European Western Balkans

“Russian propaganda” worries EU member states

Flags of EU member states; Photo: EU Delegation to BiH

Eight EU member states urged European External Action Service (EEAS) to intensify its actions aimed at countering Russian propaganda work and hybrid warfare in a letter dispatched on October 12. The signatories of the letter sent to Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, were the foreign ministries of six former communist states – Croatia, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania, along with the British and Swedish foreign ministries.

These countries claim to be on the front line of, what they call “sophisticated and intense” campaign, waged by “external actors”, to “generate distrust and discontent with the democratic order, to discredit the EU, the transatlantic community and our partners, as well as to weaken our unity”, as reported by the Brussels based EUobserver, which had had the access to the aforementioned letter.

“Attention is being directed toward attempts to influence the creation of distrust and dissatisfaction with the democratic order as well as efforts to discredit the EU and member states, the transatlantic community, and our partners”, said the statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia, one of the signatories of the letter. Croatian primary concern is Russian influence and propaganda activities in its immediate neighbourhood, i.e. in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Montenegro, rather than Russian propaganda directed towards Croatia itself.

However, Croatia does not seem to pursue a uniform foreign policy, as the President of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, asserts she had not been informed about the letter, which was, interestingly, dispatched only a week before she was due to pay an official visit to Russia. In addition, Croatian Foreign minister, Marija Pejčinović Burić did not join President Kitarović and the delegation that went to Russia, although it could have been expected, as one of the hosts was Russian Foreign minister Sergej Lavrov. Croatian media extensively reported on incoherent and ambiguous foreign policy of Croatia – one pursued by President Kitarović, and another led by the Foreign Ministry. The fact that the letter had been signed only a week before the President was expected to meet Russian officials gives an impression of a faulty understanding of foreign policy in general or could be understood as a deliberate attempt to undermine the President’s trip to Russia, former Deputy Foreign Minister Joško Klisović notes.

Croatia and other member states urged for further enhancement of the EU’s StratComs capabilities, its “proper funding” and a “firm institutional basis”.

The signatories of the letter, in addition, called for the “roll-out a full capacity” of the new branches of StratCom – the Western Balkans StratCom Task Force and the South StratCom Task Force that concentrates on Islamic radicalization, both recently created.

The Strategic Communications Division (StratComms) works closely with EEAS and other institutions of the EU to promote EU’s key values and communicate publicly, through press relations, web communication, and social media, on its Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

East StratCom Task Force was set up in 2015 in order to strengthen its communication and promote the policies of the EU throughout Eastern Neighbourhood and, more importantly, address Russia’s disinformation campaign.

Whereas East StratCom contains 14 staff, the fact characterized by those opting for a more efficient and productive task force, the newly established Western Balkans task force has only two seconded diplomats. The criticism further targets the lack of their own budget and the fact that they do not work together.

Earlier this year, a group of European security experts signed an open letter, published by European Values, a pro-European think tank based in Czech Republic, which criticized the “irresponsibly weak” reaction of the EU, accused Federica Mogherini for spending “the last two years trying to avoid naming Russia as the main creator of hostile disinformation”, and called to triple the capacity of the East StratCom team and significantly increase its budget so that it can fulfill its mandate.

Similar demands were expressed recently by some of the member states and extended as to encompass the Western Balkans and the south of Europe. It only remains to be seen how many member states will join the frontrunners in countering the alleged Russian offensive.

Publication of this article has been supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States

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