Russian disinformation campaign covers up the real process of re-Stalinisation of Russia’s official narrative regarding the roots of the war – keynote address of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Marek Magierowski delivered at the Visegrad Insight & NATO Myth and Reality conference on 7 December 2017
In recent years, the transatlantic community has been increasingly exposed to hybrid threats that include hostile actions designed to destabilise a region or a state. We are targeted mostly by states but also – to a lesser extent – by non-state actors.
It goes without saying that Russia is one of the most advanced hybrid actors. Since the Russian aggression in Ukraine, we have been witnessing a dramatic increase of disinformation and propaganda activities coordinated by and from Moscow.
Russia’s playbook consists to a significant degree of hybrid means. However, Moscow’s actions aimed at achieving its political goals are undertaken below the threshold of an open war.
Disgruntled, but not yet unruly
Europe is facing a low intensity of hybrid conflict; the three domains being targeted by Russia are information, cyber and intelligence. Disinformation and fake news are preferable tools used from the wide spectrum of hybrid measures. With a broad scope and impact on the whole society they are cost-effective and can easily lead to a destabilisation of a country and its people.
Hostile disinformation and propaganda operations orchestrated by Moscow serve the main objective of the Kremlin’s foreign policy – undermining faith in the Euro-Atlantic democratic standards and institutions, dividing and weakening NATO and UE member states as well as sowing discord among Western societies.
Furthermore, Russian state media are continually broadcasting biased and misleading information reinforcing the internal public perception of Russia being threatened by external enemies, particularly the US and the West in general.
It is safe to assume that Russia will continue this hybrid policy. Such activities are cheaper and often times difficult to attribute to a specific country. Russia’s use of broadcasting tools for propaganda campaigns caught both Ukraine and the West by surprise. But it also triggered our reaction to joining forces in order to create an adequate response to Russian propaganda.
Despite Russian attempts to divide European societies, we do need to stand united in face of the forthcoming threat. The more united we are in opposing the propaganda, the more efficient we become. Therefore, close EU-NATO cooperation on strategic communication and transatlantic unity are necessary to face hybrid threats, including hostile propaganda.
The strategy behind unity
An efficient response to Russian propaganda is our common obligation. Neither Poland nor the other V4 countries can do this alone – it is a duty of the whole international community and is attached to our shared democratic values.
We should counter the Russian propaganda in parallel ways, 1) by providing objective and non-biased information on our side and spreading our own, positive narratives based on fair and true facts aimed at debunking explicit lies, 2) by assisting the independent Russian-language media in Europe and its Eastern neighbours.
High-quality, impartial and uncensored news and non-information content is a cornerstone of democracy. It has the power to hold governments accountable not only in internal but also external environment.
We highly appreciate the EU East StratCom Task Force and other projects – the NATO Centre of Excellence on Strategic Communication in Riga as well as the Centre of Excellence on Hybrid Threats based in Helsinki. The activities of those entities will help us share experience and coordinate our efforts aimed at countering the threat posed by Russian disinformation.
Poland actively supports electronic and traditional media in the post-soviet area, we coordinate closely with other donors, also via the European Endowment for Democracy (EED). Access to independent information not tainted by Russian propaganda is key in countries such as Belarus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan but also Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.
Same past, new history
Anti-Polish rhetoric among Russian authorities and their media campaign has significantly intensified recently. Poland has been repeatedly accused of “history distortion” and alleged “fighting with Russian monuments”. Moscow also exploits contradictory views on some aspects of the history of Polish-Ukrainian relations. These steps are taken to mislead both Russian and international public opinion and to set an artificial ground for political and historical dispute.
We perceive it as a disinformation campaign that escalates unnecessary emotions and jeopardises bilateral dialogue. False allegations regarding the so-called “war with monuments” are a part of broader misinformation campaign conducted by Russian authorities, aimed at creating the image of Poland as a country discrediting the contribution of the Red Army in the defeat of Nazi Germany in WWII.
The goal of this campaign is to cover up the real process of re-Stalinisation of Russia’s official narrative regarding the roots of the war, as well as the nature of the political system imposed on Poland by Soviets after 1945. In particular, this narrative denies the reasons lying behind and the consequences of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, known as the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, and leads to an increased relativisation of Soviet Union’s responsibility for the Katyn Massacre – which proves the fact that Soviet Russia entered the war along with Nazi Germany with clear intentions to annex the Polish territories and not as a “tactical manoeuvre”.
Polish authorities are aware of the threat posed by Russian information warfare. We are in the process of working out the most adequate scheme with regard to the strategic communications within the government. We are striving for the model, in which the coordinating StratCom body would be placed at the Prime Minister’s office (Chancellery of the Prime Minister) along with the StratCom teams functioning in the key line ministries and other institutions.
Poland highly appreciates initiatives undertaken by the EU East StratCom Task Force, aimed at highlighting blatant Russian propaganda. It has brought the expected results. Regular issues of weekly digest and disinformation review present the acutest examples of Russian propaganda. They also perfectly respond to the need of improving media literacy among viewers and listeners.
In this regard, we perceive the recent statement of minister Lavrov heavily criticising East StratCom for allegedly harming the perspective of EU-Russia dialogue as a proof that this entity is efficient and highly needed also in terms of raising awareness of the threat among European institutions and, in general, the Western political elite.
However, in its present formula, the East StratCom is not able to effectively counter disinformation, fake news, and other propaganda threats. The optimal solution would be to establish similar units in all countries (not only for myth-busting but also for effective counteractions and positive communication). Henceforth, we see the need to further strengthen the Task Force – both financially as well as in human resources. The Polish MFA fully backs the initiative of like-minded countries concerning that issue. Recently, along with seven other Foreign Ministers, Mr. Waszczykowski signed a letter to HR F. Mogherini underscoring the urgent need to further enhance the EU’s StratCom Force Units.
Marek Magierowski is the Undersecretary of State at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.