France, Germany and Poland face the brunt of Russian disinformation attacks

France, Germany, and Poland have become "permanent" targets of Russian disinformation attacks in the lead-up to the European Parliament (EU) elections this week, a senior EU official reported on Tuesday (4 June). The EU has consistently warned that Russia would intensify its disinformation campaigns as the June 6-9 vote approaches. "There are three big countries under permanent attack [from Russia]: France, Germany, and Poland," said EU Commissioner Vera Jourova, citing research by the European Digital Media Observatory, of which AFP is a part. She highlighted an increase in "more massive disinformation attacks on specific topics."

In France, these attacks focus on the upcoming 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris. In Germany, they exploit concerns about migration and security, while in Poland, a narrative has emerged online claiming Ukrainian refugees are a "burden." Jourova mentioned a false story that appeared on the Polish state news agency last week, suggesting Poles would be mobilised to fight in Ukraine, which authorities attributed to a likely Russian cyberattack. "Russian propaganda is crafted with a very good understanding of each country's sensitivities and how narratives can be more effectively absorbed," Jourova explained. She added that this propaganda is also spread through the Telegram messaging app in countries like Slovakia, Bulgaria, and the Baltic states. With its 42 million users, Telegram does not yet have to comply with the strictest regulations for "very large" platforms under the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA). "Telegram is not under our competence yet, but we are now counting the users of Telegram," Jourova noted. 

Speaking to journalists in Brussels after a visit to the United States, where she met with executives from major tech companies, including X and YouTube, Jourova urged "maximum vigilance in these last days" before the elections, emphasising the ongoing risk. She also reminded these companies of their obligations under the DSA. Jourova's comments came a day after Microsoft released a report with similar findings. The US tech giant's Threat Analysis Center indicated that Russia is conducting an intense disinformation campaign aimed at tarnishing the reputation of the International Olympic Committee and inciting fears of violence at the Games. Microsoft President Brad Smith, who was in Brussels to meet with EU officials, including Jourova, echoed her concerns about Russian influence operations. "The number one abusive AI case that people are worried about is the risk of deepfakes influencing elections, especially deepfakes that come from foreign governments," Smith said. "And we’ve definitely seen the Russian government investing in that capability."

Source: with other agencies

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