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Mapping the New Battlespace of Information

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The Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) hosted Senior Vice President Edward Lucas and Senior Adjunct Fellow Anne Applebaum for a briefing on the Center’s Information Warfare InitiativeThis is an innovative, on-the-ground effort to monitor, analyze and expose Russian disinformation in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). The event featured a roundtable discussion with more than 5experts, diplomats and officials.

“This is the first effort of its kind in the think-tank community,” said CEPA President A. Wess Mitchell. “The idea is for journalists and analysts to monitor the region on a regular basis, giving concrete examples of where local media has been manipulated by outside sources.” Despite the growing audacity of Russia’s propaganda machine, Mitchell warned, “The United States has been slow to react, and the EU is only a little further ahead. The reality is that we’re not that much better equipped to combat this now than we were years ago.” 

Lucas urged participants not to view information warfare in isolation. “It’s not a thing, it’s a vector; it’s someone delivering a message. We should never forget that there’s always a perpetrator, and there’s always a victim,” he explained. “The Russian strategy combines conventional military, infrastructure, energy politics, sanctions, funds from corruption and organized crime, sweetheart deals, the use of trolls in social media, and putting money into political parties, think tanks and academia. All these are tools in the Kremlin’s armory, and it’s high time we came to grips with this.” 

He added: “It’s important to see this all as part of Russia’s foreign policy, not a kind of random mischief-making. Russian foreign policy is very much about undermining the EU and NATO. Russia is very anti-American and specifically anti-NATO—and what we’re doing is too little, too late.” 

Said Applebaum, Russia’s nodes of disinformation are often effective “because they hit real problems,” adding, “The question, then, is how to counter that. It’s not like in the Cold War. This is a much more complicated, subtle form of disinformation which needs to be countered in multiple ways.” 

Fact-checking, she added, “only works with those audiences prepared to hear it.” A more effective solution, Applebaum suggested, is countering with slick, sophisticated programs—via broadcast or online—that refute the Russian narrative. “In the Cold War, it was enough to have a megaphone and blast that democracy was good. That no longer works.”