How Russia uses non-governmental organizations to spread disinformation in Europe

How Russia uses non-governmental organizations to spread disinformation in Europe

Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia has been trying to create an opinion in Western society that it is unreasonable to counter the Russian threat, indirectly pushing European society to put pressure on the leadership of their countries to restore relations with Moscow. To spread disinformation in Europe, in addition to the Embassies, Consulates and trade missions, Russia uses such non-governmental organizations as the Russian House, the World Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots, the Local Association of Russianists/Slavists/Teachers of Russian Language and Literature, the network of partners of the Russkiy Mir Foundation, the Local Network of Russian Churches and many others.

The Kremlin creates such organizations in order to create contradictions in European society in the context of the inappropriateness of responding to the Russian menace, including the need to negotiate with Moscow. This is a classic example of the Kremlin’s hybrid threats penetrating Europe. Russia even uses « second-party negotiations, » in which Ukrainian citizens meet with Russians allegedly on behalf of the Ukrainian state. Among them, in particular, are individuals who once worked for the regime of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Infamous for his work in the interests of Russia.

Another typical example is the spread of Russian propaganda in the EU countries, such as the United States is an expansionist imperialist force intent on destroying Russia. As well as narratives that Russian communities living outside the Russian Federation, in particular in the Baltic States, Poland, Moldova, and Ukraine, are subjected to persecution, forced assimilation, and in some cases genocide by nationalist authorities, that the state government is a corrupt, fascist, satanic puppet of the United States that does not act in the interests of its people.

Propaganda typically targets a socially vulnerable group that can be easily convinced that their rights are being infringed upon by « evil forces » in the United States and the West. And these « evil forces » are precisely the ones that good and strong Russia is fighting. At one time, Bolshevik propaganda worked the same way: « We are not conquering new countries, we are simply liberating workers from capitalists and imperialists. »

A separate project promoting « Russian peace initiatives » is the Polish Anti-War Movement, founded on February 3, 2023, in the Polish city of Czestochowa by political scientist L. Sykulski, who has repeatedly voiced pro-Russian imperatives, in particular, that Russia is a peaceful country and has not attacked anyone. During the rally in Prague in March of this year, which was attended by members of this organization, « Z » signs and symbols of the Wagner Group were demonstrated. Mr. Sikulsky, who may be linked to Russian special services, consistently promotes Russian propaganda and voices it at the most critical moment of Russian aggression against Ukraine.

There are also many experts in Europe who, at first glance, condemn Russia’s aggressive behavior. But at the same time, they say that Ukraine is the territory of Russia’s legitimate interests or that sanctions pressure against the latter should at least be reduced. One example is the British professor Dominic Lieven, who wrote a reference article on this subject « Understanding Putin. »

In late October, the media reported that the French prosecutor’s office has been investigating the activities of the Franco-Russian Dialogue association, which is suspected of illegally lobbying for Russia’s interests in France, for more than a year. The organization is called a « parallel Russian embassy. » The case also involves a member of the European Parliament from the far-right National Union, Thierry Mariani, and former Senator Yves Pozzo di Borgo, who have not made much of a secret of their pro-Kremlin views. In particular, they visited the occupied Crimea and were « observers » at illegal elections in the territories of Ukraine temporarily occupied by Russia.

Such politicians, as well as media, civic activists, expert organizations, and churches, are the backbone of Russian diplomacy, soft power, and lobbying efforts at the state and private company levels. Hundreds of similar direct and indirect Russian agents of influence around the world have already been uncovered through the efforts of media, researchers, and law enforcement agencies.

Thus, Russia continues to act in the vein of growing anti-European sentiment in the EU and the corresponding negative impact on the policies of European governments in the context of countering Russian hybrid threats, including in terms of making decisions on the amount and timing of financial and military assistance to Kyiv.

  • Mykola Volkivskyi
  • President of First International Ukrainian Foundation of Development,
  • Former advisor to the Chairman Committee of the Ukrainian Parliament