British government among those 'losing ground' in propaganda battle with Russia, warns major report

Britain and its allies are losing the propaganda war against Russia and need to step up their efforts in the battle over the use of information, according to a major new report by the Foreign Policy Centre think tank.

Russia is winning the propaganda battle, warns the Foreign Policy Centre think tank
Russia is winning the propaganda battle, warns the Foreign Policy Centre think tank

Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union are engaged in a major comms offensive that ranges from spreading fake news to trolling opponents on social media, it warned.

Public affairs companies, lobbyists, politicians, academics, think tanks and NGOs are among the tools being used in an attempt to influence the political debate in Europe and the US, the report claimed.

"In what is increasingly becoming a battle over the use of soft power and information, Western institutions have been losing ground and must take action in order to meet the challenge," said the report.

It added: "Western governments, NGOs, donors and the general public need to become more aware of the challenges they now face and must take action in order to protect and strengthen their domestic institutions and societies, while enhancing support for human rights in the former Soviet Union."

The report draws on the views of a number of experts from around the world, who examine issues as diverse as Russian propaganda in Finland and Sweden to pro-Russia groups masquerading as independent voices.

While countries like Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have been "particularly active in attempting to promote themselves internationally in a positive light," other states, such as Armenia, have concentrated on engaging with their diaspora.

As for Russia, it "seeks to proactively change the international ideological and political environment through its use of broadcast media, both through an overt and covert online presence and through its support of organisations and institutions in Europe and beyond that share their values," according to the report.

It is part of a concerted effort to "manipulate international narratives" by exploiting comms channels provided by the media, advertising, social media, and sympathetic organisations, it argued.

Governments and regulators in the West need to "track the spread of misleading and untrue content emanating from Russian sources, working with civil society to rebut it where appropriate," recommended the report.

They should also: "actively monitor online threats to Western-based critics of regimes in the former Soviet Union" and strengthen rules over lobbying, "including looking to expand the scope of the UK’s statutory register and delivering the proposed formal EU lobbying register."

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is investing £14 million in supporting public service and independent media operating in the Russian language, including projects in the Baltic States, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

PRWeek understands that the FCO is working with the EU and the international community to restrict the Kremlin’s ability to use disinformation and propaganda, as it has done during its occupation of Crimea and destabilisation of Ukraine.

An FCO spokesman told PRWeek: "The Kremlin uses a range of powers to pursue their policies – including propaganda and disinformation. Managing this is a long-term priority for the UK, and we will continue to work with international partners to effectively constrain their effects. The best defence against disinformation is a free, wide and varied media landscape and we are investing heavily to support public service and independent media operating in the Russian language."

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