Cooperation between the European Union and Ukraine in tackling disinformation has been ongoing for several years. Ukraine has been a key target of disinformation campaigns, particularly from Russia, which has sought to influence public opinion in Ukraine and to undermine its sovereignty.
The current war in Ukraine shows that disinformation is playing an active role both in the conflict and in the right of citizens to access information. Be the incentives political, financial or societal, the spread of disinformation on the war is impacting society and decision makers and producing an information disorder around the conflict. Today, disinformation campaigns originating from Russia have reached an unprecedented magnitude and are focused on undermining the European public’s support for the Ukrainian cause.
The EU has established various departments, agencies, and initiatives to address this challenge. Since 2015, the EU has significantly improved its capacity to tackle Foreign Information Manipulation and Interference (FIMI), protecting the EU’s democratic processes, citizens and their well-being.
One of the primary institutions responsible for addressing disinformation is the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s diplomatic service. The EEAS East Stratcom Task Force (ESTF) was established in 2015 to counter pro-Kremlin disinformation. The task force raises awareness about pro-Kremlin disinformation, information manipulation and interference. It even covers attacks on the EU, its Member States and the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood.
The ESTF couples direct responses, such as exposure and awareness raising, with proactive communication and promotion of EU policies towards the Eastern Neighbourhood. This is done through multiannual integrated communication campaigns. One of them, ‘Moving Forward Together’ (Ukraine), highlights key EU programmes and initiatives, including EU4Business, Horizon 2020, and Creative Europe to demonstrate the EU’s support for small and medium-sized business, innovation, and the organisation of culture in Ukraine. In close cooperation with the European Commission and EU Delegations, the ESTF works to ensure communication coherence and resilience against disinformation. If relevant, it includes partnership with and support to government strategic communication offices.
The ESTF also pays increased attention and emphasis on strengthening the overall media environment in the Eastern Neighbourhood, and contributes to the provision of appropriate and needs-calibrated support for independent media in the region. Since 2015, the ESTF has been running the EUvsDisinfo campaign to monitor, analyse and respond to pro-Kremlin disinformation, information manipulation and interference. The campaign’s flagship initiative is the database of pro-Kremlin disinformation cases, regularly updated and debunked. EUvsDisinfo fights against the Kremlin’s information manipulation and disinformation attacks, nowadays especially concerning Ukraine. EUvsDisinfo also prepared an overview of the Kremlin’s lies during the first 100 days of the war. Now the project continues to monitor and analyse pro-Kremlin disinformation in articles and every week releases a disinfo review.
Additionally, the European Parliament has created a Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation (INGE), currently called “ING2”. Yes, the name may seem quite long, but it is still worth our attention. The committee investigates foreign interference and disinformation campaigns in the EU. For example, on 20 February this year, a team from the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine met with a delegation from INGE. The parties discussed the state of affairs in the spheres of culture and information policy in Ukraine. It was not only about the scale of Russian disinformation and ways to involve society and the governments of partner countries in combating it, but also about building Ukrainians’ resistance to Russian lies.
The EU has also established the Rapid Alert System for Disinformation (RAS), which is managed by the European Commission. The RAS is a system to provide member states with real-time alerts and updates about disinformation campaigns that threaten the EU’s democratic processes and institutions. The RAS works by enabling member states to share information about disinformation campaigns with each other, the European Commission, and the European External Action Service (EEAS). The information is then analysed, and if a disinformation campaign is detected, a warning is issued to relevant parties through the RAS. The RAS also facilitates the coordination of responses to disinformation campaigns by member states, the EU, and other relevant actors.
In Ukraine, the RAS has been working closely with Ukrainian authorities to address disinformation campaigns that threaten the country’s democracy and stability. Ukraine has been a particular focus of the RAS due to its vulnerability to disinformation campaigns, particularly those originating from Russia. The system has supported the development of fact-checking projects run by Ukrainian media outlets, and has facilitated the sharing of best practices between fact-checking organisations in Ukraine and other EU member states. Also it has organised training sessions and workshops for Ukrainian journalists, civil society organisations, and government officials. These sessions have focused on building awareness about disinformation campaigns, improving media literacy, and developing effective strategies for countering disinformation.
All in all, the cooperation between Ukraine and the EU to cope with disinformation is a crucial aspect of strengthening democratic institutions and countering the efforts of those who seek to undermine them. It consists of different initiatives, projects, and departments. Each of them is targeted at the same objective, which includes support of Ukraine in the information war. At the heart of this cooperation is the Rapid Alert System for Disinformation (RAS), which enables EU member states to share information about disinformation campaigns and coordinate responses.
In addition to the RAS, the EU has launched several other initiatives and projects in Ukraine aimed at countering disinformation. These include the EU4IndependentMedia programme, which provides training and support for journalists and civil society organisations to promote media freedom and combat disinformation. The EU has also provided financial support for fact-checking and media literacy initiatives in Ukraine. At the same time, Ukraine has developed its own strategies for countering disinformation, including the creation of the Ministry of Information Policy in 2014. The ministry has launched several initiatives, including the StopFake project, which fact-checks and debunks false information in Ukrainian media. All these measures have helped to improve Ukraine’s ability to detect and respond to disinformation campaigns, and to safeguard its democratic processes.