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The State of Hybrid Warfare and Kremlin Propaganda in the EU

During a debate in Brussels at the Press Club Brussels Europe on “Hybrid Warfare and Kremlin Propaganda in the EU”, Ukrainian Member of Parliament Yuri Kamelchuk discussed with Members of European Parliament Karen Melchior and Viola von Cramon provided their insights on this timely topic.

Kamelchuk highlighted how “it is hard to discuss Russia without also delving into the topic of Russian hybrid warfare and propaganda. Now we really have grown very accustomed Russian propaganda and espionage. (…) Still, there are now also new methods of Russian influence. Against this, the West is struggling to defend itself.”

In particular, the case of Russian oligarch and Kremlin ally Ruben Vardanyan was highlighted. This businessman of Armenian background, who made his money in Russia as an associate of Putin and is responsible for ‘washing’ $4.6bn through the notorious ‘Troika Laundromat’ centred on Troika Dialog, the Russian private bank he founded, was suddenly, in 2024, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, something which was heavily protested by a number of MEPs.

During the debate, Kamelchuk pointed out how “it was Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik which published an article revealing the nomination of this figure which features on Western sanctions lists and has been accused of financing Russian aggression. Why Sputnik? Because this outlet is owned by another oligarch who acts as a henchman of Putin.

More than 100 MEPs have urged the Nobel Committee to reject this nomination, including Romanian MEP Cristian Terhes.”

Analysts have pointed out that a problem is that “the Nobel Prize Committee in Norway does not announce the names of those who are taken forward for consideration: only the prize winner is officially announced. But, due to a ‘loophole’ in the rules, anyone who is nominated is free to publicise the nomination they have received – in the case of dictators and crooked oligarchs like Putin and Vardanyan – from unknown academics and politicians in obscure corners of the world. (…) It’s shameful that the Nobel Prize Committee do not close this loophole. As it allows for people like Vardanyan to use their good name and debase respect for their prize. It enables those with money – and they almost always have money – to hire PR firms to promote their ‘nomination’, just as Vardanyan has done.”

Also speaking at the event was German green MEP Viola von Cramon, who stated:

“On the topic of Russia, some people don’t believe anything any more. That is also the goal of Russia, with its misinformation campaigns. In particular in the Eastern parts of Germany, there is sometimes more trust in Russia and China than in our own democratic institutions. There, the far right AfD party is polling at 30 percent, but also Sahra Wagenknecht’s party, which is clearly antidemocratic and sympathetic to Putin, is doing well.

The unfortunate thing is that many people end up supporting the aggressor, Russia, not the occupied state, Ukraine, as many people believe Russia had no other choice but to invade, to prevent a Ukrainian attack on Russia.”

She continued:

“Until the start of the invasion, these narratives and propaganda were not taken seriously enough. Even now, when it comes to the knife attacks by Afghan refugees in Germany, we can not exclude that Russian intelligence is involved. We have seen this before with Chechnyan refugees.

We really need more intelligence and more action to counter all of this. Now, the Olympic games in Paris may be a target as well.

Von Cramon concluded: “Our last election campaign in Germany was quite bad. We saw a lot of hate.”

Finally, Danish Renew MEP Karen Melchior recalled: “In Denmark, we had 2 parties linked to Russia, as political parties did not properly check the background of candidates. One candidate, from – leftist- Venstre, was called Alexandra Sasha. This is quite funny in a way, as Sascha in Russian is simply a nickname for Alexandra.”

She continued:

“People often tell me: Why do you not talk about Gaza instead, but of course this is not an argument. We should talk about Gaza as well, but we should also talk about Ukraine.”

Furthermore, she also explained:

“Russia does not want to push alternative truths, but it wants to confuse. There is even a book detailing this, from 2014, with the title “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible (…).

What we see today is that 30 percent of France may vote for the RN, but that party has only just paid back a loan to Russia. We see that a US Presidential candidate and former President, Donald Trump, was dependent on Russian loans and connections.”

As a solution, she argued, “we need to install a culture of security in our institutions, and develop a stronger civil society to counter all of this.”