Blog by Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the EC: Peace and democracy requires defeating Putin’s industry of lies

HR/VP Blog – Last Tuesday, the EEAS has organised in Brussels an important conference on information manipulation and foreign interference with many international experts. At this occasion, I underlined the importance of the fight against Putin’s “industry of lies” for the future of peace and democracy, not only in the EU but worldwide. 

At the time when war has returned to Europe, when Ukraine counts tens of thousands of victims and millions of refugees, we do all we can to help Ukraine defend itself and regain its full sovereignty. Ukraine’s fight for freedom does not only concern Europeans, it concerns all people globally. It is a fight in defence of international law and fundamental values that all countries have signed up to in the Charter of the United Nations.

Putin did not only start the war, he also created a powerful industry of lies

In this context, we need to protect the EU and the world from Putin’s industry of deception. Putin did not only start the war, he also created a powerful industry of manipulation to prevent people from understanding what is really happening, to make them doubt everything and to shift the blame. The Kremlin’s information manipulation efforts are global and work at an industrial scale. It is a crucial instrument of this war.

Putin’s bombs kill people in Ukraine while his information manipulation industry attacks the minds of people in Russia and globally, trying to mislead them from realising who is responsible for the killings, for the electricity bills they cannot pay, the economic hardship they face and for the hunger that has worsened due to the war Russia started. Putin is cynically aiming to deceive people to believe that ‘might is right’; and that autocrats can get away with atrocities. Africa is one of the main targets of this “industry of lies”, but I also see it when I go to Latin America and Asia.

We discussed these issues at the conference “Beyond disinformation”, which the European External Action Service organised gathering leading international experts to debate how best to respond to the threat of information manipulation and foreign interference.

Independent journalism will always be protected within the EU

We have already taken many steps to protect ourselves from this threat. The EU introduced restrictive measures against the Kremlin’s industry of deception operating within the European Union. The outlets that the Kremlin developed and mobilised as a part of its war effort are not acting in line with the international ethical code of journalism: they are propaganda outlets. Real, professional, independent journalism is and always will be protected within the EU. And we will continue to support it everywhere in the world.

Accurate information is the fuel of democracy. Without access to facts and independent media, democracy withers and elections are hampered. This is why we should not be treating this as a communication issue: this is a political issue we need to address politically, at the highest level as I said in my speech.

At the conference, I presented the EEAS’ first Report on foreign information manipulation and interference threats, which we have just published. It shows precisely how Russia has mobilised resources to systematically distort reality, shift blame and distract attention from its military invasion on Ukraine. It also confirms that there is a new wave of disinformation techniques and documents worrisome cooperation between actors like Russia and China.

We need better analytics and more precisely tailored responses

In close cooperation with EU institutions, member states and international partners, the European External Action Service has been quite active since 2015 on these issues. However, we need to go further with better analytics and more precisely tailored responses. For that, we will create the Information Sharing and Analysis Centre to gather information on disinformation and foreign information manipulation threats. It will increase our capacities to exchange best practices and ensure we can more efficiently protect our democracies.

We need indeed to work even closer with our partners around the globe and be more actively present in local languages in different parts of the world. I am looking into options to ensure that we make the EU voice better heard.