The geopolitical role of strategic communication between Russia and the EU

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  • 16 June 2017

Strategic communication can be described as a developing subfield within communication related to the activities of disciplines including public relations, management communication, and advertising. It explores the capacity of all organizations – not only corporations, but also not-for-profit organizations (including advocacy and activist groups) and government – for engaging in purposeful communication. Nowadays strategic communication is fundamental and essential in geopolitics; ASRIE had the pleasure to meet in Moscow Professor Evgeny Pashentsev*, leading researcher at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs  of  the Russian Federation, director of the International Centre for Social and Political Studies and Consulting (ICSPSC), to discuss the geopolitical role of strategic communication between Russia and the European Union.

In 2016, the European Parliament adopted the resolution “on EU strategic communication to counteract propaganda against it by third parties”. According to the resolution, the Parliament “notes with regret that Russia uses contacts and meetings with EU counterparts for propaganda purposes and to publicly weaken the EU’s joint position, rather than for establishing a real dialogue”, a statement which underlines that there is a real Information War between Brussels and Moscow. Is it true that Russia has used different propaganda tools in the conflict with the EU? Or could this resolution be considered part of the EU strategic communication to counteract the Russian Federation and to justify the sanctions and the policy perpetrated till today?

“It is sad that the resolution of the European Parliament adopted on November 23 willingly or unwillingly follows the logic of aggressive information warfare. The war is not so much directed against Russia, but against the EU member states. So, this resolution “points out that the Kremlin’s information strategy is complementary to its policy of stepping up bilateral relations, economic cooperation and joint projects with individual EU Member States in order to weaken EU coherence and undermine EU policies”. But it means that given the world markets’ slowdown in the growth of international trade, the actions of Russia and some European countries to establish mutually beneficial economic exchanges, they are easily labeled as activities that undermine the unity of the EU. And that is not in the interests of the EU states which have serious economic problems. The drop in commodity prices and, to a smaller extent, sanctions led to a drop in trade between the EU and Russia by about half. The latest economic statistics show that according to the Obama’s phrase which evokes a smile, Russia’s “torn to shreds” economy, despite sanctions, is starting to grow faster (0.2% in the last quarter of 2016, 0.3% in the first quarter of 2017). As of early 2017, Russia’s external debt amounted to about 40% of GDP which also indicates the stability of the financial and economic situation in the country. It is much better than the corresponding indicators of most EU countries (the external debt of the UK is 314%, the Netherlands is 525%, Ireland is 725%, France is 210%, etc.), although serious problems in the Russian economy remain. We can observe a reorientation of Russia to other markets, relations with China are developing very dynamically. In the first quarter of 2017 there was a rapid growth of trade between our countries which exceeded 37%. The governments of Russia and China expect to elevate the bilateral trade turnover to the level of $ 200 billion by 2020.

Meanwhile, the big debt burden of the EU member states with low or zero economic growth (and it is exactly like this in the EU since the economic crisis of 2008) is sooner or later fraught with the prospects of economic collapse and social-political explosion and / or a war. There has been a dramatic decline in trade with an important partner, while simultaneously taking on the sensitive burden of supporting the oligarchic regime in Ukraine, which is also very questionable in its origin, is unlikely to benefit the EU in this difficult period of its existence. Sanctions and their information cover do not hit Russia as much as the population and business of the EU countries. The growing sentiments in the EU countries towards the normalization of relations with Russia, therefore come, in my opinion, from the national aspirations of these countries, and are not “Kremlin intrigues” for the split of EU unity. But in whose interests the opponents of the development of these relations are trying, it is appropriate to look for the exact answer.

Unfortunately but the document seems to affect the relationship with Russia much less than put the EU’s own policies and credibility into question. And this is the position of many influential organizations in the area of communication. For example the IFJ (The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries) and the EFJ are not convinced by this controversial resolution which seems to promote censorship, as the IFJ President Philippe Leruth explained in his letter sent to Ria Novosti and Sputnik news agencies.

The very structure of the resolution follows the logics of perception management. Firstly,  the resolution aims at: «Recognising and exposing Russian disinformation and propaganda warfare», and only in the next section it suggests: «Understanding and tackling ISIL/ Daesh’s information warfare, disinformation and radicalisation methods». It means that Russia is considered to be the most important foe in comparison to Daesh. According to a minority official opinion (tabled by the parliamentary group GUE/NGL) “It is irresponsible to place a State like Russia at the same level of threat as Da’esh’… recognise Russia for what it is: a key partner for the EU and key global actor, both vis-à-vis foreign security and common fight against  Daesh”. In spite of the overwhelming support for the resolution from the powerful elites and the mainstream media only 304 MEPs supported the resolution based on the report ‘EU strategic communication to counteract propaganda against it by third parties’, with 179 voting against it and 208 abstaining. Some MEPs, called it both “insane” and “ridiculous”. The EU “desperately needs an enemy, be it Russia or any other,” that it can blame for any of its own failures, French MEP Jean-Luc Schaffhaueser for example told RT. Yes, one can hardly agree and put up with those who try to get rid of their responsibility for the crisis development, promoting the image of a fake external enemy, and even more – those who seek making good money with a new arms race forgetting foolishly about the lessons from the past. Serious problems of the EU, of course, negatively affect Russia. In turn, the “Decline of Europe” is luckily to convert into a global crisis and the threat of a great war which can only be stopped through the revival of European nations based on progressive democracy and the formation of their friendly alliance”.

Reading several European newspapers and collecting information published by media agencies it seems that the EU and Russia cannot be “friends” anymore because of their geopolitical and economic interests. Could Europe and Russia survive separated during this hard time that is characterized by economic recession, terrorism threats and socio-cultural problems as immigration? Who can benefit from their separation?

“I would definitely say that it will be harder to solve the most complicated problems of our time separately. It is impossible to solve problems of security, environmental and some other problems only “for ourselves”. The modest size of our planet increasingly requires taking into account the interests of each other not only in words but also in deeds. For those who doubt the strategic perspective of the relations between Russia and the EU countries, I advise you to look at the map – they are neighbors and this will not change. From the point of view of an elementary knowledge of the economy, it is clear that the exchange of goods between neighbors, other things being equal, is more profitable than the exchange of the same goods with countries on the other side of the world. Nobody canceled transportation costs. It is more advantageous if there are no subjective political factors. But they can be created. They are created. The crisis in Ukraine. To whom is it beneficial?  Seneca provides the answer: Cui prodest scelus, is fecit (“Medea”, 609-610).

Integration projects on the largest continent of the Earth, where more than 70% of the world’s population live, cannot be effective without Russia, let alone against Russia, this is understood both in the East (better) and in the West of Eurasia (temporarily worse). Russia needs to work in this direction, projecting our objective significance with actions, words and images to internal and external audiences. I want to stress that the main thing, of course, is not military power, you cannot be strong with geography only, natural resources have a harmful tendency not to grow, but to decrease. This means that we need a lot of economic and social attractiveness, and there is still a lot of work to be done in this direction, although positive changes after the devastation of the 1990s are beyond doubt.

Someone will continue to actively interfere with this, not because of personal sympathies or antipathies towards Russia, but because of the pragmatic fear of losing trillions of profits and geopolitical leadership. This objective factor also needs to be considered, calculating possible temporary and long-term allies, wavering, etc. It is known from the history of the behavior of many invaders, compelled to retreat, they mercilessly purge the abandoned territory, so that the liberation forces will not use it.

It is quite symbolic that in the midst of the crisis in Ukraine the founder and then director of Stratfor George Friedman argued that the American empire is building a sanitary cordon against Russia and must take into account the experience of the British Empire in inciting Europeans against each other. Or rely on the US own experience in supporting Iran and Iraq, so that they are at war with each other, but not against the United States. “This is cynical, it was certainly immoral,  it worked,” Friedman claimed, as a guest of the influential Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Following this “pragmatic logic”, let Russia fight against Europe, and the proceeds from the new “Marshall plans” should go to restore the financial well-being of the American elite. Does Europe need it? Does Russia need it? I am not talking about the extreme danger of such logic in the nuclear age. Marin Le Pen, during her recent visit to Russia, as reported by the RT television channel, noted that the US is acting in a way that demonstrates the need for Washington to unleash a new big war on the European continent. “The sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation due to the difficult situation in Ukraine only contribute to the gloomy future of the whole of Europe, both in the economic and socio-political spheres. Something similar was observed on the eve of the First World War” predicts the leader of the French party” Left Front “Jean-Luc Melanchon.

What is necessary for the progressive development of relations between the EU and Russia? It is necessary to avoid the policy of dictating and imposing decisions, to abandon the “demonization” of the dialogue partner, we need counter-compromises and the search for ways to combine our interests. Strategic communication is the synchronization of affairs, words and images in public policy on the most important and long-term issues. I think the efficiency of strategic communication as means of collaboration is negligible in case of strategic interests and goals mismatching drastically. In this case, strategic communication inevitably becomes a tool of information warfare. In creating a climate for a favorable international dialogue, strategic communication can play a very important positive role, but it can also seriously worsen the situation. To a certain extent, strategic communication itself is an important (and, in part, autonomous) factor of rapprochement or separation of the parties, and it is extremely important that it serves the first task, not the second one. Such program of joint optimization of SC is completely unfeasible in the face of growing tensions between Russia and China on the one hand, and the United States on the other. Serious, in fact revolutionary, economic, technological, social, political changes are required in all leading countries, taking into account their national characteristics, but in the common interest of overcoming the threat of a new world war and a worthy, democratic, progressive development of all mankind. However, this has nothing in common with the practice of “regime change” with the participation of US special services. This practice was unambiguously condemned by D. Trump soon after his victory in the presidential election. “We will stop looking to topple regimes and overthrow governments, folks”.

We cannot consider the EU-Russia relations as being independent because there are some external agents and a key player, first of all the United States, which have an important role and can influence the dialogue between them. What are the effects of other countries’ foreign policy and strategic communication on the relations between the EU and Russia?

“Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States has not changed much so far. The president has to act looking at his political opponents who are actively playing the “Russian card” in their own interests. And at any outcome of elections in the US, there is a system of counterbalances that leaves real power to the ruling corporate oligarchy, despite serious disagreements in its ranks on ways and methods of preserving and strengthening its positions in the world.

Many important members of the administration of D. Trump are supporters of a hard stance towards Russia. It is difficult to expect anything else since the entire American elite is aimed at preserving world leadership, and those who are questioning “professionalism” are ostracized (let us recall the fate of M. Flynn). The significant difference from the previous administration is that the current ruler of the White House resolutely demands from the members of the Western alliance the growth of military expenditures: the US has more and more debts, the profits are getting smaller. Moscow as a “demon of evil” is more suited than Daesh (which is proved by the already mentioned resolution of the European Parliament), and, therefore, it will be possible to rally the allies and get good money for this by gaining money on military orders.

As for the role of other countries. Of course – it is Ukraine. The settlement is possible through the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. However, official Kiev is not able to follow this path. Ultranationalists and neo-nazis from the inside (well-armed and of considerable numbers), and forces that still rely on the use of Ukraine in their own mercenary interests from the outside- obstruct the peace process. Kiev does not take the risks to say “no” to the Minsk agreements. Also it cannot end corruption, inefficiency of the economy, growing external debt, nor the plight of the population. To get help from the EU and through other channels, it has to make new concessions. So, answering the question whether Brussels is ready to give money if the draft law is not approved by the Verkhovna Rada, the chairman of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said in February 2017 that among the conditions for allocating the second tranche of EU assistance was the lifting of the ban on wood exports (April 9, 2015, the Verkhovna Rada adopted a law that banned the export of wood and sawn timber in unprocessed form for a period of 10 years which is called roundwood). Supporting such anti-national measures President Poroshenko isolates himself further from the country. It seems that in the current situation, Kiev is simply incapable to resolve the internal crisis and normalize relations with Russia. Without this, Ukraine, unfortunately, is not able to play a positive role in the development of relations between the EU and Russia, it definitely plays a negative role.

I would also mention the role of China in the development of the dialogue between Russia and the EU. The role is not direct but indirect, however, this is not less significant. To connect the two largest economies of the world – the EU and China – by land – faster and cheaper than everything is possible through Russia. The Eurasian projects of Russia and China on the development of modern transport corridors on the vast territories of Eurasia logically imply their long-term development in the European direction. They are extremely beneficial for real economic cooperation between the peoples of the largest continent of the planet, including the peoples of Europe (the opponents of these projects do not sleep, which is one of the reasons for the external support in Ukraine and Syria of the zones of instability and conflict with the provision of a corresponding global information agenda). In such projects, in a healthy international situation, I think that not only the Eurasian countries could take part. Also, much can be mentioned about the prospects of a large Eurasian integration and, in the project, the gradual creation of a common economic space from Shanghai to Lisbon. In the strategic interests of Russia, China, the EU countries and the United States and other countries of the world – to build a system of long-term good-neighborly relations which would be the best impulse for the dynamic progressive development of all mankind. The path to such a future will be thorny, long and full of dangers but there is no peaceful alternative.”

In 2016 Italy was one of the countries which supported the NATO mission to Latvia set up to strengthen defences against a possible Russian attack. What is the role of NATO and the Baltic countries in the EU-Russia relations and how has this myth of “Russian aggression” shaped the dialogue between the parties?

“Having looked at the site of the Center for Strategic Communications, established at the initiative of a number of NATO countries and accredited at NATO, in Riga, you can find a lot of documents aimed at ‘countering Russian aggression’ and ‘Russian propaganda.’

It is worth mentioning the publication of October 10, 2016 ‘The Kremlin and Daesh Information Activities‘ where everything is built on a simple trick to identify the “absolute evil” evident for the overwhelming majority of the EU residents (and the Russians), in the person of the Daesh and Russia. In this thirty-page document, dozens of times, one way or another, there is an analysis of threats to the West coming from Russia and Daesh: ‘Both Daesh and Russia understand …’, ‘Both Daesh and Russia appeal …’, ‘Both Daesh and Kremlin attempt … ‘,’Kremlin and Daesh are able to engage the West indirectly … ‘.

At the same time, the publication almost justifies the conclusion that Russian propaganda is more dangerous, i.e., more dangerous than “absolute evil.” If Daesh must be physically destroyed (which is done today on the battlefields), how can we not destroy the greater evil … also physically? In the speeches of politicians and NATO brochures such a conclusion does not yet sound, but the propaganda base for it is unequivocally laid. Only this is the way to the third world war and the death of human civilization. Repeated statements by high-ranking NATO leaders about the growing “threat” from Russia, the activation of NATO in neighboring countries, and this are the Baltic States, certainly does not promote a constructive dialogue between the EU and Russia. This situation is also hampered by the construction of good-neighborly relations between Russia on the one hand, and Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, on the other. But I believe that time will put everything in its place and our relations will improve.

Do you believe that Russia and the European Union are ready to improve their relations and to overcome the problems related to trust and confidence or is this only a desire of one of the parties or some political, academic, and economic communities inside the European continent?

“I think that the relationship between Russia and the EU should be considered in the context of the changes that are taking place on the European scene. And it is necessary to separate the supranational structures of the EU and the countries that are part of this association. The situation on separate countries is also ambiguous and volatile. Strengthening the parties of Eurosceptics of different social orientations in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, France and other countries does not mean that the population of these countries in the majority wants to break economic, political, cultural ties with each other: they have a long, though ambiguous tradition. We are talking about growing dissatisfaction with the social effectiveness of the supranational mechanism for regulating interstate relations in the EU which is more in line with the interests of the supra-state bureaucratic elite of the EU and a certain part of Transnational Companies than the interests of most EU citizens. Even if we heard in the declarations of the EU even more critical assesments of the actions, recognition of serious mistakes and problems in the process of European integration, we should not in the least assume the possibility of such mistakes in foreign policy, particularly, vis-à-vis Russia.

And, if the European public has the right to disagree with these mistakes, as Brexit shows, the results of the elections in several European countries, then Russia maybe has the right to disagree with sticking to the country a label of responsibility for the crisis in Ukraine or accusations of interference in elections in a particular European country? And it is completely useless to consider those who understand the normalization of relations with Russia not as its surrender and recognition of responsibility for everything that happened but as a process of a dialogue among equals who are responsible for the destinies of their peoples and a state of peacefulness on the planet, traitors to national interests and “puppets of Moscow “. Rather, on the contrary, those who conduct business to aggravate relations between Russia and the EU countries are dangerous and irresponsible in playing with the destiny of the world putting the future and the very existence of European nations at risk.

Is Russia indifferent about what is going on in the EU? Of course not. For economic reasons, since all the EU countries taking altogether are still Russia’s largest trading partner. For cultural reasons-interpenetration and mutual influence of our cultures are difficult to ignore. For historical reasons – it is enough to recall that the first two world wars began in Europe, fascism, which became a threat to the whole world, was also born and strengthened in the heart of Europe.”

Terrorism is a common threat which affects the European Union and Russia; even if Brussels and Moscow stated that it is possible to contrast this phenomenon only by cooperation several times European media, NGOs and think tanks criticized the Russian counter terrorism strategy in the North Caucasus, labelling it as a crime against the local population, and the Russian intervention in Syria in support of Assad, interpreting it as the Kremlin’s plan to establish its outpost in the Middle East and challenge the European and American interests in the region. How can we read this criticism in the context of relations and communication between the European Union and Russia?

“Here we must take into account the following fact. Militants of Daesh and other terrorist organizations in dozens of terrorist attacks only in the EU and Russia have taken hundreds of lives in recent years and how many lives can be taken more, and “aggressive” Russia in Syria has destroyed thousands of militants who could have come to Europe to continue their business of building a worldwide caliphate. And in order to prevent it, Russian servicemen are already giving their lives in-as was already mentioned-Syria.Representatives of the antiterrorist coalition led by the United States are also giving their lives. Only if we establish effective cooperation in the fighting against terrorists, then losses on our common side will undoubtedly reduce. Giving the label to Russia for ‘criminal acts’ in Syria, which some media have succeeded in doing, and not only the media, gives a trump card to militants to recruit the same youth in Europe to go and fight against the Russians. Someone will be pushed by unemployment in 50% among young people, someone – by a hunger for adventure, and unfortunately not everyone thinks about it. But others can return to Europe and try to prove their case there. And they are already accustomed with the methods.

We must also take into account the following circumstances: where, for example, is there a multi-party system today representing various social, ethnic, confessional groups – in the territory controlled by the Syrian government or in the territories of Daesh? Or, perhaps, in Saudi Arabia? Where are the representatives of different faiths which fact not only get along with each other but also protect the common homeland? Where can a woman not cover her face with a veil without any fear of accusations ofbreaking the law? Women already habitually work in great numbers in Syria: they are teachers, engineers, doctors, financiers, managers, deputies of the Syrian parliament, etc. Even at the University of Damascus alone there are several thousand female students. At the same time I am far from idealizing the current social situation and the political system inSyria. However, everything is to be understood only in comparison. And apparently, we shouldn’t compare Syria to Finland, for example, but to other Arab states (by the way, they are much richer and are not affected by conflicts). Here the policy of double standards works willingly or unwillingly for terrorists and their patrons. And it also works for those who spread terror in Europe. I would also like to note that the policy of ‘nonintervention’ of the Western powers in the civil war in Spain and then the ‘Munich conspiracy’ paved the way for fascism in Europe, and in order to stop it, the USSR, which suffered most in this struggle, sacrificed more than 20 mllions of lives. Russia does not want to repeat those “mistakes”. Due to its geographic location, multi-ethnic and multi-confessional population, Russia can not afford to ‘tolerate’ chauvinistic militant groups, and it does not matter what ideological or religious ideas they are putting forward.”

Evgeny N. PashentsevDoctor in History, Leading Researcher at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, director of the International Centre for Social and Political Studies and Consulting (ICSPSC). Professor at the Chair of Philosophy of Language and Communication in Lomonosov Moscow State University. Author or editor of 33 books and more than 100 academic articles. Member of the Advisory Board of Comunicar (Spain) and the Editorial Board of the Journal of Political Marketing (United States of America).


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