Western democracies ‘floundering’ in internet clash of ideas?



Russian efforts to influence the French presidential election show that the central aim of the Kremlin’s media outlets and networks is to foment fear and mistrust outside Russia and to undermine Westerners’ faith in the security of their countries, the integrity of their institutions and the stability of their daily lives, notes Cécile Vaissié, a professor of Russian studies at Rennes II University and the author of “Les Réseaux du Kremlin en France.”

The Russian authorities have set up at least three influential organizations in an attempt to subvert France’s electoral process, she writes for The New York Times:

  • Le Dialogue franco-russe (the Franco-Russian Dialogue) is an association created in 2004 under the auspices of Jacques Chirac, then president of France, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. It includes companies involved in trade between the two countries, and claims that its purpose is to develop “economic cooperation and business relationships.” ….. According to the French secret services, the organization is “infected” with the Russian foreign intelligence service.
  • L’Institut de la démocratie et de la coopération (the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation) was set up in Paris in 2008. Its stated purpose is to create “a bridge of solid friendship between two great European nations, France and Russia.” Yet in numerous interviews its director, Natalia Narochnitskaya, has put forward very hostile views. ….For Ms. Narochnitskaya, Russia offers “an alternative to the West.”
  • The Kremlin’s third main proxy organization in France is the much less formal Forum des compatriotes (the Compatriots’ Forum). It first convened in 2011 and brings together Russian-speaking émigrés and descendants of émigrés in meetings held at the Russian embassy in Paris…..

In a resolution last November, the European Parliament warned against “Russian disinformation and propaganda warfare,” calling it “an integral part of modern hybrid warfare.”

That war really is underway, Vaissié adds. Its goal is to build the “post-West world order” that Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, called for in a speech he gave in Munich in February. RTWT

But observers worry that the Western democracies are floundering in the battlefield of the internet, where ideas go to clash, Kremlin trolls go to spread half-truths, and ISIS goes to recruit foreign fighters, Foreign Policy’s Robbie Gramer writes:

“It’s time to embrace memetic warfare,” social media and tech guru Jeff Giesea, wrote in Defence Strategic Communications, the journal of NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence in 2015. “Trolling, it might be said, is the social media equivalent of guerrilla warfare, and memes are its currency of propaganda.” …The problem is that NATO, like governments everywhere, are pretty terrible at the internet. Meme’s aren’t really part of NATO’s arsenal yet, even if the alliance is desperately trying to tap into ideas from the private sector about how best to use social media. RTWT

Russian agitprop is pervading Central and Eastern Europe, analyst Sergey Sukhankin writes for Eurasia Daily Monitor:

  • First, Russia has chosen Poland as its primary target for destructive activities and spreading of disinformation. As the region’s largest country and a direct neighbor to Ukraine, Poland is being pitted against Ukraine to erode the level of support for Kyiv among European Union states. ….
  • A second Russian strategic goal is the infiltration of the Visegrad Group (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic) by propagating anti-Ukrainian and anti-Western sentiment. This is being done via various NGOs and foundations, such as the East European Cultural Initiative (Východoeurópska Kultúrna Iniciatíva), organized in 2014 in Slovakia. ….
  • Third, in addition to Ukraine, Russia is determined to discredit Moldova’s international image. Of particular importance for this strategy are two planning documents: “Project: Moldova Is Not Romania” and “Project: Ukraine Is Not the European Union.”….
  • Fourth, e-mails released by the UCA again highlight how the Kremlin employs large numbers of trolls and “patriotic” bloggers with the aim of securing victory in the realms of informational and cyber warfare. …
  • Finally, the hacked documents expose the involvement in these regional operations of such top-ranking Russian officials as Konstantin Zatulin, first deputy chairman of the State Duma committee for the Commonwealth of Independent States and relations with Russian nationals abroad, and Konstantin Malofeev, the “Orthodox oligarch” and unofficial sponsor of Russian aggression in Donbas. RTWT

As the information age becomes the disinformation age, America faces three distinct adversaries, each with its own expertise in marrying cutting-edge technology with age-old methods of manipulation and deception, the Hudson Institute adds. What are the differences between radical jihadist, Russian, and Chinese propaganda? How is America responding? How should it respond?

A roundtable discussion will focus on the whole range of approaches, from U.S. international media to public diplomacy to strategic communications to “grey” and “black” psy-ops, with Jeffrey Gedmin, senior fellow at Atlantic Council and former president and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Martha Bayles, visiting fellow at Hudson Institute, and Eric Brown, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute.

Tuesday, April 18th 12:00 to 1:30 pm Tuesday, April 18th 12:00 to 1:30 pm.

Hudson Institute Stern Policy Center 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Suite 400 Washington, DC 20004





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