Moscow’s use of a mix of disinformation and other soft-power assets has reached new levels in Europe, with the goal of swaying public opinion across the continent.
Not only in places such as eastern Ukraine, these activities are taking place in countries the world once believed were firmly in the democratic camp, such as Visegrad, the Baltic States, much of the Balkans, and even Western Europe.
IRI is one of the few organizations in a position to counteract this misinformation quickly and effectively. The Beacon Project was formed to develop political coalitions and produces materials that debunk Moscow’s deception campaigns. It is guided by a diverse steering committee well-versed in Russian duplicity, including former ambassadors of Slovakia and the Czech Republic, a Lithuanian member of the European Parliament and a former chairman of the United States House Intelligence Committee.
IRI gathered a multinational group of 25 political and non-governmental leaders in Vienna, Austria, for the second transatlantic roundtable in its new Beacon Project effort. During this roundtable, leaders examined the growing complexity of the Kremlin’s use of soft-power tools to influence European public opinion in favor of its own policies. These Russian tactics are designed to weaken democracy abroad, just as it has undermined it at home.
Under the guidance of members of the Beacon Project’s Steering Committee, participants examined the tactics and strategies of disinformation and other means of Russian influence currently being deployed. They evaluated the legal, political and security measures that have already been utilized by some countries to counter Moscow’s co-optive power, as well as the difficulties in implementing these measures internationally, given the importance we all place upon protecting such critical democratic values as free speech.
The seminar sought to discern how Moscow has been reshaping its role in Central Europe. During the Cold War, Moscow projected and image of ‘defender and protector’ of the Communist ideology and mythology. Today, it market itself as the standard-bearer of social conservatism in the face of allegedly declining morality among western democracies. The way in which conservatives in Europe respond to this evolving self-definition by Moscow plays opens up a potentially significant opportunity for Moscow to have influence in political discourse around Europe, particularly as the continent struggles with the impact of the combined migrant and refuge crises that broke onto the scene last year.
In the coming months, the Beacon Project will announce a number of programs that will shine a light on the growing threat of Russian soft-power aggression at a time when it is urgently needed and provide an essential resource for protecting European democracy.