The Hybrid War: Russia’s disinformation campaign and the New Cold War

The banner of the East Stratcom website.

Lianne Arentsen

Today, the chance of a “calamity” occurring between the East and the West is higher than during the Cold War, states ex-Pentagon chief William Perry. Russian historian Alexey Fenenko is of the same opinion. Fenenki believes that “over the past years a limited armed conflict between Russia and NATO has become more probable than during the Cold War.”

On 12 October 2016, at a seminar hosted by The Netherlands Atlantic Association, a group of presenters outlined the clear evolution in Russia’s methods for extending its sphere of influence, when compared to earlier decades. A key element of this new method, as elaborated on by Jakub Kalensky, of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Aivar Jaeski, of NATO and Mark Laity of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) is that Russia uses disinformation as an important element in its foreign policy. This type of disinformation campaign is also known as hybrid warfare. A good example of this is the developments around the investigation into the shooting down of flight MH-17 in Ukraine airspace. Almost three hundred people died, of which nearly two hundred were Dutch citizens.  Investigations have shown that the plane was shot down by a Russian missile, used by Ukrainian rebels. However, the Kremlin has denied any involvement and has made numerous statements claiming that the investigations are speculative and false. Additionally, the Kremlin has stated that it has proof that there was no Russian involvement in the tragedy, but this “proof” had not been released to the investigative authorities until last week- despite two years of demands from the Dutch government to see it. There is still much doubt regarding this “proof”. In the upcoming weeks the investigation team of MH-17 will look into this.

This is not the only example of Russia using disinformation as a real policy method. Last year, a new department in the EEAS was set up, the East Stratcom Task Force, in response to Russia’s disinformation campaign. The Task Force is responsible for finding Russian propaganda and debunking it. On their twitter account, the Task Force publishes all the results of their investigations. A funny example are the claims  coming from the Russian Ministry of Defense that the Crimea was already Russian about 160 million years ago, when dinosaurs walked the Earth.

Russian prop.jpg
The Russian media have an interesting take on Denmark: Picture from East Stratcom.

Whereas this is an rather entertaining example, Russia is very serious in its disinformation policy. A year before the invasion of Crimea, Putin officially stated that Russia had no plans to invade Crimea. European (and other international) leaders believed him. A year later, Russia invaded Crimea, and pointed out that it never said it would not.

What Russia does with its disinformation policy is create uncertainty, allowing for a situation where the average citizen does not know what to believe. Where the Bolsheviks were clear that everybody besides themselves were not trustworthy or good, Russia now is spreading the idea that you cannot believe anybody, full stop. Not even the Russian leaders themselves, since Russian people disappear when they ask questions and speak critically about the Kremlin. Pro-Russian journalists who write that Russia did nothing wrong in the Crimea and with the MH-17 crisis get rewarded for their efforts.

An insight into how the Kremlin portrays Europe. Source: East Stratcom

Worse yet is that the current situation in Europe shows that this disinformation policy is working. Nobody knows what is true and what is not. The consequence of this is that there is no straightforward policy towards Russia, as is shown with the MH-17 investigations. Because of all this uncertainty, European leaders do not stand up against Russian interference in the EU’s immediate neighbourhood. Their disinformation campaign has been very effective at wedging a policy divide between European states. Bilateral relations with Russia, varied across the continent, get in the way of a unified response. For example Latvia and Estonia have a difficult relationship with Russia, and for Estonia the Russian threat is “very real.” However, for other European Member States, such as Italy, who blocked further sanctions on Russia this week, the Russian threat is a bit further away, and they prefer a stable relationship with Russia because of economic interests. These elements contribute to a lack of a common European voice towards the Kremlin and its foreign policy.

The Kremlin is thought to be the source of much of the anti-EU propaganda filtering into EU Member States: Photo by Andrey Korzu.

However there are ways we can combat Russia’s hybrid war. What we can do, according to Kalensky, is contribute to the investigations of the East Stratcom Task Force, and give them information about Russia’s disinformation policy whenever we come across it on the web or in print. This way, it can be shown to the general population that the disinformation policy is a real and tangible threat, breeding disorder and mistrust, happening on media across Europe, and that there is a need to do something about it.

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The news got you down? Cheer up with our satire – The Americorner with Ryan Minett! This week: the EU launches new campaign to maintain its 28 member structure!

Defending Human Rights? Euroculture Students on the Track of Human Rights In and Outside EU

Sabine Volk
Yke Wijnker
Edited by Catherine Burkinshaw

In October 2015, Groningen’s first year Euroculture students went on a three-day study excursion to Brussels. Together with our teacher and organizer of the trip, Albert Meijer, we visited EU institutions, namely the European Commission and Parliament, the EU’s Executive Agency for Education, Audiovisual and Culture (EACEA), as well as two independent associations, namely the European Movement, and the European Network Against Racism (ENAR).


Seventeen first year Euroculture students visiting the heart of the EU: a lot of fun and Belgian beer. But it also entails enriching discussions with EU officials and lobbyists – this year regarding human rights in and outside EU.   

Studying Europe from an interdisciplinary perspective is amazing: its cultural, societal, and political integration not only appeals to various interests, but is capable of inspiring new interests within students, leading to almost insatiable curiosity. However, one day most of us will have to leave the academic ivory tower and decide on a concrete working field. For this reason, Euroculture Groningen organizes for each first year student group a trip to the perhaps most attractive destination for European studies scholars: Brussels, the permanent seat of several EU institutions, EU related agencies and innumerable lobbying associations. In other words: the heart of the European Union. For three days, seventeen first year Euroculture students explored this vibrant city, wondering which of them would someday end up in the offices of EU officials and lobbyists.

In view of the topic of the upcoming Intensive Program, “Ideals and Ambiguities of Human Rights in Europe, Past and Present,” this year’s trip to Brussels focused on human rights. For the inside perspective, we met the European Network Against Racism. To explore EU human rights policies outside its territory, we conferred with the European External Action Service (EEAS). For everybody participating in the 2016 IP or just interested in human rights issues, we want to share our experience with you. Continue reading “Defending Human Rights? Euroculture Students on the Track of Human Rights In and Outside EU”

An EU Internship in Bangkok

Eike Bangkok2 (1)

Eike-Maria Hinz │

Thailand: a country of amazing beaches, beautiful nature, sex tourism, the metropolis Bangkok and delicious Thai food. I guess those are the main associations for many people who consider Thailand as a holiday destination. There is much truth in all of these aspects.

“A country of amazing beaches, beautiful nature, sex tourism, the metropolis Bangkok and delicious Thai food…”

How did I end up in Bangkok then? I wanted to do an internship in Asia for my third semester of MA Euroculture. Hence, I wanted to explore and discover an unknown area of the world for me, such as Asia, whilst linking it to my internship. South East Asia seemed most attractive among others, keeping in mind all the nice vacation pictures mentioned above. With some luck I received one of the highly competitive trainee placements and could work from July until October 2013 at the European Union Delegation to Thailand. Politically speaking, this Delegation is established in the framework of the EEAS (European External Action Service) and functions as an EU Diplomatic Mission, with an EU Ambassador as a mouthpiece of the European Union vis-à-vis the authorities and the population of Thailand.

“I am the trainee at the Press & Information Section at the EEAS…”

I am the trainee at the Press & Information Section (other sections in Delegation at the EEAS are: Political, Trade and Cooperation). As such, I am responsible for the Delegation’s Facebook page, a brochure about an EU Seminar concerning the Rule of Law in Myanmar with Aung San Suu Kyi, the European Heritage Map Bangkok, the Erasmus Mundus Program in Thailand and lots of other interesting assignments. My daily routine is shaped by internet recherché for new Facebook posts, drafting around twenty e-mails a day, arranging cultural meetings and preparing diplomatic and visibility events. I learn a lot and read interesting articles everyday such as EU press releases or Thai news, which gives me new insights into the EU -Thailand relationship.

Besides the work in the office, living in Bangkok is a unique challenge. Bangkok is the most visited city in the world according to Master Card Global Destination Cities Index 2013 and, believe me, everyday (especially during the rush hours: 7:30-11 am and 16-19 pm) this city overflows with people, cars and tourists. While officially the population is approximately 9 million inhabitants, unofficially greater Bangkok counts 20 million people. This is an urban challenge to go to work, get food, buy things or simply get from point A to point B. But the city offers a lot: skyscrapers, parks, Buddhist temples, the Kings Palace, over five huge shopping malls, cuisines and products from around the world, fancy nightclubs, sky bars and delicious Thai street food for 1€.

“It is…horizon expanding.”

My life as a trainee at EEAS in Bangkok can be best summed up in two words, ‘horizon expanding’. Not only as a working experience for the EU but in every sense, in meeting new people from all over the world, in understanding the culture of Thailand and South East Asia as well as in reflecting my own German and European mindset and heritage. As I have met other interns (mostly European, who are called “farang” by the Thais) working at embassies, consulting or tourism firms, NGOs or start-ups here, it is clear to me that Bangkok is a real intern magnet and hence the ‘Bangkok Intern Network’ works quite well when it comes to finding friends, sharing flats or just hanging out. I guess all internship experiences in Bangkok are quite diverse but am pretty sure somehow an internship here will definitely open up your eyes. My internship is not yet over but still, if you would ask me whether I would do it again? The answer would be: Of course, YES!

Eike profileEike-Maria Hinz, Contributing Writer

Eike is from Germany and started MA Euroculture in 2012. She studied Political Science and History for her BA from the University Mannheim, Germany. In her first semester of MA Euroculture, Eike discovered the cold snowy sides and the warmhearted mentality of Uppsala, Sweden. In the second semester, however, she experienced the fascinating cultural and historical richness of Krakow, Poland. Her passions are the USA (she was there during her high school days), ballet and food (cooking and eating) as well as philosophy and anything concerning culture, heritage and tradition.