Migration as a Tool of Russian Information Warfare

The anti-migratory discourse in Central and Eastern Europe is helping the Russian agenda by discrediting the EU. The Kremlin’s involvement in alternative media sources active in the Visegrad Four has been well-documented. With important elections coming up in all four countries, we are soon to experience the long-term consequences of Russia’s information warfare on the European political system.

Russia is vigorously pushing back on anti-disinformation efforts in countries like the UK and it is being publicly criticized for its attempts to meddle in sovereign countries’ political process, but the Visegrad Four remain deeply divided with regard to reactions to the Kremlin’s hybrid activities on their soil.

Kremlin’s information warfare is a part of what experts term its ‘New Generation Warfare’. This strategy attempts to destroy the internal coherence of the enemy system by emphasizing its dysfunctional elements, thus eroding the public’s confidence in its existing order.

 

The Role of Migration as an Issue

One avenue to push forwards the Russian agenda, which fits the V4 context particularly well, is through distorting the political discourse on migration. Immigration continues to be perceived as one of the most important issues currently facing the EU as revealed by a recent Eurobarometer survey. 43.73% of the Slovak, 45.02% of the Polish, 58.19% of the Czech, and 55.81% of the Hungarian respondents mention it as a top concern for the EU at the moment, surpassing issues such as terrorism and crime, the economic situation and  EU countries’ public finance.

In order to achieve its goals in the region, the Kremlin maintains a tight grasp on the local media landscape, similarly to how it operates in the Balkans. It either utilizes online sources to spread manipulative content via the internet, conspiratorial websites, official news outlets like Sputnik with its versions in Russian, Czech and Polish, TV channels or regular media. Normally, its influence on mainstream media is marginal, except for the Hungarian case, where Russian disinformation narrative has been found to appear through the mainstream channels as well.

Expert analyses on the Russian involvement in the spread of anti-migratory propaganda list alternative media outlets, such as Hlavné správy, Slobodný vysielač and Zem a Vek in Slovakia which contain messages portraying the EU as an undemocratic organization. According to this narrative, the EU, in fact, organizes migration and keeps surrendering the European culture to Islamization.

In Hungary, anti-migration content is often government-controlled and Russian disinformation messages resonate well with the official migration-opposing government policy. This clearly shows that the issue of migration can be used as an instrument to gain political power.

 

With an Eye to the Future

The European Parliament elections are approaching in May. In addition, both Slovakia and Poland are facing important general elections in the next two years. The outcome of those elections may greatly affect the future foreign policy orientation of these countries and accelerate their movement away from the EU core.

As Viktor Orban predicted himself, the issue of migration might have a crucial role to play in these upcoming elections given how important it is (or was made to be) for the Central European societies. The type of discourse featured in pro-Kremlin media fuses antipathy towards migrants with anti-EU sentiments of disillusionment with the system.

Local actors who share such eurosceptic and anti-establishment sentiments and advocate for the cultural and geopolitical reorientation of the respective state away from the EU and NATO are the perfect allies for the Kremlin’s disinformation efforts. Their friendliness to the Russian narrative is often rewarded by positive portrayals in pro-Kremlin media which depict them as champions of the national interests - to be seen as a far superior alternative to the rest of the political elite in the country.

What makes the Visegrad countries, Slovakia and Poland in particular, especially susceptible to such illiberal forces is the notoriously low election turnout in those countries. Unless more voters from the various sides of the political spectrum mobilize to counterbalance them, the growing dissatisfaction with the EU might translate into political actions which can be detrimental to the political systems we know today - with all their advantages and disadvantages.  Such an outcome would certainly be to Russia's benefit but it will be far less beneficial to the future of politics in the Visegrad Four.

About author: Pavlina Boyanova

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