“Democracies must start treating their electoral processes as a part of critical national infrastructure,” said a report issued at the Prague forum, which calls for “tailored national defense policies” to keep elections free and fair.
“It is clear that democracies need to set up national policies for countering hostile disinformation operations, which are going on constantly, not only during the electoral period,” added the report – ‘A framework guide to tools for countering hostile foreign electoral interference.’
“Western countries are taking this more seriously now because they can see it affects themselves and not just Ukraine and the Baltic states,” said Jakub Janda, deputy director of the European Values think-tank. “From being a mainly foreign policy issue, it has become an internal security topic.”
Only a few Western leaders are ordering their security institutions to develop and implement robust strategies and policies against Russia’s hybrid warfare, notes Janda of the Kremlin Watch Program, proposing several immediate steps to stop Putin’s aggression:
- Western democracies must get serious about tackling the threat of massive disinformation. The influence of foreign powers—and hostile disinformation specifically—need to be established as a regular item on Western security agendas. Top policymakers should say that Russia’s behavior is unacceptable and that strong counter-measures will be taken. Each targeted country should set up specialized hybrid threat centers with at least thirty interagency security experts monitoring and analyzing disinformation operations against their own democracies…..
- National leaders need to finally make it clear to Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, that when European leaders called for EU action against “ongoing Russian disinformation campaigns” in March 2015, they really meant it. If she keeps avoiding naming Russia as the source of hostile disinformation operations, she’s systematically neglecting a clear threat perceived by many EU member states that she represents. Moreover, the only real EU response to this threat—an eleven-man EEAS East STRATCOM Team (paid mainly by member states, not by the EU institution that barely tolerates it)—is absurdly understaffed. At the very least, the EEAS’ progress and achievements should be discussed at the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council on a quarterly basis. And when the European Parliament calls for its reinforcement, it needs to happen.
- Moscow’s Trojan horses need to be called out and challenged. If a powerful politician is simply repeating Moscow-disseminated lies, as Marine Le Pen does regarding Ukraine, he or she needs to be publicly confronted. If some national politicians systematically downplay Russia’s meddling into their own countries’ internal affairs, serious questions about those leaders’ loyalty should be raised. Their personal and financial connections to the Kremlin and its proxies should be carefully investigated; otherwise, many democracies would be left with leaders who are vulnerable to blackmail. That is why all financing of political affairs must be completely transparent.
- Governments need to fund projects that expose disinformation and massively increase media literacy skills. Right now, virtually no funding is available in Europe for operational monitoring and the analysis of disinformation. When it does exist, it often comes from private foundations or a few American donors. …The EEAS East STRATCOM Team has already built a network of 400 volunteer researchers in thirty countries. Those experts report on disinformation on a weekly basis, and almost all do it for free. The volunteers are deeply determined, but serious research cannot be built without even minor financing. To understand how seriously institutions are taking the threat, look at the amount of money dedicated to countering it. …
- We urgently need data. How many Germans believe the most common Kremlin narratives? What portion of French voters think Baltic countries are not worth defending and therefore when NATO Article 5 is activated, the French president shouldn’t send French troops to defend its allies? What are the country-specific vulnerabilities Russian intelligence is using to push through its foreign-policy objectives? How are national electorates shifting their views on key foreign-policy issues, especially since 2014 when the Kremlin launched most of its disinformation campaigns targeted at Western audiences?
Democracies should learn from those societies that have been subject to the most Russian disinformation, namely the Baltic States, said Michael Carpenter, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and currently the Senior Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Biden Centre for Diplomacy and Global Engagement:
Russia has been sowing propaganda in the Baltic States since their independence. Their populations have become inoculated to this propaganda. Also, their mainstream media are very quick and agile in being able to debunk or discredit fake stories whenever they pop up, either from the Russian language media or other media where Russia has influence. As a result, propaganda is not as effective there, and sometimes it is even counterproductive, because the population immediately sees that it is Russian propaganda.