The propaganda campaign is to begin just a few days after a summit on Thursday, with officials employing a dozen public relations and communications experts to counterbalance what they see as deliberate misinformation emanating from the Kremlin. EU officials accuse Moscow of disseminating propaganda which does not accurately portray Russia’s role in Ukraine and other European countries, according to Reuters.
Influencing public opinion of Russia
The onus will then fall on EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to finalize a plan by June, which may include initiatives to produce and share Russian-language content targeted at ethnic Russians in ex-Soviet states. Russian state broadcasters capture large audiences among these communities, and generally have larger budgets than local competitors.
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Moscow has been successful in using the media to influence public opinion, a fact which as caused alarm among EU leaders. Officials are due to discuss the renewal of economic sanctions against Russia, among other measures, at a dinner on Thursday night.
Draft documents seen by Reuters outline a plan for the “correction and fact-checking of misinformation,” as well as initiatives to “develop an EU narrative through key messages, articles, op-eds, factsheets, infographics, including material in Russian language.”
Increasing audience share for Western-funded media
Existing EU support for media within the ex-Soviet bloc includes grants and technical assistance for cultural programming and coverage of the EU, but now the focus could turn to countering Russian influence.
The EU-funded European Endowment for Democracy (EED) will present proposals on media issues at a summit at the end of May. According to EED director Jerzy Pomianowski one possibility is the “greater integration and cooperation” among the community of Russian-language media in Russia’s neighboring countries, which would allow them to better compete with Moscow-funded programming.
An important aim is to attract Russian-speakers who do not already listen to existing Russian-language media like the BBC, RFI or Deutsche Welle. It looks set to be an uphill struggle against the big-budget news and entertainment channels which reach audiences far beyond Russia’s borders, or the coordinated social media teams employed by the Kremlin to promote its ideas.
Some EU officials have expressed reservations about actively engaging in propaganda, and do not believe that the solution lies in taking on Moscow at its own game.