Members' Research Service By / December 1, 2015

Russia: manipulation of information and the EU’s response

Written by Ilze Eglite Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine has unleashed a major disinformation campaign…

© IvicaNS / Fotolia
Written by Ilze Eglite
recording show in TV studio
© IvicaNS / Fotolia

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine has unleashed a major disinformation campaign in the Russian news media. Manipulation of information against Ukraine was identified by some analysts as part of Russia’s wider ‘information warfare’ against the West. Russia is investing heavily in media outlets that are targeting foreign audiences, notably radio service Sputnik and international broadcaster RT (formerly known as Russia Today).

Proposals to counter Russian disinformation are being discussed at EU level. On 19–20 March 2015, the European Council adopted conclusions  inviting to prepare an action plan on strategic communication by June 2015 and to establish a communication team. The EU Task Force countering the Russian disinformation campaign started work in September 2015. Its aim is to work on developing communication products and media campaigns that focus on explaining EU policies in the Eastern neighbourhood region. It will also monitor the media.

In its resolution of 10 June 2015 Parliament calls on the Commission “to earmark without delay adequate funding for concrete projects aimed at countering Russian propaganda and misinformation within the EU and abroad.” In two resolutions of 12 March 2015 and of  15 January 2015 MEPs reiterate “the EEAS and the Commission to present an action plan with concrete measures to counter the Russian propaganda”.

This Keysource is a collection of documents and publications relating to the Russia’s manipulation of information and the EU’s response.

EPRS publications

The EPRS has produced on this subject the following documents:

Understanding propaganda and disinformation / Bentzen Naja, At a glance, European Parliamentary Research Service, 13 November 2015, 2 p.
The growing emphasis on countering manipulation of information calls for an equally attentive approach to the usage and definitions of the terms involved.

Russia’s manipulation of information on Ukraine and the EU’s response / Bentzen Naja , Russell Martin , Briefing , European Parliamentary Research Service, 27 May 2015, 7 p.
“nformation has become central to the Ukraine crisis, with some analysts even referring to an ‘information war’ initiated by Russia.

Ukraine joins the information war with Russia / Bentzen Naja , At a glance , European Parliamentary Research Service, 26 May 2015, 2 p.
Ukraine’s current policies and developments on the information front are characterised by the on-going crisis in eastern Ukraine and a massive Russian disinformation campaign.

Russian media – under state control / Russell Martin, At a glance, European Parliamentary Research Service, 26 May 2015, 2 p.
Media freedom in Russia peaked in the 1990s after censorship was abolished in 1988. However, since then the country has fallen to the bottom of the international league tables compiled by NGOs Freedom House and Reporters without Borders.

Understanding hybrid threats / Pawlak, Patryk, At a Glance, European Parliamentary Research Service, 22 June 2015, 2 p.
As policy-makers struggle to grasp what hybrid threats mean for national security, it is pertinent to recall the origins, the meaning, and legal challenges associated with this concept.

Analysis, articles

Perception and Exploitation: Russia’s Non-Military Influence in Europe / Stefan Meister, Jana Puglierin, DGAPkompakt Nr.10, October 2015, 7 p.
What Is To Be Done? Recommendations for European Policy.

Putin’s Information Warfare In Ukraine: Soviet Origins of Russia’s Hybrid Warfare  /  Maria Snegovaya, Institute for the Study of War, September 2015, 28 p.
Russia has been using an advanced form of hybrid warfare in Ukraine since early 2014 that relies heavily on an element of information warfare that the Russians call “reflexive control.”

New Threats, New EU and NATO Responses  / Margriet Drent, Rob Hendriks, Dick Zandee, Clingendael Institute, July 2015, 60 p.
This report assesses the consequences of the changing security environment for the EU and NATO.

Public opinion and propaganda in Russia , ECFR Commentary, Alexey Levinson, July 2015
The idea of Europe launching an alternative Russian-speaking TV channel to compete with Russia Today has been circulating for quite some time… [but] many Russian expats in London and elsewhere who were free to watch whatever TV news they liked supported the actions in Crimea.

Muzzling the bear : Strategic Defence for Russia’s Undeclared Information War on Europe / Samadashvili, Salome , Martens Centre Research Paper, June 2015, 64 p.
“The paper examines how Russia is using its allies in European business and political circles to spread its message.”

Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine: Breaking the Enemy’s Ability to Resist / András Rácz, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs, June 2015
What are the main features and characteristics of Russia’s hybrid warfare as conducted in Ukraine? Is the Russian hybrid war a universal warfare method deployable anywhere, or is it more country or region-specific?

The devil is in the details. Information warfare in the light of Russia’s military doctrine / Jolanta Darczewska, OSW Point of View, May 2015, 39 p.
“By highlighting informational threats and giving them a military dimension, the authors of the Russian Federation’s military doctrine have outlined the concept of information warfare. ”

Judy Asks: Will Hybrid Warfare Defeat Europe? / Judy Dempsey, Carnegie Europe, April 2015
Leading experts answer a question “Will Hybrid Warfare Defeat Europe?”.

The Challenge of Russia’s Anti-Western Information Warfare / Anton Shekhovtsov, Dimplomaatia, April 2015
“This article looks at the nature and forms of Russia’s information warfare, and discusses how the West might challenge it. ”

Russia’s info-war: theory and practice / Johnston, Cameron, EUISS Alert No22, April 2015, 2 p.
“The fabrications and distortions propagated by the Kremlin during the Ukraine crisis have made the concept of ‘information warfare’ common currency. Less widely appreciated is the Russian leadership’s understanding of the term and the vision of the world upon which it rests.”

A Closer Look at Russia’s “Hybrid War” / Michael Kofman, Matthew Rojansky, Kennan Cable, April 2015, 8 p.
This paper questions the assertion that the concept of “hybrid warfare”, exemplified by Russia’s 2014 intervention in Crimea and subsequent destabilization of eastern Ukraine, represents a new model for future conflicts on Russia’s periphery.

Moral clarity is needed in countering anti-Western propaganda / Anna Borshchevskaya, Forbes (US), March 2015, 1 p.
European Foundation for Democracy Fellow calls on the Western policy-makers to be more committed to countering anti-Western propaganda.

Russia’s info-war: the home front / Cameron Johnston, EU ISS Alert No18, March 2015, 2 p.
“The use and misuse of information is as important to today’s Kremlin as it was to the Soviet Politburo. But if the ultimate goal is the same – to control the people from above – the techniques used to achieve it are strikingly different.”

War of words: the impact of Russian state television on the Russian Internet / Christina Cottiero, Katherine Kucharski, Evgenia Olimpieva & Robert W. Orttung, Nationalities Papers: The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity, March 2015, 25 p.
“How effective is Russian state television in framing the conflict in Ukraine that began with the Euromaidan protests and what is its impact on Russian Internet users?”

Unplugging Putin TV : How to Beat Back the Kremlin Propaganda / Peter Pomerantsev, Foreign Affairs, February 2015
“It isn’t just a question of censorship. Inside Russia, many sources of accurate information survive. True, most of them are now either websites or newspapers—television, the main source of news for most Russians, is controlled by the Kremlin”.

Working Paper: Russia‘s Hybrid Warfare: a Success in Propaganda / K.Giles, Arbeitspapier Sicherheitspolitik, Nr. 1/2015, Bundesakademie für Sicherheitspolitik, February 2015, 5 p.
Hardly noticed, Russia has built up a highly developed information warfare arsenal NATO and EU are currently unable to compete with.

The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture and Money  / Peter Pomerantsev, Michael Weiss, The Interpreter, The Institute of Modern Russia, NewYork, November 2014, 44 p.
The authors of this report discuss Putin’s use of old and new tactics to manipulate not only domestic public opinion, but also opinion in Europe and the United States.

Russia’s Hybrid Warfare -Waging War below the Radar of Traditional Collective Defence / Aleksandr Golts, Heidi Reisinger, NATO Defense College, November 2014, 12 p.
“The crisis in Ukraine has redefined conflict in Europe. An unprecedented combination of regular, irregular and criminal elements operating across real and virtual spaces has resulted in one of the most significant illegal territorial grabs in Europe since the end of the Second World War.”

Russian State Media: How is Russia’s state media structured? How has it grown? Is it effective? / Thomas Campbell, Victoria Burnside Clapp, Matthew Wallin, American Security project, Briefing Note, September 2014, 7 p.
“Russia has focused on expanding its state media apparatus for several years. Russian state media appears more effective in influencing opinion at home than abroad. A unified response to counter Russian state media outside of Russia may be unnecessary due to low credibility.”

Russian Influence Abroad: Non-state Actors and Propaganda  / Chatham House, Russia and Eurasia Programme, Meeting Summary, October 2014, 10 p.
This is a summary of the event held at Chatham House in October 2014, where Peter Pomerantsev and John Lough talked about the concept of ‘information war’, the success of Russian lobbying in the ‘near’ and ‘far’ abroad, and measures necessary to combat it.

Countering Russian Propaganda Abroad / Daniel Kochis, The Heritage Foundation, October 2014
“American policymakers and the public should be aware of the pernicious effects of Russian propaganda and take steps to counter its impact. ”

Hot Issue – Lies, Damned Lies and Russian Disinformation , Paul Goble, The Jamestown Foundation, August 2014
“The Russian Federation uses extensive propaganda, outright lies, and—most importantly—disinformation as part of the hybrid warfare it is waging against Ukraine and the West. ”

Everyone Lies: The Ukraine Conflict and Russia’s Media Transformation / Jill Dougherty, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, Discussion Paper Series #D-88, July 2014, 29 p.
This paper traces the shift in Russia’s ideology and its effect on media coverage of the Ukraine conflict.

Putin and the Press: the revival of Soviet-style propaganda / Panfilov, Oleg Foreign Policy Centre , London: Foreign Policy Centre, 2005

Stakeholder views


Action Plan on Strategic Communication , June 2015 ( non-official source)
A draft EU communications plan seen by Radio Free Europe , 24 June 2015

EU Task Force (StratCom East) countering the Russian disinformation campaign
– New product Disinformation Review , since November 2015
–  Twitter feed  @EUvsDisinfo
–  EU splits in Russian media war , Politico, 17 September 2015

European Council

European Council Conclusions on external relations , 19 March 2015
“The European Council stressed the need to challenge Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns and invited the High Representative, in cooperation with Member States and EU institutions, to prepare by June an action plan on strategic communication. The establishment of a communication team is a first step in this regard.”

European Parliament

European Parliament resolution of 9 July 2015 on the review of the European Neighbourhood Policy (2015/2002(INI))
71. Calls for the EU to strengthen its capacity to counter misinformation and propaganda campaigns against itself and its Member States..

European Parliament resolution of 10 June 2015 on the state of EU-Russia relations (2015/2001(INI)), P8_TA-PROV(2015)0225
13. Renews its call for the development of strengthened analytical and monitoring capabilities of Russian propaganda..

European Parliament resolution of 12 March 2015 on the Annual Report from the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to the European Parliament (2014/2219(INI)), P8_TA-PROV(2015)0075
37.  Emphasises the need for a coherent European approach towards the misinformation campaigns and propaganda activities pursued by Russia..

European Parliament resolution of 12 March 2015 on the murder of the Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and the state of democracy in Russia (2015/2592(RSP)), P8_TA-PROV(2015)0074
7.  Calls on the authorities of the Russian Federation to stop the shameful propaganda and information war against its neighbours..

European Parliament resolution of 15 January 2015 on the situation in Ukraine (2014/2965(RSP)), P8_TA-PROV(2015)0011
27.  Calls on the Commission and the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations to prepare and present to Parliament within two months a communication strategy to counter the Russian propaganda..

Parliamentary questions on Russian propaganda

European Economic and Social Committee

How media is used to influence social and political processes in the EU and Eastern neighbouring countries , Rapporteur: Indrė Vareikytė, 27/05/2015.

European Endowment for Democracy

EED’s Recommendations: How to Challenge Kremlin Dominance in Russian Language Media Space, May 2015
The Netherlands and Poland, together with the European Endowment for Democracy in Brussels, have come up with some concrete ideas on alternative TV content for Russian-language audiences, both news and entertainment.

Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum

Eastern Partnership Media Freedom Landscape 2014 / EaP Media Freedom Watch, February 2015, 103 p.
Latest report summarizes the two-year activity of the Eastern Partnership Media Freedom Watch Project implemented from March 2013 to March 2015.
Special news website to reflect the situation with the rights of journalists and the media in the six countries of the Eastern Partnership.


NATO Parliamentary Assembly report The battle for the hearts and minds: countering propaganda attacks against the Euro-Atlantic Community , 12 October 2015

Analysis of Russia’s information campaign against Ukraine , NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence (Stratcom) in Latvia, Riga, August 2014, 48 p.
The report examines non-militarry aspects of the crisis in Ukraine from a strategic communications perspective.

NATO LibGuide: Hybrid Warfare

NATO has launched a new web portal called “ Setting the Record Straight ” and offers interviews with officials to Russian journalists.

NATO-Russia relations: the facts , February 2015

National views

Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, UK: in January 2015, four countries had sent a letter to the European Commission and the High Representative of the EU, Federica Mogherini, asking of « «booster» activities of communication strategy of the European Union facing the Russian disinformation.

Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden :  statement from Nordic-Baltic Foreign Minister’s meeting, 6 May 2015

Estonia: Estonian public broadcaster ERR launched a Russian-language network, ETV+ , 28 September 2015

Latvia: LTV working on new channel for Latvia’s Russian speakers , the Baltic Times, April 2015. It is scheduled to debut in mid-2016.

Lithuania:  Lithuania’s media regulator has suspended the RTR Planeta , April 2015

UK: Russia Today faces inquiry over anti-western comments in Ukraine debate , The Guardian

USA: Confronting Russia’s Weaponization of Information , Hearing before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, 15 April 2015


RT (Russia Today) and Sputnik , foreign-language news channels controlled by the Russian government.

Dmitry Kiselev is Redefining the Art of Russian Propaganda , New Republic, Joshua Yaffa, July 2014

Russia’s Reaction to EU ‘Counter-Propaganda’ Channel Hints at Fear / Allison Quinn, The Moscow Times, 13 January 2015

Levada Center: Российский медиа-ландшафт: телевидение, пресса, Интернет (The Russian media landscape: TV, press, Internet)

Further reading

News : Russian propaganda
Launched in March 2014, is a dedicated fact-checking website run by a group of Ukrainian journalists determined to counter the rising tide of disinformation originating from Russian news outlets.

EurActiv: Russian propaganda

Jamestown Foundation:  Russian Info Warfare

Press freedom

Russia : Freedom of the Press 2015 / Freedom House, 2015
Press status: Not Free.

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