Last week's events concerning the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign

The European Values is announcing updates for the fall season

  1. From now on, we are the European Values Center for Security Policy
  2. We are launching a new Red Watch Program on Chinese influence
  3. Veronika Víchováis the new Head of the Kremlin Watch Program


  1. European Values Center for Security Policy

The European Values is a legally registered association and think tank. We formulate and present recommendations especially in the field of foreign and security policy. To increase our understandability among Czech audiences, we are presenting ourselves from now on as the European Values Center for Security Policy (bezpečnostní centrum Evropské hodnoty), which more precisely characterizes our work. In short, we are now referred to as the European Values Center or EVC.

Our Mission Statement newly opens with these words:

European Values Center for Security Policy is a non-governmental, non-partisan institute defending freedom and sovereignty. We protect liberal democracy, the rule of law, and the transatlantic alliance of the Czech Republic. We help defend Europe especially from the malign influences of Russia, China, and Islamic extremists.

  1. The newRed Watch Program

During this Fall we are launching a new Red Watch Program, which is going to focus on analyzing and countering the malign influence of the People’s Republic of China. Chinese influence is gradually posing a security problem, and not only in Europe. Although Communist China is a less immediate military threat than Russia, its hostile interference operations are equally worrisome, as documented by Czech and allied intelligence services. Due to the sensitivity of this issue and the ongoing interest of Chinese intelligence agencies, we are not going to disclose further details of the Program for the time being.

  1. Veronika Víchová

Veronika Víchová has been appointed the new Head of the Kremlin Watch Program as of September 2019. She has served in the Program since its inception in 2015 and is now taking over as Program Head from Jakub Janda, its founder, who serves as the Executive Director of the European Values Center. Veronika will be responsible for both analytical projects on Russian influence and disinformation as well as for coordination of associated analysts from various countries including Czechia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Germany. So far, she has led work on analytical products on Russian influence and disinformation, such as the annual Kremlin Watch Ranking, which evaluates strategies of European states vis-à-vis this threat, and the Kremlin Watch Briefing, which is a weekly review of updates in this security policy field. Among other accomplishments, she has completed the New Security Leaders Program in the framework of the Warsaw Security Forum, and she worked in the office of U.S. Senator Rob Portman.

Topics of the Week

Czech member of the European Commission, Věra Jourová, will be dealing with the disinformation agenda again.

Ukraine and Russia exchanged prisoners.

A new study by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute forecasts how digital influence campaigns might evolve.

Good Old Soviet Joke

“Can you name three successes of the Cuban revolution?”

“Mmm… healthcare, education and sport.”

“OK, and can you name three failures?”
“Sure... breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

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Policy & Research News

Czech member of the EC given the disinformation agenda

The European Commissionaire for the Czech Republic, Věra Jourová, has been given the position of the Vice-President for Values and Transparency. According to the Mission letter, she will continue dealing with the agenda of fighting disinformation.

Based on her mandate, she will be expected to

  • Coordinate the European Democracy Action Plan, which should address “the threats of external intervention in our European elections,”
  • Coordinate the resilience-building of European democracies including countering disinformation, implementation of the Code of Practice and propose regulatory intervention,

Identify risks for media pluralism and support independent and diverse journalism.

Russia and Ukraine exchange prisoners

On September 7, Ukraine and Russia conducted a prisoner swap. With both sides releasing 35 persons, the move appears to be reciprocal at first glance, but a closer look reveals that the exchange has nothing to do with reciprocity.

Russia included the 24 Ukrainian sailors illegally detained last November in the swap instead of releasing them as ruled by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. The other eleven prisoners were also jailed on trumped-up charges.  For instance, filmmaker Oleh Sentsov and student Pavlo Hryb were charged with “terrorism.” The latter was only 19 when he went to Belarus to meet a girl he was talking to on social media and was captured by the FSB.

In contrast, the list of prisoners released by Ukraine includes people who fought for Russian-backed separatists, Russian informants, and defectors. Volodymyr Tsemakh, who commanded a separatist air-defence unit and boasted that he had helped hide the Buk anti-aircraft system that shot down flight MH17, was also on the list. He had been previously extracted from the occupied part of Donbas by Ukrainian special services. Ivan Bakanov, the chief of Ukrainian security service (SBU) said that the prisoner exchange had been conditional on the release of Tsemakh which confirmed the Kremlin’s responsibility for the plane crash. Although Kyiv did postpone the exchange and allowed Dutch prosecutors to question Tsemakh, it is not known whether they managed to obtain any information. It is now reported that Russia has released Tsemakh to evade the Netherlands’ extradition request and that he is returning to the occupied part of Donbas.

 The return of the Ukrainian political prisoners from Russia is undoubtedly a very positive development. However, with innocents on one side, and actual criminals on the other, the exchange was also an example of the Kremlin’s use of hostages to achieve political goals.

Russian state company employee arrested in Italy

Aleksandr Korshunov, an employee of United Engine Corporation, a Russian state-owned company manufacturing engines for military and civilian aircraft, was arrested in Naples at the request of the United States. Korshunov and Maurizio Paolo Bianchi, a citizen of Italy, are accused of stealing trade secrets from General Electric Aviation by hiring employees of the company’s Italian subsidiary for consulting work on jet engine accessory gearboxes. The U.S. Justice Department claims that intellectual property produced in the process was supposed to belong to Russia while the report that the employees were hired to prepare relied on the intellectual property of GE Aviation. The United States expects Korshunov’s extradition. Both Russian MFA and President Putin claimed that the case was an example of “unfair competition.”

US Developments

Documentary Outs the Russian Blueprint for Political Interference

In a new docu-series titled “The Weekly”, the New York Times (NYT) exposes Russia’s previously used playbook for election interference. In this episode of “The Weekly”, the NYT uses 2007 Estonia as a premier case study. International reporter Matt Apuzzo travelled to Estonia for the making of “Russia’s Playbook for Democracy” and witnessed firsthand how the Russians achieved political unrest in Estonia, and also how they mirrored many of the same malevolent tactics in the 2016 US election.

The author notes that the US should have seen Russian interference coming due to prior instigations and experiments elsewhere but overlooked the Tallinn episode as merely a cyberattack. Despite years of studies and globally-documented awareness, according to the article, societal divisions within the US make the States ripe for interference once again. It should be noted however that it is no secret that one of Moscow’s key strategies for gaining election influence is pitting diverse people groups against one another in order to more easily manipulate an animus electorate. This is just one of many tools employed by the Kremlin that neatly plays into its greater narrative of spreading disinformation, sowing chaos and creating distrust. All of these are captured in the episode and the write-up from Apuzzo and director John Marks.

The aforementioned episode; “Russia’s Playbook for Disrupting Democracy” is available for viewing in the United States on Hulu and FX. International availability may differ.

New US Defense Secretary Warns Europe of Chinese and Russian Influence

A Reuters post by author Idrees Ali highlights the takeaways from a recent speech made in London by US Defense Secretary Mark Esper. The article mentions the fact that for the first time in approximately a decade and a half, the United States is shifting its national defense strategy away from Islamic militants to countering Chinese and Russian influence. Esper relayed in his message that America’s European allies would be wise to follow suit as not only do China and Russia present very real, emerging threats, but they are not distant lands without the reach to affect Western Europe. In his presentation, Esper also mentioned the importance of preserving the current world order and its democratic institutions despite Moscow and Beijing’s attempts to unseat today’s Westernized, liberal model.

Specifically, Esper spoke about how China uses financial means and technologic leverage to gain a “veto over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions”. He followed his concerns on China to alert to current Russian misbehavior that in many ways “continues to disregard all international norms”. Following controversial remarks by President Trump that soften to Russian interests, this speech by Esper is vital to publicly maintain the trajectory of the US position against malign Chinese and Russian foreign policy. Although the Defense Secretary’s tone does not echo that of the President, it is traditionally in line with his predecessors and the majority of American defense leadership.

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Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion

The Threat of Digital Foreign Interference: Past, Present, and Future

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a Canadian public policy think tank, published a report detailing the recent history of digital influence campaigns and how these campaigns might evolve in the near future. The report refers to these campaigns as digital foreign interference (DFI), which is conducted over the internet and utilize social media to deliver information in an immediate, targeted, and tailored way.

The report provides a good overview of digital foreign interference, touching heavily on Russian and Chinese operations, before arriving at a section focused on the future of DFI. Notably, the report is most concerned with the impact of deep fakes and the improvement of artificial intelligence. Once AI and deep fakes reach a point where it is barely distinguishable from human-produced content, DFI’s “could eventually rely on thousands of sophisticated algorithms and bots to spread nearly perfect fake or misleading information news, engage in ‘live’ social media disputes with human opponents, and otherwise generate mountains of disinformation at incredible speeds.” Flagging and removing these posts will be equally difficult since many will be written indistinguishably from posts by a real human. 

AI learns and improves as it is fed data, and currently, the country with the largest collection of data is China. However, this data edge can be negated if Canada partners with the U.S. and Europe to collectively increase the size of their data pools. This way, if China’s data pool teaches AI to produce fake content, then the Canadian, U.S., and European data pool likewise teach AI to detect fake content at a corresponding rate.

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Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Think-Tank, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against liberal-democratic system.

  • For comments related to content or media inquiries, please contact the Director of the European Values Think-Tank Jakub Janda at (+420 775 962 643)
  • For Monitor suggestions or technical comments, please contact Kremlin Watch Coordinator and Analyst Veronika Víchová at 
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