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Western Powers Are Moving Against Russian Disinformation and Influence Campaigns

On 29 May, police searched the offices and residence of a European Parliament employee. The search was part of an investigation of EU lawmakers suspected of accepting bribes in exchange for promoting Russian propaganda that weakens support for Ukraine, according to the Associated Press.

The searches, which were conducted in Brussels, Belgium, and Strasbourg, France, were coordinated by Belgian and French authorities, who partnered with the EU’s Eurojust.

With elections for a new EU parliament scheduled from 6 to 9 June, European authorities are increasing efforts to crack down on influence campaigns. In April, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced an investigation into reports of a Russian “network trying to undermine [EU] support for Ukraine,” the AP reported.

The EU has so far supported Ukraine’s war efforts against an invading Russia, sending the embattled nation weapons, ammunition, and billions of euros. Along with other Western nations, the EU has also sanctioned Russian officials, businesses, and organizations.

The parliamentary employee under suspicion was identified by news outlets as Guillaume Pradoura, a staffer for an EU legislator of the far-right Dutch political party, Forum for Democracy.

While investigators are looking into bribery, it’s not the only avenue Russia is reported to be pursuing as it attempts to sway Western minds.

New research from Meta indicated that a Russian online influence campaign remains active. The threat group Doppelganger, which has been connected to Russian government contractors and Russian President Vladimir Putin, continues to persistently disseminate narratives aimed at undermining Western support for Ukraine.

Since 2022, the group has used a large number of resources in response to a very high detection rate and daily loss of assets, according to Meta’s quarterly Adversarial Threat Report, published in May.

“The sheer volume and scale of Doppelganger’s influence network means social media platforms like Meta will continue to monitor the group’s activity. However, researchers emphasized that they continue to believe the level of effort observed around Doppelganger’s campaigns tends to significantly outstrip their impact on national debates,” Cyberscoop reported.

Meta’s threat report indicated that Doppelganger has changed its tactics when it comes to attempting to disinform or influence Meta’s users.  

Recent efforts from similar influence efforts have included a focus on the EU parliamentary elections, with clusters targeting audiences within their own countries, links to individuals associated with local campaigns or candidates, and inauthentically amplifying the authentic accounts or pages of certain politicians to make them seem more popular. However, Meta’s report noted that it had not “seen evidence of these clusters gaining much traction among authentic audiences.”

Beyond investigations led by private and public organizations, the United States has also stepped into the effort to counter Russian disinformation and influence campaigns.

On 30 May, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced €124 million ($134.4 USD) in aid would be given to Moldova. More than half of the funds are earmarked for improving the nation’s energy infrastructure and farming industry, while the remaining €46 million will support Moldova’s efforts to deter Russian disinformation.

“Moldova, with about 2.5 million people, used to be entirely dependent on Russia for its natural gas supplies. It faced an acute energy crisis after Moscow dramatically reduced supplies in the winter of 2022,” Euronews reported. “Moldova’s energy woes worsened that year after it suffered temporary blackouts because its Soviet-era energy systems remained connected with Ukraine’s, which were being hit hard by Russia’s military.”

Moldova has also frequently accused Russia of interfering in its local elections and conducting disinformation campaigns in a hybrid war designed to dissuade Moldova from joining the EU.