The West is flying blind on Russian disinformation. Washington must react.

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CEPA hosted Senators Chris Murphy and Rob Portman for a May 10 discussion on Capitol Hill on strategies and U.S. responses to Russia’s sophisticated disinformation campaign targeting Central and Eastern Europe. The panel, co-hosted by the United States Institute of Peace, featured insights from CEPA experts Edward Lucas and Anne Applebaum.

“The United States has done an ineffective job” of countering Moscow’s propaganda machine, said Murphy (D-CT). “In many ways, the U.S. and the world community has been blind to what the Russians have been doing in Central and Eastern Europe, and in the Balkans,” Murphy told participants. “We want people in those countries to decide for themselves about their future, and when information is perverted, they can’t do this.”
CEPA President A. Wess Mitchell called Russia’s disinformation campaign “a significant and metastasizing” problem.
“This is weaponized information being harnessed to the strategic aims of a very purposeful state actor, and being used extremely effectively,” he said. “It’s slick and it’s well-funded. This is not something someone threw together in their attic or put out over an old transistor radio. What’s missing is a significant effort on the part of the U.S. government. Not nearly enough has been done.”
Looking towards solutions, CEPA Senior Adjunct Fellow Anne Applebaum argued for “a much more targeted and nuanced approach,” and that Russia wants to “use existing fault lines [throughout Europe and within individual European countries] to create mistrust and more anxiety.”
Panelists agreed that while Washington lags behind Brussels in responding to Kremlin propaganda, it is crucial that allies on both sides of the Atlantic catch up.
“We are no longer in the 1980s … We have to be much more robust about calling out examples of disinformation,” said Edward Lucas, senior vice president of CEPA. “If you see people in the mainstream [re-using disinformation], you need to pick up the phone and complain. This is like putting an astronomer and an astrologer on the same level. Editors will start noticing that.”

CEPA’s Information Warfare Initiative is taking the lead in monitoring, analyzing and exposing Russian disinformation throughout Central and Eastern Europe.