Geopolitics

Why The UK Is Leading West's 'Propaganda War' Against Russia

London is taking a hardline against Moscow since Trump's departure left Putin increasingly isolated.

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the online Leaders Summit on Climate from Moscow, Russia
Sergey Strokan

-Analysis-

MOSCOW — Seven years after Russia was expelled from the club of Western democracies, the U.K. is calling for another war with Moscow — an information war — creating collective mechanisms to contain the Kremlin's "propaganda and disinformation."

A three-day meeting of the G7 foreign ministers will resume the work of the "club of leading Western democracies," which was suspended in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year's summit, which was to be held in the United States during the final stage of Donald Trump's presidency, suffered an unenviable fate: The face-to-face meeting of world leaders scheduled for June did not take place. The summit at Camp David was disrupted after German Chancellor Angela Merkel refused to attend it under the pretext of a pandemic, a move she made amid acute disagreements between Washington and Berlin over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.

Trump, who hoped to make the 2020 summit a symbol of a return to normal life, moved the forum to September. However, even after the forced timeout, the G7 was still not on track.

The disagreements became even more acute after Trump — in the midst of the U.S. presidential race — announced his intention to invite Vladimir Putin to the meeting. This was despite the fact that Russia had been expelled from the club in 2014 in connection with the Ukrainian conflict — and Trump's proposal was greeted with hostility by G7 allies.

Now, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is determined not to make the same mistake. The U.K. will host the upcoming summit, to be held June 11-13 in the resort town of Carbis Bay on the Atlantic coast of the Cornwall Peninsula.

As part of London's post-EU foreign policy strategy, Johnson is trying to assert the U.K."s new ambitions as an independent global power center in relation to the G7. He has two objectives in mind: Firstly, to show that the G7 is not a closed Western "gentlemen's club" disconnected from reality and the rest of the world's centers of power.

Secondly, to demonstrate that the unity of the U.S. and its Western allies, shaken under the Trump era, has been restored and that inviting Russia is out of the question. Moreover, together with the new administration of President Joe Biden, the G7 states must unite to create new mechanisms for containing Moscow.

The main event will not be the fight against COVID-19 or the education of girls, but a new strategy for containing Russia.

For the first task, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell; the foreign ministers of Australia, India, South Korea, and South Africa; and the Secretary General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have been invited to London in addition to the G7 foreign ministries.

The G7 meeting will demonstrate how "global Britain" unites the world's largest economies to face common challenges, promises UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who set out ambitious plans to tackle vaccine distribution, education, hunger and climate change.

Still Raab made it clear that the the main event will not be the fight against COVID-19 or the education of girls, but rather a new strategy for containing Russia, which is being developed by London. This control is not only political and diplomatic, but also about economics and communication. Apparently, this initiative is designed to become a new means of consolidation of the G7 and help its members quickly forget about the return of Putin.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and other G7 leaders at Lancaster House in Central London — Photo: Andrew Parsons/Avalon/ZUMA Press

The foreign secretary has urged allies to take the Russian information threat seriously. "Pro-Russian trolls are posting comments on Ukraine and other areas, both to influence opinion here but to be played back in the Russian media," Raab told The Sunday Times. At London's initiative, the G7 foreign ministers will consider creating collective rapid response mechanisms to contain Russian "propaganda and disinformation."

The Foreign Office said last Saturday that the BBC World Service, which broadcasts in 42 languages, will receive an additional £8 million ($11 million) in 2021-2022 to combat disinformation and fake news and expand its overseas audience. Britain's plan to counter "Russian propaganda" also calls for support for independent media, particularly in Russia's neighboring countries.

Still, it's not clear if the G7 will rally behind London's information war with Russia. Unlike Raab, new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made it clear that Washington is more concerned with a different aspect of containing Russia: the future of the NordStream 2 gas pipeline project, which the U.S. administration believes may still be curtailed.

The BBC World Service will receive an additional £8 million to combat fake news

Despite the fact that this very issue became a bone of contention within the G7 a year ago, leading to Merkel"s no-show for Trump's invitation to the Camp David summit, Biden's Secretary of state Antony Blinken intends to raise the issue again during his meeting with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova chose not to cite Raab, Blinken, Vladimir Putin or Sergei Lavrov, but turned instead to the authority of the early Christian monk and hermit Anthony the Great.

"On the bright holiday of Easter, I allow myself to respond by quoting the Venerable Anthony the Great, who said: "There will come a time when nine sick people will come to a healthy one and say: you are sick because you are not like us," Zakharova posted on Facebook, "It makes you wonder why the countries sick as hell with propaganda, which have used it more than once to justify armed invasion and overthrow of governments (this is how Britain and the US acted in Iraq, inventing the story about chemical weapons), blame our country for their own sins."

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Thousands of migrants in Del Rio, Texas, on the border between Mexico and the U.S.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Сайн уу*

Welcome to Friday, where the new U.S.-UK-Australia security pact is under fire, Italy becomes the first country to make COVID-19 "green pass" mandatory for all workers, and Prince Philip's will is to be kept secret for 90 years. From Russia, we also look at the government censorship faced by brands that recently tried to promote multiculturalism and inclusiveness in their ads.

[*Sain uu - Mongolian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• U.S. facing multiple waves of migrants, refugees: The temporary camp, located between Mexico's Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio in Texas, is housing some 10,000 people, largely from Haiti. With few resources, they are forced to wait in squalid conditions and scorching temperatures amidst a surge of migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. Meanwhile, thousands of recently evacuated Afghan refugees wait in limbo at U.S. military bases, both domestic and abroad.

• COVID update: Italy is now the first European country to require vaccination for all public and private sector workers from Oct. 15. The Netherlands will also implement a "corona pass" in the following weeks for restaurants, bars and cultural spaces. When he gives an opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly next week, unvaccinated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will defy New York City authorities, who are requiring jabs for all leaders and diplomats.

• U.S. and UK face global backlash over Australian deal: The U.S. is attempting to diffuse the backlash over the new security pact signed with Australia and the UK, which excludes the European Union. The move has angered France, prompting diplomats to cancel a gala to celebrate ties between the country and the U.S.

• Russian elections: Half of the 450 seats in Duma are will be determined in today's parliamentary race. Despite persistent protests led by imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, many international monitors and Western governments fear rigged voting will result in President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party maintaining its large majority.

• Somali president halts prime minister's authority: The decision by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed marks the latest escalation in tensions with Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble concerning a murder investigation. The move comes as the Horn of Africa country has fallen into a political crisis driven by militant violence and clashes between clans.

• Astronauts return to Earth after China's longest space mission: Three astronauts spent 90 days at the Tianhe module and arrived safely in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia. The Shenzhou-12 mission is the first of crewed missions China has planned for 2021-2022 as it completes its first permanent space station.

• Prince Philip's will to be kept secret for 90 years: A British court has ruled that the will of Prince Philip, the late husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth who passed away in April at 99 years old, will remain private for at least 90 years to preserve the monarch's "dignity and standing."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

With a memorable front-page photo, Argentine daily La Voz reports on the open fight between the country's president Alberto Fernández and vice-president Cristina Kirchner which is paralyzing the government. Kirchner published a letter criticizing the president's administration after several ministers resigned and the government suffered a major defeat in last week's midterm primary election.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

€150

An Italian investigation uncovered a series of offers on encrypted "dark web" websites offering to sell fake EU COVID vaccine travel documents. Italy's financial police say its units have seized control of 10 channels on the messaging service Telegram linked to anonymous accounts that were offering the vaccine certificates for up to €150. "Through the internet and through these channels, you can sell things everywhere in the world," finance police officer Gianluca Berruti told Euronews.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

In Russia, brands advertising diversity are under attack

Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

❌ "On behalf of the entire company, we want to apologize for offending the public with our photos..." reads a recent statement by Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi after publishing an advertisement that included a photograph of a Black man. Shortly after, the company's co-founder, Konstantin Zimen, said people on social media were accusing Yobidoyobi of promoting multiculturalism. Another recent case involved grocery store chain VkusVill, which released advertising material featuring a lesbian couple. The company soon began to receive threats and quickly apologized and removed the text and apologized.

🏳️🌈 For the real life family featured in the ad, they have taken refuge in Spain, after their emails and cell phone numbers were leaked. "We were happy to express ourselves as a family because LGBTQ people are often alone and abandoned by their families in Russia," Mila, one of the daughters in the ad, explained in a recent interview with El Pais.

🇷🇺 It is already common in Russia to talk about "spiritual bonds," a common designation for the spiritual foundations that unite modern Russian society, harkening back to the Old Empire as the last Orthodox frontier. The expression has been mocked as an internet meme and is widely used in public rhetoric. For opponents, this meme is a reason for irony and ridicule. Patriots take spiritual bonds very seriously: The government has decided to focus on strengthening these links and the mission has become more important than protecting basic human rights.Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"Ask the rich countries: Where are Africa's vaccines?"

— During an online conference, Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, implored the international community to do more to inoculate people against COVID-19 in Africa and other developing regions. The World Health Organization estimates that only 3.6% of people living in Africa have been fully vaccinated. The continent is home to 17% of the world population, but only 2% of the nearly six billion shots administered so far have been given in Africa, according to the W.H.O.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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