By Rikard Jozwiak, for RFE/RL
A group of security and foreign-policy experts says Western governments have been “limited and weak” in their response to the Kremlin’s barrage of “hostile actions” toward democracies.
In a declaration initiated by the Prague-based think tank European Values titled How The Democratic West Should Stop Putin, some 70 experts said steps need to be taken to halt what they called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plan to play “divide and rule in the Euro-Atlantic area.”
“Vladimir Putin has decided to intimidate and harass democracies and a large part of the Western political establishment has not realized it yet,” the declaration, published on November 9, states.
“Some countries get intimidated by threats, others are given promises such as seemingly sweetheart energy deals if they adopt a more anti-Western, antidemocratic and antiliberal posture,” it continues. “Regardless, almost all countries are attacked with a mixture of espionage, corruption, organized crime, and unceasing multilevel and multichannel disinformation campaigns.”
The think tank’s declaration urges political leaders to acknowledge the threat Russia poses to Western democracies and to investigate and expose its hostile activities.
“Putin’s Russia poses a major threat to Western democracies. Its use of subversive tools to project hostile foreign influence in the internal affairs of democratic countries is unacceptable and should be countered with resolute defensive actions to deter further hostile conduct,” the declaration says.
EU leaders responded to Russia’s disinformation campaign in 2015 by creating the East Stratcom task force aimed at promoting the bloc’s values and policies in the “Eastern neighborhood.”
‘Call It Out By Name’
The task force also aims to increase public awareness of disinformation activities by external actors such as Russia and improve EU capacity to anticipate and respond to such activities.
The EU has also imposed asset freezes and visa bans on more than 150 people after Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, but only a handful of those are high-ranking officials in Moscow.
But the group of signatories says these efforts have fallen short, creating an “urgent need to deliver basic knowledge concerning threat assessment, understanding the modus operandi and reasonable policy options to people outside the specialist community.”
“There is comparatively limited understanding of Russian subversive methods in Western European countries; therefore, Central and Eastern European governments and civil society groups need to actively engage in delivering lessons learnt from countering Moscow’s hostile influence operations,” the statement says.
The declaration comes after eight of the bloc’s foreign ministers, mainly from Central and Eastern Europe, sent a letter to EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini asking her to enhance the capabilities of East Stratcom.
Mogherini is criticized in the declaration, which claims she has “spent the last two years trying to avoid naming Russia as the main source of hostile disinformation.”
“If Europe wants to defeat this threat, its leaders need to call it out by name. Russian leaders need to hear from European representatives that these hostile subversive efforts against our democracies must stop,” the declaration says.
By Rikard Jozwiak, for RFE/RL