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European Parliament urges action against Russian 'hostile propaganda'

The European Parliament has urged the EU to respond to Russian propaganda and support for anti-EU political forces. In a motion the body said Russia was trying to undermine the EU.

The European Parliament on Wednesday warned of "hostile" Russian propaganda and support for anti-EU forces and urged Brussels to take action to counter disinformation designed to sow discord within the bloc.

In a motion backing a committee report, the EP said it was "seriously concerned by the rapid expansion of Kremlin-inspired activities in Europe, including disinformation and propaganda seeking to maintain or increase Russia's influence to weaken and split the EU."

"Hostile propaganda against the EU and its member states seeks to distort the truth, provoke doubt, divide the EU and its North American partners, paralyse the decision-making process, discredit the EU institutions and incite fear and uncertainty among EU citizens," the EP said. 

Lawmakers said the Russian government is employing "a wide range of tools and instruments," including think tanks, news outlets like Russia Today and Sputnik, social media and internet trolls to challenge and divide Europe by creating the perception the EU is a failed project.

The motion, which passed by 304 votes to 179 with 208 abstentions, also said the EP "expresses its strong criticism of Russian efforts to disrupt the EU integration process and deplores, in this respect, Russian backing of anti-EU forces in the EU with regard, in particular, to extreme-right parties, populist forces and movements that deny the basic values of liberal democracies."

EP members on the far-left and right largely opposed the measure, while the center-left abstained. The motion also addressed jihadist groups like the "Islamic State," al-Qaeda and other non-state groups spreading propaganda in Europe.

The center-left abstained because they opposed putting Russia in the same resolution as non-state actors like IS, while arguing Moscow was not alone in carrying out such strategies.

The far-left, meanwhile, warned against "neo-McCarthyism" and restrictions on media freedom.

Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, speaking for Marine Le Pen's French National Front, called the report "lying European propaganda." The National Front has relied on a Russian bank loan to help fund the anti-immigrant, anti-EU and pro-Russia party.

The UK Independence Party that pushed for Brexit and Italy's euroskeptic Five Star Movement also voted against the motion.

Putin warns EU backsliding on democracy

Responding the vote on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that after "trying to teach us democracy" the EU was trying to silence alternative opinions. "We are observing a certain, quite obvious, degradation...of how democracy is understood in Western society, in this particular case in the European Parliament," Putin said.

The EP vote comes as the United States last month formally blamed Russia for "interfering" in the US elections. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also warned that Moscow could try to influence Germany's national elections in 2017 through cyber attacks and disinformation.

To respond to the challenge, the EU urged Brussels to strengthen information literacy to "empower citizens to analyze media content critically." It also said the EU should develop a communications policy to target specific regions in local languages, as well as deepen EU and NATO cooperation on strategic communications.

The EP also recommended the EU boost support for its strategic communications task force.

EU-Russia relations have been strained since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014 and the West responded with sanctions. Russia's intervention in Syria has also drawn criticism, particularly over the loss of life and creation of more refugees.

Analysts say Russia seeks to exploit divisions within the EU to unwind sanctions, weaken NATO and take advantage of differences between Europe and the United States.

cw/kl (AFP, Reuters)

 

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