The event ‘Russian Soft Power: Moscow’s Struggle for Influence in Europe and How the EU Should Respond’, organized by the Gino Germani Institute and the Atlantic Council was held at the Tempio di Adriano Conference Hall of the Rome Chamber of Commerce (Piazza di Pietra, Rome), on 9 June. Director of the Centre Jānis Sārts and Operations and Support Branch Chief Simon R. West participated in panel discussions dedicated to Russia’s information activities.
The central theme of the event was Russia’s soft power strategy, pursued through non-military instruments and aimed at influencing the perceptions of the elite and public opinion in European countries. The conference analyzed the objectives and instruments of Russian soft power in the EU, with particular reference to the influence of activities promoted by Moscow, such as supporting populist right- and left-wing political parties and movements, the intensification of anti-EU and anti-Western communication campaigns, as well as efforts to increase its influence in strategic sectors of the economy in some EU countries.
Some experts point out that Moscow perceives soft Western power as a form of ‘non-linear warfare’ that threatens its security. According to the vision of the Kremlin, the West aims to destabilize Russia by fueling pro-Western movements in countries that are be part of its sphere of influence and within Russia itself. This perception of threat—according to the experts—would induce the Kremlin to intensify its soft power and influence operations in the EU.
Since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis, which has resulted in rising tensions between Russia and the West, Russia has intensified various soft power activities and increased its efforts to gain influence in the EU. Some of these activities have raised concern in the West because of their possible negative repercussions on the stability of European democracies and EU cohesion. Anti-EU and anti-Western communication campaigns, which often make use of disinformation, are conducted using both traditional and social media. Russia provides financial, political, and ideological support to populist right and left wing political parties. The European radical right and the Kremlin share a negative view towards the West, particularly the European Union, both claiming that Europe is going through a ‘cultural war’ between the traditional values of Christianity and Western decadent ‘liberalism’. Russia has increased its influence by means of financial instruments, including investments in areas of strategic importance in some EU countries, and the establishment of business relationships with some members of the political and economic elite. Russia has also been funding research institutes and non-governmental organizations, uniting the Russian diaspora in Europe.
According to an interpretation advanced by some analysts, Moscow aims to exploit the current profound and multidimensional crisis in Europe through its soft power operations to pursue the following strategic foreign policy objectives: wear down the authority and credibility of European institutions and European governments, undermine the effectiveness of NATO and EU decision-making processes, and weaken the transatlantic relationship, as well as feed public distrust of Europe and the Western liberal model.
The Gino Germani Institute for Social Sciences and Strategic Studies, established in Rome in 1981, is a non-profit research, educational, and policy-informing organization aimed at promoting synergy between the social sciences and strategic studies. Working with academic institutions and think tanks from around the world, the Institute analyzes the processes of modernization and globalization and how they are transforming societies and the world order. Working with experts from a range of disciplines, the Institute conducts social science and policy-oriented research on the issues of socio-economic development, democracy and authoritarianism, and conflict and security in contemporary societies.
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