Russian propaganda aimed at weakening the European Union

The once fiercely anti-Russian Hungarian right and far-right have changed their tune in the last six years, encouraged by Viktor Orbán’s Eastern opening and his openly pro-Russian foreign policy. It was about two years ago that the Hungarian media began to look into some of the far-right internet sites which, as it turned out, used servers located in Russia. Some of these have since disappeared, but more than 90 such sites are still in existence.

Of course, Hungary is not the only target of Russian penetration within the European Union. In fact, I suspect that Moscow expends relatively little money and effort on Hungarian pro-Russian, anti-European Union, anti-American propaganda. After all, the Orbán government itself is doing its best to aid Russian subversive activities in Europe.

The European Union was slow to recognize and combat the ever-growing presence of Russian propaganda, which is tailor-made to influence public opinion country by country. This propaganda aims at turning EU member states against one another, a task made easier by the refugee crisis.

Last August the European External Action Service, which is the European Union’s diplomatic service, decided to set up a small task force, eight men and women, “to respond to massive Russian propaganda directed both at the home and at international audiences.” Although the group was supposed to start work on September 1, 2015, the EU allocated no funds for the project. Several members of the task force “are detached national experts, paid by their countries.” I hope that the EU is not pinning its hopes for combating Russian propaganda on eight people.

Meanwhile it was becoming increasingly evident that, just as in the case of the American presidential campaign, Russia is also directly meddling in European elections. The best documented instance of such interference occurred in Germany, where a Russian propagandist came up with a phony story about the gang rape of a German-Russian girl by Muslim refugees. The story ran just ahead of the German regional elections, and it may have contributed to electoral losses for Angela Merkel’s party. The “Lisa Affair” was a real eye-opener. Political analysts feared at the time that Moscow was planning something similar for the British referendum as well. Some also suspected that Russia was involved in the Dutch referendum vote, which rejected an EU treaty with Ukraine. Sputnik apparently hailed the result as “a step toward ‘Nexit.’” Speaking about Russia’s anti-German propaganda campaign, Jürgen Hardt, foreign policy spokesman in the Bundestag for the CDU/CSU alliance, said, “the underlying logic is that when you discredit Chancellor Merkel and Germany, you also weaken Europe.”

The Hungarian foreign policy analyst Botond Feledy, in an article written for Index, summed up the current goals of Russian propaganda. The aim is no longer persuasion, as in Soviet times, but to “pound it into the heads of Europeans” that (1) the West is weak, (2) democracy is useless and bad, (3) the United States is not an ally but only exploits Europe, (4) the West is decadent and has lost its values, and (5) the world order originally created by the United States is close to collapse. I don’t think I have to point out that Viktor Orbán is the perfect messenger of Vladimir Putin’s propaganda.

Disinformation coming from Moscow via Russian-financed sites occasionally gets reported as fact by Hungarian pro-government newspapers and the state television and radio stations. An excellent article on vs.hu lists current Hungarian sites that are most likely in the service of the Russian propaganda machine. Moreover, Russia is notorious for its thousands of trolls in the employ of the state who write comments on English- and German-language sites.

The European Commission is slowly waking up to the danger. EU officials now say that “Russian propaganda is powerful in all EU member states, [although] in some of them Moscow barely needed to make the effort, as local politicians are delivering its messages.” I assume Viktor Orbán is one of the highest-ranking members of that group.

The latest contribution to the analysis of Russian propaganda in the European Union is a study published by the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, titled “The Bear in Sheep’s Clothing: Russia’s Government-Funded Organisations in the EU.” The Wilfried Martens Centre is the official think tank of the European People’s Party. This particular study focuses on Russian-established foundations, whose sources of financing are carefully hidden. The authors of the study describe them as “government-organized-nongovernmental-organizations” or GONGOs. They are based in Russia but can have numerous branches in EU countries. Money is also channeled to established European think tanks to influence political and intellectual elites. A prominent example of this kind of think tank is the French Institut de relations internationales et stratégiques, but there are several others.

Source: Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies

Source: Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies

All in all, the Russian threat comes in many shapes and sizes–from ordinary trolls to sophisticated think tanks. The authors offer a number of recommendations to combat Russian propaganda and disinformation. Mainly they suggest ways to strengthen the EU’s positive messages. But negative messages are incredibly powerful. Just think about those politicians who try to run a positive campaign. They quickly run into the buzz saw of negative advertising.

August 1, 2016
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Observer
Guest

What an irony, the center to defend democratic and European values are named after old W. Martens who came here to praise and support Orban at the parliamentary elections.

Observer
Guest

How grotesque the Orban supporters are: from rabid Russian haters to friends, sort of.
Ten years ago Orban spoke about the Russian mind set as opposed to the European one in the face of then Russian ambassador Saveliev. Gyrcsany was maligned with unprintable expressions for his visit to Moscow and having private dinner with Putin (who was not today’s Putjn).
We know where Organ is standing today.
And both positions have been acceptable to the faithful fideszniks. I was numbed speechless on a few occasions.

I would urge NATO and all agencies handling sensitive information to screen carefully the Hungarians accredited by the Orban regime and to filter such before info before released to his government
A treacherous leek or straight spying for Russia is just a matter of time (before it’s discovered?).

Observer
Guest

Sorry for the “leak” and other typos, the spellcheker beats me.

Istvan
Guest

Observer I share your concern about Hungarians acting within NATO as SVR agents. It is a tragic thing for me because in the US Army following the terrible Sergeant Zoltan Szabo case where he was discovered spying for the Russians via Hungary many American Hugarians were investigated I’m the US Army.

Szabo was in Vietnam when I was there and he and I talked at least once. Needless to say that put me under suspicion too once Szabo defected to Hungary years later, After the collapase of the USSR he turned over on Russian spy’s in the US Army as part of a plea dealMany Hungarian speaking Americans were investigated in the wake of the Szabo case, so this legitimate concern over potential Hungarian spies today brings back very bad memories from the past.

Military intelligence and other security agencies did a fair job of investigating myself and others, but having your security clearance lifted suddenly was very scary indeed, sort of like a movie.

Observer
Guest

Re Security risk

I guess there have been/are cases of spies from other origins. My concern is not based on any particular case, e.g. the currently investigated Jobbik EMP Béla Kovacs.

The security risk is raised by many indicators/factors:
the incredible flips flops accomplished by the Fideszniks and their sympathizers (e.g. the Fidesz top echelon has the largest number of former communists), their connections with the underworld, the peacock dance attitude, the steady stream of brazen lies, the overwhelming corruption and utter immorality of these people.
And historically Hungarian leaders have shown above average levels of treachery.

dos929
Guest
Good morning EU…. Let me air my thoughts for a while… It is too little and perhaps it is too late as well. The same appeasement policies by the US administrations and the EU leadership allowed the situation to get into a stage when the so-called ‘democratic forces’ have lost the plot. When world leaders are welcoming Erdogan’s ‘victory’ over the military putsch as a victory for democracy, then something is really wrong in the heads of those leaders. It is the result of this incompetence of our ‘statesmen’ that the world is sitting on a powder keg. The tolerant behaviour towards pocket-dictators like Orban, Erdogan and the chief despot Putin has resulted in situations that all the USA and the EU can do is to react in a very mild and ineffectual way to the crisis around and within them. Actions have been replaced by rhetoric, allies are treated with contempt, and real enemies are handled by kid’s gloves. It seems that the leaders of the ‘free world’ have lost their common sense. One has to look no further than the current US election circus when both candidates for myriads of reasons are unelectable. As yet one of them… Read more »
Observer
Guest

Hear, hear.

Should have nipped it the bud, the Orban constitutional putsch that is. Now there a whole field of poison weed to fight.

Again, get real and more dictatorial/tough until the crisis blows out.
Democracy is not some natural phenomenon that we just enjoy.

Roderick Beck
Guest

It is remarkable that a poor country like Russia. A case of failed economic and political development would become a model for right wing Hungarians. In case anyone disputes this point, Russian per capita real GDP is less than HALF its US counterpart. And less than a 1/4th of US total real GDP. Appropriately measured using purchasing price parity.

Observer
Guest

Roderick,

To avoid misunderstanding: I do not assert that Russia has become a model for right wing Hungarians, it hasn’t at all. They abstractly like the centralized state and strong leader (dictator in in fact) as a confirmation of the ” their”/Orban’s regime and more specifically like Russia as the adversary of democratic Europe, which dares criticize or constrain the regime.

My point was their flip flopping between extremities without scruples and their arrogance to still claim moral superiority. Just as they lie about and explain away their role in the 30s and 40s. This lack of moral constrains leaves the gates wide open to anything.

Roderick Beck
Guest

My comment was not a response to yours.

Guest

Re: ‘I don’t think I have to point out that Viktor Orbán is the perfect messenger of Vladimir Putin’s propaganda’

How ironic then after the ‘Wall and Curtain’ that Magyarorszag deems to throw its lot in with the heirs of the Czars and Stalin. The ‘great wide open’ called but they preferred the Russian box. Putin with his view that democracies are an aggravating factor in establishing good relations appears to have caught the Magyar fish in the illiberal net. It is evident he could see more success in Europe. He could be on a roll if Europe is not vigilant.

From experience it would seem illiberalists , on the prowl to unbalance democracies, follow the practice of ‘necessitas non habet legen, ‘necessity has no law’. If Orban stays in power he will get deeper and deeper in his role as ‘messenger’ of Putin propaganda. We have seen how this scenario turned out in previous modern Magyar history. And Putin does show necessity in getting rid of democracies. He’ll do whatever it takes.

Member

Great post, Eva. As for this claim,
“The aim is no longer persuasion, as in Soviet times, but to “pound it into the heads of Europeans” that (1) the West is weak, (2) democracy is useless and bad, (3) the United States is not an ally but only exploits Europe, (4) the West is decadent and has lost its values, and (5) the world order originally created by the United States is close to collapse.”

Well gee, that sure sounds like a lot of the commenters who offer this message right here on this very site!

Member

@shoopy — Exactly. It’s becoming obvious that there are two forms of trollery, explicit and implicit: (I) the explicit, funded (or just plain mean-spirited) Turul/Trump/Troglodyte trolls “pound” (1) – (5) (as so many anonymous interlopers do in HS); and then there are (II) the dupes of the T4s (and the times), who have unwittingly internalized at least part of the T4’s mentality while imagining that they are still liberal democrats. Alas several HS regulars are sounding like this on some days, and the Trend seems to be increasing with time:

The only antidote is to stand firmly with decency and to practise explicitly disavowing (1) – (5) rather than implicitly channeling it. Whenever tempted to reluctantly concede (1) – (5), remind yourself of who are proclaiming it aggressively, and what they are like. And remember that the only strategy (or “value”) the proponents and bemoaners of (1) – (5) alike offer is (1) – (5) itself. It’s lose/lose if you swallow the rhetoric.

petofi
Guest

Any mention that Hungarian pro-Russianism is a late happening is pure nonsense. There has always been a strong under-current of Russian influence. One has only to note the number of times Malev
has been used to disgorge Hungarian budgetary funds…

petofi
Guest

Some will need an explanation: atleast twice, Russian owners of Malev had sent the firm into bankruptcy only to have the Hungarian government pick up the pieces (and the debts) to revitalize the company and sell it again….to a Russian.

petofi
Guest

Just to get back to the American election for a moment…

What would’ve been truly marvelous, and a sign of Hillary responding the ‘angels of her better nature’…would’ve been to parlay with Bernie Sanders before the Conventions; and then,
in a dramatic turnaround of convention timetable, get on the podium before the speeches began and to declare that, after
some emphatic soul-searching, she believes Bernie Sanders to be the better candidate, and, if asked, she would be happy to serve as Vice-President.

Now THAT would’ve been elegance and good-heartedness personified.

Guest

Petofi, I don’t think this might have worke!

Sanders has the image of a Socialist, a ledtist whatever and that’s just too much to swallow for most Americans – even “Liberal” is a bad word for them while we are proud in Europe to be Liberals!

Rather OT:

8 years ago I thought this might work: Hillary as presidential candidate with Obama as vice president – I didn’t think, he would make it. So I was surprised – but in a positive way.

let’s hope we get another positive surprise!

Guest

Re: Bernie of Brooklyn

Has a great idea… free tuition. Just don’t know how he figures that would work out nowadays. I studied under that. Got a great ROI. But eventually that succumbed to not only economic pressures but social ones as well. If implemented all I say is the rich sure wouldn’t turn down a grand bargain.

petofi
Guest

Wolfi7777,

Let’s forget labels. Sanders is an intelligent, well-intentioned, passionate, individual who would do what’s best for the citizenry. He would’ve continued Obama’s good domestic policies and taken them to the next level.

As for Putin, he would’ve looked him in the eye, and it would’ve been Putin who looked away first.
There would’ve been no nonsense ‘reset’ with Bernie.

For Europe, he would’ve demanded that they share their portion of the costs of NATO. And most probably, he would’ve stopped the reckless eastern expansion of the same.

No, labels mean nothing. Americans are thoroughly pissed off about a government that either does not work; or seriously remiss in punishing banks and rating agencies that crucified the budget…

petofi
Guest

And Wolfi7777,
Bernie wouldn’t have lost because he’s a leftist…he would’ve been crucified as a Jew having the uppity nerve to run for the presidency.

Guest
But I always thought: Leftist = Jew At least that’s what happened to me often (on politics.hu e g) that people called me a leftist and then a Jew – I took it as a kind of honour … Here it doesn’t matter really – it seemed always obvious to me that bernie was too “radical” for most voters and I’m happy to have read that he will cooperate with Hillary – I think she needs that help! Now she just has to make it – Trump really is unthinkable! PS and rather OT: In November 1988 I was in Florida on a round trip with my first wife – it was her first US trip and she enjoyed it as much as I did. One evening I realised that this was election day (not Sunday as we’re used from germany) so I took her to a bar in the country side to see the people’s reaction. I still remember the scene: More than a dozen TV screens in that sports bar showing all kind of matches and one showing the incoming results of the presidential election – but nobody except us watched … And if I remember correctly, the… Read more »
e-2016
Guest

Moscow has been immoral in all history.
Used, abused, murdered its own people, and nurtured global conflicts.
Ogaden, Vietnam, Syria, Iraq, Iran, PLO were tools for Moscow to create genocides.
Their disinformation campaigns created Chomskys, Wallersteins,Sartres, and similar fighters of false causes.
Moscow loves the Clintons, Obamas, and fears the Bushes and Trumps.

1956
Guest

I repeat, I love and support the Balogh-Blog.
It is a pleasure to read the Balogh input on the Moscow plots.
Hungary is an easy target. Regime after regime betrayed our nation.
Let us hope that there is remedy against this disease.