Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has been trying to create an opinion among Western audiences about the futility of confronting the Russian threat, indirectly pushing the European public to put pressure on their leadership toward the need to restore relations with Moscow. For spreading disinformation in Europe, Russia uses, in addition to embassies, consulates, and trade missions, such non-governmental organizations as the Russian House, the Local Coordination Council of Compatriots, the Local Association of Russians / Slavists / Teachers of Russian Language and Literature, network partners of the Russian Peace Fund, the Foundation for Peace and Mutual Understanding in Europe, the Local Network of Russian Churches, and others.
The Kremlin created the so-called Foundation for Peace and Mutual Understanding in Europe, designed to sow contradictions in European societies in the context of the alleged impracticality of responding to the Russian threat, including by pushing public opinions toward the need to negotiate with Moscow. This is a classic example of the penetration of the Kremlin’s hybrid threats into Europe. Russia even uses «alternative track negotiations», where citizens of Ukraine meet with Russians allegedly on behalf of the Ukrainian government. Among them are individuals who at one time worked for the regime of the disgraced fugitive ex-president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych.
It is organizations such as the Foundation for Peace and Understanding in Europe that spread pro-Russian propaganda, claiming, among other things, that the USA is an expansionist imperialist power that intends to destroy Russia, that Russian communities living outside Russia, in particular in the Baltic states, Poland, Moldova, and Ukraine, are subject to persecution, forced assimilation, and in some cases “genocide” by the nationalist governments, that the government in Ukraine is a corrupt, fascist, satanic puppet of the USA, which never acts in the interest of its own people.
To spread destructive media content in the European information space, Moscow uses the following media platforms: Golos.eu, PolitWera YouTube channel, and others. These platforms relay almost all the disinformation pieces designed by Russian propaganda masterminds. Posing as normal European mass media, they position their activities as «an objective view from Europe on events in post-socialist and post-Soviet countries.» Today, they are imposing on the European public the idea of an energy collapse in Ukraine due to missile attacks, and in connection with this, a high likelihood of a new wave of refugees from Ukraine, which may pose a threat to the EU security.
These examples perfectly illustrate the standard formula of the Kremlin’s malign influence. Propaganda selects a vulnerable group, which is easily convinced that their rights are suppressed by the «evil forces» of the US and the West in general. Then the narrative claims that these «evil forces» are exactly what good and strong Russia is fighting. At one time, Bolshevik propaganda was also really proactive: «We are not conquering new countries, but simply liberating the working class from the capitalists and imperialists.»
A separate project for the promotion of «Russian world initiatives» is the Polish Anti-War Movement, founded on February 3, 2023 in the Polish city of Częstochowa by political scholar L. Sikulski, who is known for repeatedly voicing pro-Russian imperatives, including that Russia is a peaceful country, and that it never attacked anyone. At a rally in Prague in March of this year, in which members of this organization took part, Russia’s «Z» war signs and symbols of the Wagner Group were displayed. Therefore, Sikulski could be an asset of Russian intelligence agencies, who 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 at least the pressure of sanctions should be reduced against the latter. One of such talking heads is British Professor Dominic Levien, who wrote a textbook article on this topic, «Understanding Putin.»
In late October, French media reported that the prosecutor’s office has been investigating for over the year the activities of the Franco-Russian Dialogue association, which is suspected of illegally lobbying Russia’s interests in France. The organization is referred to as Russia’s «parallel embassy». The MEP with the far-right National Assembly, Thierry Mariani and ex-senator Yves Pozzo di Borgo, who do not particularly hide their pro-Kremlin views, are also involved in the effort. In particular, they visited occupied Crimea and served as «observers» at sham elections Russia held in temporarily occupied territories.
Such politicians, as well as the media, public activists, expert organizations and churches, are the backbone of Russian diplomacy, soft power, and state-level and private-level lobbying efforts. Hundreds of similar overt and not-too-obvious Russian assets of influence around the world have already been exposed through the efforts of media, researchers, and law enforcement.
In addition to these «support» networks, many organizations operate without being tied to any central HQ. These can be various associations, Russian schools, business clubs, children’s camps, language courses, or cultural associations. For example, the Dostoyevsky Cultural Association of Russians based in Tarragona (Spain) turned out to be not only a group based on certain interests, but also a «travel agency» for sending Spanish-Russian children on vacation to the illegally occupied Crimea. Alsom the Atlant sports organization in Cologne, Germany, became a cover for a pro-Russian political project – a party of Soviet immigrants, which was supposed to oppose migrants from the Middle East and stir the domestic political situation in Germany.
Thus, Russia continues to act in the key of strengthening anti-European sentiments in the EU member states and affecting the policies of EU governments in the context of their ongoing effort to counter Russian hybrid threats. This malign influence particularly aims to hamper EU’s military and financial assistance to Ukraine.