BRUSSELS -- The European Union aims to counter Russian propaganda by boosting support for independent media in "Eastern Neighborhood" countries and increasing awareness of "disinformation activities by external actors," according to a strategic communications action plan seen by RFE/RL.
The document, drafted by the EU's diplomatic corps, the European External Action Service, also calls for a more muscular push to persuade people in nations such as Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova that reforms backed by the EU can improve their lives over time.
It was prepared ahead of a June 25-26 EU summit in an effort to find a unified strategy to counter propaganda that has washed over nations east of the EU and EU member states themselves, through tools such as state-funded RT television, as tensions have mounted over Russia's interference in Ukraine.
The chief instrument of the strategy is an EU communications unit called the East StratCom Team, which was launched in April but will be made permanent this autumn and will support EU delegations in the six "Eastern Neighborhood" countries -- which also include Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus -- as well as in Russia itself.
The action plan has three main objectives: "Effective communication and promotion of EU policies and values towards the Eastern neighborhood;" the "strengthening of the overall media environment including support for independent media," as well as increased public awareness of disinformation activities by external actors; and an improved EU capacity to anticipate and respond to such activities.
The document states that communication towards the east should "first and foremost focus on the development of positive and effective messages regarding EU policies towards the region."
Brussels needs to spread the message that reforms promoted by the European Union "can, over time, have a positive impact on their daily lives," the action plan says. It underscores that the strategy should highlight the benefits, not the bureaucracy, focusing on clearly explaining the positive effects of EU programs and policies rather than going into details about the policies.
Russia's intervention in Ukraine came after President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted following months of protests by citizens incensed by his decision, in November 2013, to scrap plans for a landmark deal to bring the ex-Soviet republic closer to the EU and improve trade ties with Moscow instead. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 and has backed separatists in a deadly conflict with government forces in eastern Ukraine.
The action plan also calls for the 28-nation EU to more actively to promote freedom of the media in the "Eastern Neighborhood" region, mainly in concert with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe. Proposals include targeted training and "capacity building" for journalists and media outlets in the region. Brussels will also "consider how best it can support training for journalists experiencing conflict situations, to better enable them to report on issues of relevance to local populations."
Several potential responses to Russian propaganda have been discussed among EU member states, including an initiative led by nations such as Denmark and Latvia to create a Russian-language TV channel.
The action plan does not mention the creation of new media outlets in Russian, but it notes that a "number of Member States are already increasing their support for broadcasting in the Russian language to cater to national minorities. In the meantime the EU will continue its support at local level for independent media, including Russian language media, to ensure that citizens have access to alternative sources of information in their local language.”
It also states that “the EU will ensure that communication materials and products are available in local languages, notably in Russian."