Task force will start trying to win hearts and minds in eastern partnership countries next month.
The European Union’s foreign affairs department said Thursday it was launching a rapid-response team to counter what it considers biased Russian media reports.
The unit, which will include up to 10 Russian-speaking officials and media professionals from EU member states, will be fully operational by the end of September and will be part of the European External Action Service (EEAS). Officials say it is a first step in the EEAS’s response to growing concern in eastern Europe and EU Baltic states about the destabilizing influence of Russian-language news reports.
The team, which will be based in the EEAS’s Brussels headquarters, falls short of requests from Latvia that the EU establish a full-blown, EU-funded Russian-language television channel, to provide an alternative source of news to Russian-speakers in both EU and “eastern partnership” countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus). Officials Thursday stressed the limited scope of the team and were adamant its role would be to improve EU communications with Russian-speaking communities and not to be producing Brussels-funded propaganda.“This is mostly about reinforcing our existing actions,” said an EU official. “It’s more about reallocating resources and doing more to reinforce that and communicate better.”
The team’s role would be to improve EU communications with Russian-speaking communities — not to produce Brussels-funded propaganda.
The unit, which includes Russian-language experts from the U.K., Latvia and Sweden, will be attached to the EEAS’s existing communications team. The EU member states will pay the salaries of the personnel, but the unit has not been allocated a budget.
“The team will carry out media monitoring and will work on the development of communication products and media campaigns focused on explaining EU policies in the region,” the official said.
However, the EEAS said it has neither the resources nor the mandate to go beyond the capabilities of the new unit and the funding of TV channels in Russian was not on the cards.
“This is not about engaging in counter-propaganda,” the EU official said. “However, where necessary the EU will respond to disinformation that directly targets the EU and will work … to raise awareness of these activities.”
The unit’s daily routine will consist of monitoring Russian media and suggesting ways for EU institutions to tailor their media strategy to counter Russian broadcasts, in a bid to win the hearts and minds of eastern partnership audiences.
An EU official said the department had not been approached by Euronews, a multilingual broadcaster which last year received €25.5 million from the EU, to expand its Russian- and Ukrainian-language programming as part of the EU’s response.
A Princeton PhD, was a U.S. diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Central/Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. After leaving the State Department in order to express opposition to the planned invasion of Iraq, he taught courses at Georgetown University pertaining to the tension between propaganda and public diplomacy. For many years he shared ideas on the theme "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United" with Eurasian/European delegates participating in the "Open World" program.
Brown’s articles have appeared in numerous publications. A recent piece is “Janus-Faced Public Diplomacy: Creel and Lippmann During the Great War” (published in Nontraditional U.S. Public Diplomacy: Past, Present, and Future; now online).
He is the author (with S. Grant) of The Russian Empire and the USSR: A Guide to Manuscripts and Archival Materials in the United States. In the past century, he also served as an editor/translator of a joint U.S.-Soviet publication, The Establishment of Russian-American Relations, 1765-1815.