation of Western values".

Friday's summit will be attended by the leaders of at least 20 EU states, but French president Emmanuel Macron will not go and German chancellor Angela Merkel has not confirmed either.

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko will send his foreign minister instead.

The draft summit declaration said EU leaders "acknowledge the European aspirations and European choice of the partners concerned".

EU message

But it said they do so only "in [the] context" of Dutch demands that association treaties with Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, who want to join the EU, will not lead to membership, the right to work in Europe, major financial assistance, or security guarantees.

The EU official said the EU had to bow to Dutch concerns to "make it possible for all member states to ratify the association agreement with Ukraine" after Dutch people voted against the Ukraine treaty.

The non-binding referendum in 2016 was also a target of Russian disinformation attacks.

With France and Germany backing the Dutch position, the EU official said there was "no consensus within the EU at this stage to give Eastern Partners a membership perspective".

The official added that the Dutch clause in the EU summit text changed nothing.

"I don't see any change in our position [from previous Eastern Partnership declarations] of acknowledging aspirations and welcoming the choice, but not saying more," the official said.

Still positive?

Speaking amid the EU-Russia communications rivalry, the EU official said the summit statement was "in any case positive".

Harking back to the Kremlin warning, the official added that Friday's meeting was meant to be "non-confrontational".

"We do not force binary choices on our partners. We are not making them choose between us and others [Russia]," the official said.

But for Tochytskyi, the EU message to Chisinau, Kiev, and Tbilisi would be stronger if the Dutch caveat was taken out.

"We are still in negotiations with our partners on the draft declaration," he said.

He said that an EU decision, in December 2016, to take on board Dutch people's concerns, was designed to soothe tensions at the time and was not meant to be binding on EU foreign policy.

The EU decision said that the EU Council "takes note" of the Dutch referendum and that EU states took on board Dutch concerns "as their common understanding".

"There is really no need to reiterate the reference to the EU leaders' decision of December 2016 as it has played its role and has nothing to do with the Eastern Partnership initiative," Tochytskyi said.

Opinion

West needs to get real on Ukraine

Western demands for Ukraine to implement utopian reforms at lightning speed, at the same time as defending itself against Russia's war, serve only to weaken the Ukrainian government.

Tusk: Poland risks harming EU appeal

EU Council president said anti-democratic 'interventions' in Poland and the US could harm Western soft power in its contest with Russia.

News in Brief

  1. Almost 7,500 people forcibly returned to Libya in 2019
  2. Puigdemont released after responding to arrest warrant
  3. Commission: Facebook's Libra needs international approach
  4. Italian PM: denial of accession talks a 'historic mistake'
  5. Catalan president blames clashes on 'infiltrators'
  6. US imposes €6.7bn new tariffs on European products
  7. G7: Libra should not operate until all risks addressed
  8. Kurds agree with US-Turkey ceasefire but not safe-zone

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Opinion

Time to pay attention to Belarus

Belarus may be hosting the European Games, but Vladimir Putin is not playing games when it comes to Belarus' independence. The West needs to get serious as well.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  2. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  3. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  4. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  6. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  10. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  12. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  2. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  3. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  9. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  12. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us