The European Union needs to invest in a counter-propaganda unit to counter Russian narratives, an MEP has said, adding: “We are really in a state of war with Russia.”
During an European Parliament hearing on East StratCom, a counter-propaganda unit in the EU foreign service, Jaromir Stetina, a Czech centre-right MEP told colleagues: “We are really in a state of war with Russia, by we I mean EU citizens.
“There are no bombs, tanks, missiles, but we are in a war, because this is a hybrid war, and disinformation is a part of this hybrid warfare.
He added: “This is a war that the Russian federation declared on us, the goal is to destroy the European Union, and we have to defend it.”
East StratCom currently employs 11 people to debunk Russian news narratives, promulgate EU policy, and support independent media in eastern European and former Soviet countries, EU Observer has reported.
But Polish centre-right MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski called on the EU to invest in the unit, transforming it into a fully-fledged agency.
“The problem is that lies are not only present in mainstream media, but in our political life,” he said.
“Those lies win elections, those lies govern, and I hear them from the mouth of between 100-140 members of this house, who use the Kremlin’s narrative here.
“We are under threat, democracy is losing, it is not at risk of losing, it is losing,” he added.
“Some might even say that it is too late, because certain political processes are already running and we’ll see the results in Dutch, German and French elections. Do I have any reasonable things to propose? We should shout, and not calmly explain.”
Jakub Kalensky, a member of the unit suggested that rather than creating a Brussels-based agency, counter-propaganda centres should be set up in every member state.
So far the Czech Republic is said to the only country with such a task-force – although it came under attack from its own president, EurActiv has reported.
Russia had “an orchestrated campaign” which was “targeting millions of people in the EU and the euro-Atlantic space on a daily basis using the method of repeating a lie a hundred times until it becomes truth,” Kalensky said.
“The aim of this disinformation campaign is to weaken, to divide, to destabilise the West: either along existing divides or by creating new ones.”
He told MEPs that a common tactic was to spread conflicting versions of a story to confuse people. Another was to divide public opinion by denigrating a person, state, or a specific political party.
Expanding further on common tactics, Boris Navasardian from the Eastern Parnership Civil Society Forum told MEPs “One important part [of the propaganda campaign] is not to spread false facts, but opinions, and controversial issues to be presented in a stereotypical, one sided way.”
Miriam Lexmann of the US-based NGO the International Republican Institute added: “Accurate fact and playing with sentiments is more dangerous than only providing fake news.”