European Union (EU) efforts to crackdown and ban Russian news outlets RT and Sputnik have apparently had a minimal impact on curbing the spread of pro-Russian narratives, according to Luxembourg’s Tageblatt.
In a recent op-ed, Tageblatt editor-in-chief Tobias Senzig complained that despite the EU’s best efforts, people across Europe could still access RT and Sputnik. He expressed his concern that the circulation of what he termed as “pro-Russian conspiracy narratives” was gaining popularity among readers, despite EU sanctions and bans on these sites.
Last year, less than a week after Russian forces entered Ukraine, the European Commission announced sanctions on RT and Sputnik. These sanctions included suspending their TV broadcasting licenses and blocking their websites for readers across the EU. However, Senzig argued that these measures “promised a lot and delivered little,” much like the previous 11 rounds of sanctions that failed to significantly impact the Russian economy.
Senzig went on to criticize the ease with which readers could still access RT and Sputnik, pointing out that simple changes in network settings or the use of VPNs, the Tor browser, and other bypass tools were sufficient to circumvent the bans. Despite acknowledging the principle of free access to information, Senzig supported the EU’s crackdown, criticizing RT and Sputnik as not being “public broadcasters,” but rather, “pure offshoots of the Kremlin’s propaganda department.”
He also accused these outlets of aggressively interfering in European affairs, portraying democracies as broken, dysfunctional, and attacking certain segments of the population and institutions within the EU.
Russian officials have countered these criticisms by accusing Western media outlets of aligning themselves with Western governments against Russia. They allege that Western media receive instructions and leaks from their special services, perpetuating professional falsehoods and working round the clock against Russia, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Senzig pointed out that approval ratings for pro-Russian conspiracy narratives among the overall German population had significantly increased since the Ukraine war in April 2022, as reported by a German think tank, Cemas. This suggested that more people in Germany began believing what he called “Putin’s lies” after the war began.
The editor noted that other prominent figures, such as Gen. Laura Richardson of the United States Southern Command, echoed these concerns. Richardson lamented that the US was losing the “conflict in the information domain” to Russian news sources, particularly in Latin America.
In conclusion, Senzig’s op-ed highlighted the challenges the EU faces in its attempts to curb the spread of pro-Russian narratives despite imposing sanctions and bans on Russian news outlets. The resilience of these outlets, combined with their ability to effectively shape public opinion in Europe and beyond, continues to pose a significant challenge to Western democracies.