Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Will the G7 manage to become effective in countering Russian disinformation?

The nature of modern threats to state sovereignty is changing. In addition to traditional methods of warfare, states are increasingly resorting to hybrid methods, using informational influence and cyberattacks. Against the background of the revisionist policy of the Russian Federation, democracies are uniting their efforts to strengthen their ability to deter the aggressive policies of authoritarian countries. In order to counter misinformation on the part of authoritarian states, the G7 countries are considering launching a relevant joint body. Speaking ahead of the G7 foreign ministers' meeting in London, the first such in-person meeting in two years, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said the United Kingdom was «getting the G7 to come together with a rapid rebuttal mechanism» to counter Russian misinformation. «So that when we see these lies and propaganda or fake news being put out there, we can - not just individually, but come together to provide a rebuttal and frankly to provide the truth, for the people of this country but also in Russia or China or around the world», Raab noted. The Foreign Minister also commented in an interview with The Sunday Times, urging allies to take Russia's information threat seriously mentioning pro-Russian trolls posting comments about Ukraine and other regions to influence public opinion either in Western countries and for reproduction in the Russian media.[1]

So, why Britain became the driver of countering the Russian hybrid war within the G7?
After leaving the European Union, the UK has published several strategic documents that will define its future foreign policy as a global power. The strategy, entitled «Global Britain in a Competitive Age», which was published in March this year, specifically identifies the goal of confronting Russia, «the most acute direct threat to the UK». To achieve this goal, Great Britain will use multilateral formats of interaction with its allies. Therefore, we can conclude that Boris Johnson, firstly, is using the window of opportunity, which appeared after election of J. Biden to restore close Euro-Atlantic coordination, since due to a number of contradictions, under the pretext of a pandemic, the summit did not take place last year. Secondly, London views the G7 as a format in which it is possible to cooperate on an equal footing with large states to achieve their own ambitious goals. So, Boris Johnson, thus, will be able, together with other leaders of the G7 countries, to demonstrate the unity of the West, and prove that the G7, contrary to criticism, is not just an elite club of Western countries, but can be an effective tool for addressing the global challenges.

The fact that there are different positions on the approaches to relations with the Russian Federation of the countries of this format can be considered as a reason to doubt the prospects of creating an effective mechanism for counteracting Russian propaganda within the G7. The United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom are in open confrontation with Russia and China. Japan maintains partnership relations with Russia and conducts a strategic dialogue. Under Abe, the Japanese prime minister met with Vladimir Putin most often among the G7 leaders. However, this frequency is rather due to pragmatic foreign policy, as relations between the countries remain quite cool. There is a territorial dispute between the two countries over the Kuril Islands, while in 2014, after the occupation of the Crimean peninsula, Japan imposed sanctions against Russia. In addition, Japan is a major military-political ally of the United States, and China, a major threat to Japan's national security, is Russia's geopolitical partner. At the same time, France, Germany and Italy maintain a partnership with Russia and in their relations with the Kremlin are guided by their own pragmatic interests rather than pan-European ones.

In recent years, the trend of regionalization of the European Union has become clearer, especially against the background of the April escalation around Ukraine's borders, when Eastern European states immediately supported Ukraine, while EU leaders: France and Germany, resorted to neutral rhetoric in an attempt to avoid confrontation with Russia. The position of Western European states remained unchanged either after the February humiliation of the High Representative of the European Union Joseph Borrell in Moscow and after the escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. In general, the efforts of Western European states not to confront Russia may put an end to the initiative of Great Britain.

On the other hand, European countries are increasingly experiencing the detrimental effects of Russian hybrid influence in their countries. According to the influential German newspaper «Spiegel», Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which has been keeping an eye on the RT platform, the RT DE is seeking to weaken trust in democratic institutions. The agency says there are close links between the station and those seeking to undermine the democratic order in Germany in addition to conspiracy theorists. And it considers the news disseminated by RT DE to be part of a disinformation campaign orchestrated by the Russian state. Now the German edition of RT employs from 70 to 100 people, and the company's plans determine the intentions to expand its activities and increase the number of employees. The same article of the «Spiegel» edition quotes Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the RT «We defend our country as the army». Indeed, just as Russian soldiers threaten the territorial sovereignty of Eastern European countries, so Russian media resources threaten the security of the states in which these resources operate.

With the increasing scale of subversive propaganda produced by authoritarian regimes, democratic states have realized the need to confront the hybrid threats these regimes pose. In the long term, the consolidation of the G7 states and the creation of a joint mechanism for countering disinformation can strengthen the sustainability of democracies. However, there is a danger the member countries will not manage to create the mechanism within the framework of G7, which basically acted as an instrument for resolving certain economic issues of the developed states of the West.

An alternative could be a partnership within the North Atlantic Alliance, as six of the seven G7 countries are members of NATO, and Japan, in turn, works closely with both the alliance and the United States. The future of the joint anti-disinformation mechanism will be decided at the G7 Summit scheduled for June 11-13. After that, on June 14, the summit of the North Atlantic Alliance will take place, and also, on June 15, according to preliminary information, a meeting of the presidents of the United States of America and the Russian Federation will take place.