EU approves resolution to fight back against Russian 'propaganda warfare'

Russian president Vladimir Putin expresses dismay at ruling and calls for 'open discussion'

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The Independent Online

The EU parliament has voted on a resolution aimed at countering “disinformation” and “hostile propaganda” from Russia, in a move criticised by Russian president Vladimir Putin.

MEPs warned that the Kremlin had escalated its war of words against the EU since the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, and said the Russian government now “employed a wide range of tools and instruments” including “pseudo-news agencies” to spread its messages.

The aim of Russia’s propaganda was to damage the relationship between the EU and the US, to discredit European institutions and to “incite fear and uncertainty” in EU citizens, according to the resolution.

“As regards the Russian Federation, the situation is now clear. After its annexation of Crimea and aggression in the eastern part of Ukraine, many countries are fully aware of its disinformation and manipulation“, said Anna Fotyga, the former Polish foreign minister and author of the report. “This report, in the course of its preparation, was also a target of hostile propaganda.

“The Russian government is employing a wide range of tools, such as think tanks, multilingual TV stations, pseudo-news agencies and multimedia services, social media and internet trolls, to challenge democratic values, divide Europe, gather domestic support and create the perception of failed states in the EU’s eastern neighbourhood”

MEPs also condemned the Kremlin’s alleged funding and support of “anti-EU forces” such as extreme-right parties which “deny the basic values of liberal democracies”, and said more had to be done to tackle deteriorating relations with Russia.

Speaking from Moscow, Russia president Vladimir Putin expressed his dismay at the ruling and suggested he was willing to hold “an open discussion” with the EU on the subject.

“It tells us that we are observing a certain, quite obvious, degradation - in a political sense of the word - of how democracy is understood in Western society, in this particular case in the European Parliament,” he told reporters. 

“The best approach is an open discussion, in which bright and solid arguments to support one’s point of view should be presented.” 

Russia's Foreign Ministry said Moscow will take retaliatory measures if the resolution is implemented. 

“We hope that the resolution will not entail practical steps on curbing the work of the Russian media,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

“There is hope that such steps will not follow, because the adoption of such a document caused massive uproar, for one, in the EU itself."

She added: “If this document is applied and implemented to curb the activities of the Russian media on EU member states’ territories, then we will of course take measures in response."

EU members meanwhile suggested investing in education and investigative journalism, to encourage European citizens to analyse media content critically. An improvement in cooperation between the EU and Nato would also be beneficial, the resolution stated.

The ruling will also apply to propaganda from Isis, which MEPs said must be tackled to improve “resilience against radicalisation”. This included developing a narrative against the militant group, “including the empowerment of Muslim scholars who can delegitimise Isis”. 

The motion was passed by 304 votes to 179, with members on both the far left and far right opposed to the move.

In July, senior European Commission official Jakub Kalenski warned that Russian propaganda had grown more powerful and had infiltrated all EU states, and said immediate action must be taken.

“There are countries where you don’t even need media, because you have the politicians spreading the programmed messages for you”, he said.

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