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Open Letter of European security experts to Federica Mogherini: Start taking the Russian disinformation threat seriously!

The aggressive actions of the Kremlin are unprecedented in the modern era. Invasion of neighbouring countries, massive bombings and killings of civilians, and the first annexation of a foreign land by force since World War II, constant violations of other states’ borders, kidnapping foreign citizens, harassment of foreign diplomats, or massive cyber attacks are all in Russia’s current regime toolkit.

All these offensive incidents are accompanied by a massive, persistent, ongoing, brutally aggressive disinformation campaign. A campaign that has been active in Europe for at least three years, establishing its channels, finding the right amplifiers and multipliers for its message – which is aimed at destabilising our societies, meddling in our elections and referendums, misleading our political leaders and breaking up the EU unity by supporting those who want to destroy it. It has been building a wide range of communication structures in most of the EU Member States, platforms that have already been functioning for a long time and have reached considerable results that cannot be erased without significant long-term counter-effort.

Yet, our reaction is irresponsibly weak. We see questioning and marginalizing of the issue on multiple levels, on claims such as that there is actually no disinformation campaign; that it is not happening in our countries; that it is not corrosive. We see blindness and refusal to admit that someone is actively working to undermine our societies and to destroy the world order that has been established after the World War II and has provided the Euroatlantic world with an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity.

Despite the seriousness of this threat, the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini has spent the last two years trying to avoid naming Russia as the main creator of hostile disinformation. We as European security experts have seen her constantly appease the Russian aggression.

When European leaders called for an EU action against “ongoing Russian disinformation campaigns” in March 2015, they really meant it. If she keeps avoiding naming the Russian Federation and its proxies as the main source of hostile disinformation operations, she is 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. Regardless of the European Parliament’s calls for its reinforcement, it is reportedly not going to happen at all. This team has no budget whatsoever – despite being tasked by the European Council to counter the Kremlin disinformation machine, which is boosted by over 1 billion euro annually. Thanks to Federica Mogherini, the EU spends literally nothing on countering one of the biggest challenges of our world today – a hostile disinformation campaign, which is successfully undermining our democratic societies.

DAVOS-KLOSTERS/SWITZERLAND, 28JAN09 - Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation captured during the 'Opening Plenary of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2009' at the Annual Meeting 2009 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 28, 2009. Copyright by World Economic Forum by Remy Steinegger
Copyright by World Economic Forum, Photo by Remy Steinegger, CC BY-SA 2.0

Based on an enormous and conclusive mass of evidence, it is clear that Mr. Putin wants to destroy the liberal world order, which the EU stands to defend, and he does everything possible to achieve this goal. And yet he still finds many conscious and unconscious allies in Europe.

We as European security experts call on our leaders to face this malign threat. We call on our democratic leaders to finally start taking this threat seriously and making it a top priority security issue. Our leaders need to publicly name it and expose its aims, such as weakening the EU, destabilising its societies, misleading its political leaders, and interfering in its elections. We need our leaders to order our security institutions to publicly expose Kremlin actions and actors. Europeans need to know by who and how they are being manipulated.

Mr. Mogherini, if you continue to do nothing in order to face this threat, the enemies of democracy will keep winning, and the damage to our societies might become beyond repair. The time is now.