Vladimir Putin, you have been warned. The European Union’s foreign affairs department is ready to launch what it calls a ‘rapid-response team’ to counter Russian aggression in eastern Europe and the Baltic states. Troops and warplanes will not be part of the plan.
Instead, the EU announced Thursday it will do what it does best; send in the bureaucrats. The EU wants to unleash crack teams of media and public relations professionals from offices in Brussels to counter what it considers biased Russian media reports. The strategic unit, which will include up to 10 Russian-speaking officials and media operatives from member states including the UK, will be fully operational by the end of September and will be part of the European External Action Service (EEAS).
Politico reports it is a first step in the EEAS’s response to growing concern in eastern Europe and EU Baltic states about the destabilizing influence of Russian-language news reports coupled with military aggression on the ground and in the air.
The team, which will be based in the EEAS’s Brussels headquarters, falls short of requests from Latvia that the EU establish a full-blown, EU-funded Russian-language television channel, to provide an alternative source of news to Russian-speakers in both EU and “eastern partnership” countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus).
Officials Thursday stressed the limited scope of the team and were adamant its role would be to improve EU communications with Russian-speaking communities and not to be producing Brussels-funded propaganda. The EU member states will pay the salaries of the personnel.
“This is mostly about reinforcing our existing actions,” an EU official told Politico. “It’s more about reallocating resources and doing more to reinforce that and communicate better.
“The team will carry out media monitoring and will work on the development of communication products and media campaigns focused on explaining EU policies in the region.”
However, the EEAS said it has neither the resources nor the mandate to go beyond the capabilities of the new unit and the funding of TV channels in Russian was not on the cards.
“This is not about engaging in counter-propaganda,” the EU official said. “However, where necessary the EU will respond to disinformation that directly targets the EU and will work … to raise awareness of these activities.”
Follow Simon Kent on Twitter: Follow @SunSimonKent or e-mail to: email@example.com