The Kremlin is "weaponizing information" to divide U.S. allies in the Balkans, and media outlets in the region should increase efforts to detect Russian disinformation and distinguish it from the truth, a top U.S. diplomat said on June 1 in an interview with RFE/RL.
James Rubin, coordinator for the U.S. State Department's Global Engagement Center, cited North Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovakia, and Bulgaria as countries where the United States has discovered "the Kremlin is really working to try to divide our countries, divide our friendships with NATO allies, EU allies and friends, partners, by using this information as a weapon."
For the Kremlin, he said, it's part of a broader plan because Russia understands it can't win the argument on the ground over the war in Ukraine.
"They are trying to use whatever technique they can to divide the West in its support to Ukraine," he said.
Rubin spoke with RFE/RL in Sofia, one of the stops on his current European tour in which he’s talking to governments about developing the will to spot disinformation and the capacity to do something about it.
While every country has the right to free expression and news outlets have the right to report what foreign governments say, they shouldn’t repeat foreign government disinformation without reporting where it comes from, he said.
"We need to use whatever tools we can in a democratic society to distinguish between the noise in the information domain and those operations that are run by the Kremlin that are designed to divide us, that are intended to upset democratic process so that NATO support evaporates," Rubin said.
He said his job is to ensure there’s transparency and to expose any links to Russian media and let each government make its own decision on how to respond, noting that Bulgaria, along with Slovakia and Montenegro, are among the countries where Russia has spent money and corrupted politicians and media organizations.
The United States is also aware that China also has spent spend billions of dollars developing what he called "disinformation manipulation systems" around the world, but its tactics are different from Russia's.
The Chinese offer their Xinhua news service for free to newspapers in certain countries and do not allow the newspapers to use other independent Western news agencies.
"So that means that the African journalist writing a story about the world is writing it from a Chinese point of view in which horrible things happen in America, wonderful things happen in China," he said.
The United States is attempting to "make sure that that is transparent," he said, so that readers know that the newspaper is getting its news from China. (RFE)