Friday

21st Jul 2017

Opinion

Words speak louder than guns

  • London TV mast: Russian propaganda is finding an audience in EU states (Photo: [Duncan])

“In war, avoid what is strong and strike at what is weak”, Sun Tzu said.

Russia has taken this to heart in spinning its narrative surrounding the Ukraine crisis, leaving Europe at a loss on how to counter Moscow’s relentless propaganda campaign.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Russia’s success in the propaganda war is chiefly due to the Kremlin’s grip on the country’s main media outlets, and the ease with which these can penetrate our media landscapes.

Scrambling to find a response, the EU decided in March to create a strategic communication plan “to counter Russian disinformation”.

But rather than creating its own counter-propaganda, the EU should take its cue from Sun Tzu, and target Russia by bolstering online and social media to reach out to civil society in eastern Europe and Russia itself.

Stretching the truth, far and wide

Russian propaganda has been used for three reasons.

First, drawing on its experience in the Georgia conflict, the Kremlin has found it most congenial to pursuing its political and military aims in Ukraine: whether it’s the discrediting of the Euromaidan movement, the sugar-coating of the bogus ‘referendum’ and subsequent annexation of Crimea, or flat-out denials about its military involvement with rebel forces in Eastern Ukraine, Russian media have been able to sow enough doubts in the minds of EU politicians to forestall any forceful response from Brussels.

Secondly, Russian propaganda efforts are also having harmful effects beyond Ukraine. Russian-speaking minorities in countries such as Moldova, Belarus and the Baltic states are being targeted with divisive narratives that aim to destabilise these countries.

In addition, Russian propaganda disseminated by outlets such as RT and Sputnik International is finding receptive audiences in various EU member states.

Thirdly, the impact of propaganda efforts within Russia is hard to overestimate. In a country subject to economic sanctions that finds itself isolated internationally, people are made to believe that Europeans (and Americans) brought a fascist government to power in Kiev and that the EU (and NATO) are out to frustrate Russia’s legitimate ambitions in its own neighbourhood.

As a result, the prospects for re-engaging with Russia appear further away than ever.

What should be done?

Europeans often think they are at a disadvantage in countering this Russian information onslaught, if only because the Russians do not seem to share the same reservations about spewing propaganda and have much better access to our airwaves than vice-versa.

Spending-wise, whereas Russia invested heavily in foreign-language editions of its main media outlets, media organisations in Europe have in fact been cutting down on news coverage in Russian.

Russia understands how important information superiority is, and has made sure that its ‘truth’ receives the widest audience as possible. But in countering this, Europeans should be smart in their approach, and – instead of targeting Russian propaganda head on – should aim at its weak spot.

Practically speaking, this means that instead of setting up a rival TV channel to compete with RT, it is much more effective to work through online and social media: it is cost-efficient, more targeted - in particular when it comes to young people - and easier for obtaining access to those societies that are vulnerable to Russia’s subversive spin.

Furthermore, such media outlets should not be used to disseminate counter-propaganda, but rather to present a narrative based on facts and reflecting shared values between East and West, such as those enshrined in the 1975 Helsinki accords.

For instance, any legitimate concerns Russian-speaking minorities in countries bordering Russia might have should get a fair hearing. At the same time, online and social media are good platforms to address issues of press freedom or corruption.

If the EU were to provide support to media outlets that promote a balanced agenda, it would be much more effective than strategies that amount to Russia-bashing.

Trust, but verify

This approach would pose more questions than Russian outlets claim to do, for the truth of a narrative lies in its credibility. And in the current context of ‘hybrid warfare’ where deniability has become implausible, Russia’s credibility is its weak spot.

When properly exposed, its fabricated truths simply cannot hold up. By promoting an inclusive narrative that emphasises shared values, Europeans can help create a basis for rebuilding relations with Russia in the long term.

Thus, the key to restoring trust between Europe and Russia lies in both sides being able to verify each other’s professed narratives.

In that regard, Russians should remember that Ronald Reagan’s phrase ‘trust, but verify’ (doveryai, no proveryai) was after all a Russian proverb.

Willem Oosterveld, Sijbren de Jong, Katarina Kertysova, Ihor Ilko and Juncal Fernández-Garayzábal González are Strategic Analysts with The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS)

Lithuania bans Russian TV station

Lithuania’s media watchdog has blocked broadcasts by Russian TV channel RTR Planeta on grounds of inciting hatred over Ukraine.

Winter is here for Spitzenkandidat, but he'll survive

Candidates from all political families should be presenting their vision on where the Union should be headed. European socialists want to keep the Spitzenkandidat procedure for future elections.

Greece needs a new plan

Two years into its third bailout, Greece needs to combine the necessary fiscal targets with a new vision. This can be done in the context of the ongoing industrial revolution.

Greece needs a new plan

Two years into its third bailout, Greece needs to combine the necessary fiscal targets with a new vision. This can be done in the context of the ongoing industrial revolution.

News in Brief

  1. Polish parliament adopts controversial justice reform
  2. GMO opt-out plan unlikely to go anywhere in 2017
  3. Slovak PM threatens to boycott inferior food
  4. France takes Google's 'right to be forgotten' to EU court
  5. Turkey accuses German companies of supporting terror
  6. Israel's Netanyahu caught calling EU 'crazy'
  7. UK does not collect enough data to expel EU nationals
  8. Polish president threatens to veto justice reform

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  2. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  3. ECPAFood waste in the field can double without crop protection. #WithOrWithout #pesticides
  4. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  5. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  6. Martens CentreWeeding out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Episode 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  9. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  10. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  12. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School

Latest News

  1. Dutch coalition talks lengthiest in 40 years
  2. Polish parliament steps up showdown with EU
  3. EU urges UK to clarify its Brexit positions
  4. Law expert: direct EU powers have become too complicated
  5. Winter is here for Spitzenkandidat, but he'll survive
  6. Mafia money pollutes the EU economy
  7. Central Europe should be wary of Brexit stopping
  8. Poland's 'July coup' and what it means for the judiciary

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  2. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  3. EU2017EEPM Ratas: EU Is Not Only an Idea for the 500mn People in the Bloc, It Is Their Daily Reality
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy
  5. ILGA-EuropeGermany Finally Says Ja - Bundestag Votes for Marriage Equality!
  6. EPSUJapanese and European Public Sector Unions Slam JEFTA
  7. World VisionEU, Young Leaders and Civil Society Join Forces to End Violence Against Girls
  8. UNICEFNarrowing the Gaps: The Power of Investing in the Health of the Poorest Children
  9. EU2017EEEstonia to Surprise Europe With Unique Cultural Programme
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Talks Should Insist on Ending Reprisals Vs. Critical Voices
  11. European Free AllianceEFA Is Looking for a New Intern
  12. Malta EU 2017Conservation of Atlantic Tunas: International Measures Become EU Law