The Central and East European Coalition (CEEC; www.ceecoalition.us) hosted a timely and substantive event on Thursday, September 15, to discuss the topic “Russia’s Info War: What is the Impact?” A panel of four distinguished experts shared their views of and experiences with the issue. Panel members were David Ensor, former Voice of America Director; Jeffrey Gedmin, former director of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL); Liz Wahl, former correspondent for RT America; and Marius Laurinavicius, Hudson Institute Baltic-American Freedom Foundation Fellow. The panel was moderated by Mamuka Tsereteli of the Georgian Association in the U.S.A. and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Discussion of the problem revolved around several themes, including declining journalistic standards, our flawed understanding of Russia’s strategic goals, and lack of clarity on U.S. goals. The speakers noted that we are living in a post-factual world where we’re becoming numb to shock value. The rules of journalism and regard for truth that guided the news media in the past are losing significance while public trust of the media and discrimination regarding reliable sources are also fading.
On the Kremlin’s goals, it was noted that propaganda has always been a part of Russian and Soviet military doctrine. Russia calls its latest arsenal new generation warfare, fighting a total war on numerous fronts, to include political, economic, energy, cyber and information, in addition to more conventional military operations. The speakers saw a gap in U.S. policy that doesn’t fully recognize the broad extent of Putin’s aggression or his efforts to divide and weaken Europe and minimize or eliminate U.S. influence in the region.
Another U.S. shortcoming was identified as our loss of what we stand for. Putin may be playing a weak hand, but he’s finding his way because we’ve lost ours. One aspect of this is our still treating as valid agreements that Russia broke long ago. We need to clarify our foreign policy goals and employ the right tools, rooted in accurate, reliable info. The recent trend in rising relativism is diluting our values and objectivity.
The event concluded with proposed steps for moving forward. Renewed confidence in the media and making facts matter again, among the producers of the news and consumers, was a top concern. One speaker observed that Putin must know Russia’s population is interested in the truth; otherwise he wouldn’t expend so much effort on containing and oppressing it. There’s a large audience for RFE/RL and local media outlets to use the internet to present objective truth in an effort to counteract the Kremlin’s control over state media. While there was consensus that recovering objectivity and values could be a long-term battle, on a more positive note, Western governments are growing more aware of the problems and working on effective ways to address them.
The CEEC was established to coordinate the efforts of ethnic organizations whose members continue to maintain strong cultural, economic, political, and religious ties to the countries of Central and East Europe. It represents Americans of Armenian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Czech, Estonian, Georgian, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, and Ukrainian descent. Its member organizations cooperate in calling attention to issues of mutual concern, especially as regards United States policy toward Central and East Europe.