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On September 18th, the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) held a virtual policy discussion on the Kremlin's disinformation campaigns, Putin's recent attempts at revisionism, their role in the changing political landscape, and implications for upcoming elections.

 

Panelists explored effective counter-narratives to fight back on multiple levels, including in the political, economic, and military spheres, and how the Three Seas Initiative should be a positive factor in this challenge.

 

As an active member in the CEEC, the Estonian American National Council’s Washington, DC Director played a large role in organizing and executing the successful and well-received event.


Panel members were:  Ambassador William Courtney, currently an adjunct senior fellow at the RAND Corporation, following a distinguished career in the foreign service, senior foreign policy positions, and the private sector; Lieutenant General (Re-tired) Ben Hodges, Pershing Chair in Strategic Studies at the Center for European Analysis (CEPA), and former Commanding General, U.S. Army Europe (2014-2017); Mr. David Kramer, Senior Fellow in Florida International University’s Václav Havel Program for Human Rights and Diplomacy, with former senior positions at The McCain Institute, Freedom House, the German Marshall Fund, and  the Department of State, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (responsible for Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus affairs); and Mr. Viktoras Daukšas, head of Debunk.EU, an independent technology think tank and non-governmental organization that researches disinformation and runs educational media literacy campaigns. 

 

The event was moderated by Mr. Michael Sawkiw, Vice President of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America and Director of the Ukrainian National Information Service.


Ambassador Courtney provided context for the discussion by reminding us that Russia and the Soviet Union have a long history of using active measures “as a low-cost or asymmetric weapon…to suppress freedom...” and drew parallels to the Kremlin’s current use of disinformation. 

 

General Hodges framed the problem in terms of diplomacy, information, military and economic, or DIME, as the four main types of power that nations and alliances can exercise. 

 

He praised Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for setting examples of “political courage, but also the way that they have put their voices together…to raise attention in Washington, and also in Brussels, to the threats and why that area is important.”  


Mr. Kramer began by recognizing the Putin regime “as an existential threat…to its own people…to its neighbors…and the United States.” 

 

He cited the recent poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the 2007 cyber attack on Estonia, the invasions of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, and the FBI’s recent report on election interference and efforts to sow division and discord in the U.S. as examples. 

 

He cited agents of disinformation, such as RT and Cегодня as “tools in the Kremlin’s propaganda campaign…trying to create chaos, sow dissention and feed distrust in the countries where they are broadcast” and called on our political leaders to commit to facts and science-based analysis to protect ourselves from political manipulation. 

 

He also noted that while successful democracies along its borders would be in Russia’s best interest as a nation, they are a threat to the system that Putin has established in Russia.


Mr. Daukšas shared Debunk EU’s processes in discrediting disinformation, and analysis of disinformation vs. debunking in terms of scales of cost, showing that engaging in disinformation is much cheaper than exposing it. 

 

He presented information campaigns against the Defender 2020 U.S.-led multinational military exercise, and Coronavirus media coverage, as examples of topics that Debunk EU has studied.

 

He acknowledged that many organizations are working on the problem, with more competition than cooperation among them. 

 

Better communication and coordination, along with automation of their processes, would help make their work more effective.  


Questions and discussion addressed topics including State Department resources for combatting disinformation, the low rate of prosecution of agents of disinformation, what constituent organizations and individuals can do to help, the political situation in Belarus, the Three Seas Initiative as an alternative for countries that still rely on Russia for resources, and a recommendation for the women of Belarus for the Nobel Peace Prize.


Full video of the event and links to the speakers’ biographies are available on the CEEC website at ceecoalition.us. 

 

The next CEEC online policy event will take place on September 30th on the topic of political unrest in Belarus. 

 

This upcoming event was requested by offices in Congress to help inform their legislative efforts in support of democracy there. 

 

More information will be posted on the CEEC website and in social media as it becomes available.

 

Karin Shuey
Washington, DC Director
Estonian American National Council
www.estosite.org

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