British leader Theresa May aims to designate Russia as a “hostile state” and to pledge more than €110 million to fight Russian propaganda at an EU summit on Friday (24 November).
“We must be open-eyed to the actions of hostile states like Russia which … attempt to tear our collective strength apart,” she plans to say, her office revealed on the eve of the event.
It said she will pledge £100 million (€112mn) over the next five years to “counter [Russian] disinformation” in the former Soviet region.
“This summit highlights the crucial importance of European countries working together to protect our shared values and ideals,” she will say.
“The UK may be leaving the EU but we are not leaving Europe, and we are unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security,” she will also say.
May’s approach to the EU summit with its eastern neighbours strikes a more hawkish tone than EU officials, who told press this week that Western overtures toward Moscow’s former satellite states were meant to be “non-confrontational” and “not aimed against anybody”.
The British approach also comes despite the Kremlin’s warning that it would “harm relations” if the EU were to spend more on countering Russian propaganda.
The EU foreign service has a unit of 14 staff – Stratcom East – tasked with pushing back against Russian disinformation in eastern Europe.
There is some talk in Brussels of giving them more resources, such as their own budget to buy data analysis tools, but EU diplomats expect these talks to amount to little amid French, German, and Italian resistance.
May will join about 20 EU leaders, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, but not French president Emmanuel Macron, in the EU capital for the twice-yearly ‘Eastern Partnership’ summit.
The leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine and the foreign minister of Belarus will also attend.
When Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko met with top brass from the EU’s centre-right political family, the EPP, on Thursday, the group issued a statement saying they all “strongly support our partners and their European aspirations and underline that a European perspective constitutes a driving force for reforms”.
“It is a strong message … condemning Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine on the path of reforms, and the European aspirations of our country,” Poroshenko said afterward.
He also thanked EU Council chief Donald Tusk for speaking out on Russia’s oppression of the native Tatar population in Ukraine’s Russia-occupied Crimea after house searches by Crimea’s new authorities caused the death of an 82-year old Tatar woman, Vajie Kashka, earlier the same day.
The official Eastern Partnership summit declaration, details of which were still being ironed out on Friday morning, diplomats said, is likely to be less encouraging, however.
It will say nothing about a “European perspective” for Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, who want to join the EU.
It is also expected to underline that their EU association treaties will not lead to major financial assistance, the right to work in the EU, or security guarantees.
The summit takes place amid a backdrop of Russian aggression in Ukraine.
International monitors from the OSCE noted dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles on the move in Russia-occuppied east Ukraine in the run-up to the EU meeting.
They also reported that “at least 100” heavily armed men, including with “disposable anti-tank weapons, automatic grenade launchers” but with no insignia on their uniforms, had taken control of the city centre of Luhansk in recent days in what appeared to be Moscow’s attempt to enforce order in the Russia-occupied zone.
The summit also takes place amid ongoing Russian media attacks.
Bogus Russian stories highlighted by Stratcom East in the days before the event included one that the EU had banned Georgian exports and that the US was paying Ukraine to keep the conflict in east Ukraine going in order to stop China from building roads and railways in the area to connect export routes to Europe.
Russia’s “weaponisation of information … harms relations. For the EU to call this out is necessary and, apparently, working,” Paul Reiderman, the EU Council’s media chief, said earlier this week.
The EPP statement highlighted that “Ukraine has to enhance its fight against corruption” if it wants to see EU aid money keep flowing despite its Russia problem, however.
The Committee for the Protection of Journalists, a Brussels-based NGO, also urged Poroshenko to bring to justice the killers of Pavel Sheremet, an investigative reporter.
There are few saints among the EU’s guests on Friday.
But Poroshenko’s sins against EU values are small compared to those of Azerbaijani dictator Ilham Alyiev, who has jailed dozens of political prisoners and whose petro-regime stands accused of corruption on an industrial scale.
A long list of international NGOs, including Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders urged the EU to put pressure on Alyiev on Friday.
But the Western leaders showed little sign of doing that, with Nato head Jens Stoltenberg merely thanking him for his help on peacekeeping missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan at a meeting on Thursday.