The EU «strategic communication plan» to counter «Russian propaganda» in Europe has not been published yet, but the very fact of its existence hits the radar screen. Originally, the nine-page plan (already seen by many reporters) was to be made public at the June 25-26 session of the European Council.
The expectations were dashed with controversies remaining and ironic comments coming from Russia. State Duma Speaker Sergey Naryshkin says Washington politicians who claim Russia's isolation are «pathetic clowns». «Russia’s isolation is just impossible and those high-ranking politicians in Washington who claim that they allegedly isolated Russia look like pathetic clowns», Naryshkin told a lower house session on July 3. «This initiative of the EU contradicts European values, including the freedom of speech. It also limits the right of people to get information from different sources. In fact, this initiative isolates Europe», the Speaker added.
At present, this opinion could be corroborated only by excerpts from the text of the «strategic communication plan» offered by EU-friendly publications. Many media outlets dance to the tune of EU leaders who ordered the plan to be prepared. The publication of the final text is continuously postponed to mirror differences of opinion inside the European Union. No wonder! The EU «counterpropaganda» outlets conduct a smear campaign against Russian world broadcasters (RT and Sputnik), as well as «Putin-friendly» European reporters. They see as Putin-friendly low-key style interviews with Russian officials, or the publication of materials containing no anti-Russia derogatory remarks. According to them, such publications contribute into Russia’s propaganda efforts abroad.
Italy’s Corriere della Sera has recently come under harsh criticism for publishing an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin without confronting him. It was blamed for providing a podium for «Russia’s propaganda» dissemination. It did an interview with Paul Bremer, a US diplomat, on Putin’s comments the next day. It also did an interview on Putin with the Italian foreign minister to reject the argument that the newspaper gave a platform to Russian propaganda. No matter that, the accusations continued unabated.
It’s worth to have a cursory look at the way the events unfolded recently. The need for a plan to counter the «Russian propaganda» has been an issue on the agenda since last December when the then EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy, Johannes Hahn, said the EU had «some ideas» on the way to fight Russia’s presumably increased «communication effort».
The first draft of this new counterpropaganda strategy of the EU was submitted on January 9, 2015, by Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania and the United Kingdom. The blueprint avoided mentioning direct censorship or blacklisting. Instead it emphasized the need for instruments to counter the Russia’s «propaganda efforts» meaning EU-friendly broadcasters who would offer views alternative to what Russia’s newsmakers had to say (including reports in Russian language). However, the draft also called on EU media regulators to hold Russian broadcasters accountable if they «manipulate, deceive, incite hatred, or propagate war». While lambasting Russia, the EU did not send any warning messages to the Ukrainian regime and its broadcasters.
The EU pretended to ignore the fact that Ukrainian media’s fake reports about Russian troops invading Ukraine from Crimea (offered as a scoop by Western newspapers, such as the New York Timeswhich reported the news last summer) proved to be absolutely false. «Obviously, the EU pretended that these lies did not reflect the desire to manipulate, deceive and incite Ukrainians, as well as Americans and Europeans too», ironizes Jon Hellevig, a Moscow-based expert in business and media education and the founding partner of Moscow-based Awara Group.
On February 6, 2015, the EU’s new rotating chairman, Latvia, came up with a more radical draft. The European Council, the body that defines the EU's overall political direction and priorities setting the EU's policy agenda, addressed the issue at the March summit. EU leaders, meeting on March 19-20, gave High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, three months - until their next summit this June - to work out how to support media freedom and European values in Russia. It welcomed the establishment of a communication team as a first step in this regard.
Soon East StratComTeam was formed. It has not been made clear what exactly functions this team will carry out, but it is already spending money. It was only natural to expect financial abuses. The European Endowment for Democracy (EED) received a 500 000 euros grant to be spent on a «feasibility study» of «opportunities for pluralism» in the Russian media. Alastair Rabagliati, the EED’s director of operations, told EUobserver, «We’ve launched an initiative, with the support of a Dutch government grant, which will develop a feasibility study with clear recommendations on the way forward for the development of independent Russian language media initiatives».
Before the EU’s Eastern Partnership summit in Riga (Latvia), the feasibility study on Russian Language Media Initiatives in the Eastern Partnership and Beyond was presented on 19 May in Riga, It used such terms as «pan-regional news hub», a «content factory» and, of course, «coordination mechanisms». The EU threw away half a million euros of taxpayers’ money on this «research work».
While accusing the Russian media of lies, the EU officials and the friendly media were regularly caught red handed offering misleading information to public since a long time ago. The aforementioned «EUobserver», for example, has recently reported that the Russian news agency RIA Novosti «tried to hire a Brussels PR firm to improve the image of Stalin» in 2009.
This is a blatant lie circulated by Andrew Rettman of EU observer with impunity. «To say that we glorify Stalin is certainly a calumny», Svetlana Mironyuk, then editor-in-chief of RIA Novosti, said in 2009, adding that rumors about this were circulated with the aim of discrediting the agency. On many occasions RIA denied trying to whitewash Joseph Stalin, not to speak about hiring foreign companies for that purpose. In fact, Stalin has been viewed in Russia as a controversial and predominantly negative figure since 1956 (when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, the Stalin’s successor, denounced his activities as he addressed the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party). But the EU’s media is deliberately creating myths about «Russian nationalism going wild under Putin» and «Russian trolls getting millions of dollars from the state budget» driven by evidently political motivation.
The latest «counterpropaganda» plan of EU, seen by reporters in June, includes accusations of «fabrications» and «hate speech» against RT and Sputnik. If propaganda is a threat, then the EU is the one who poses it when it attacks Russia, Hungary, and Greece. The EU does not shy away from fakes (take, for instance, the reports about Saddam Hussein possessing the weapons of mass destruction - the biggest, but by no means only hog-wash offered to public by European media). The EU’s media has no «prejudice» against hate speech neither (for instance, the demonization of Russian speakers in the east of Ukraine calling them «Sovietized alcoholics» in the Polish newspapers was one of the factors that provoked the civil war in Ukraine).
History will hand down its verdict on the EU’s liars. But people should not wait for explanations offered by historians. The EU’s major disinformation campaign launched against Russia, as well as Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, negatively affects the whole Europe in general. It should be stopped now before it is too late.