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EU proposes measures to punish Russia's 'information war'

March 8, 2022

The EU executive has said it will set out a new mechanism to punish disinformation. The bloc's top diplomat cited what he said were lies intentionally spread by Russian state-owned media.

Borrell said the Russian outlets were 'bombing people's minds'
Borrell said the Russian outlets were 'bombing people's minds'Image: Zoonar/picture alliance

The EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, told the European Parliament it should be possible to freeze assets and ban travel to the bloc of anyone deemed responsible with disinformation campaigns.

The aim, he said, was to highlight such abuses and attempts to mislead as Russia's onslaught against Ukraine continues.

What did Borrell say about Russian disinformation?

"I will propose a new mechanism that will allow us to sanction those malign disinformation actors," Borrell said.

He explained he was not trying to define what was true or false in news but to protect against the manipulation of societies.

Borrell specifically referred to the Russian state-owned television network Russia Today and news agency Sputnik.

"They are not independent media, they are assets, they are weapons, in the Kremlin's manipulation ecosystem," Borrell told lawmakers. "We are not trying to decide what is true and what is false. We don't have ministers of the Truth. But we have to focus on foreign actors who intentionally, in a coordinated manner, try to manipulate our information environment."

Russian shelling, refugee exodus continue

While the channels are already blocked in the EU, Borrell said the new measures could see them sanctioned further for their wider actions.

He described them as examples of "instruments to push this narrative to manipulate and mislead" Russian people over President Vladimir Putin's invasion.

Moscow was not just bombing houses and infrastructure in Ukraine, Borrell said, but also targeting Russians with fake news and disinformation.

"They are bombing their minds," he said.

The proposal, about which Borrell gave no details on timing, comes after European Commission President Ursula von Der Leyen said the EU will ban the channels.

It would entail various EU governments agreeing on the names to target and drawing up legal acts.

Efforts to reach Russians

Vera Jourova, EU commissioner for values and transparency, also told legislators that every channel should be used to try to reach the Russian people with information about what was going on.

"President Putin wants his nation to be blind and deaf. More than that, President Putin I think would like the Russian people to be apathetic."

"It is more important than ever to reach the Russian people and provide them with information."

Jourova also praised a decision by streaming giant Netflix to stop its services in Russia. 

"President Putin wants the people to be entertained, not to pay attention to what's happening," she said.

"It would not be right to see Russians being entertained and next door Ukrainians being killed."

The EU had already upped its efforts to curb Kremlin mouthpieces after Moscow annexed Crimea and started to provide support to successionists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. 

Lviv 'increasingly struggling' with refugee influx: DW's Alexandra von Nahmen

rc/rt (AFP, AP, Reuters)