France and Germany could turn to TikTok and YouTube bloggers to fight Putin’s propaganda

(Bloomberg) – Germany and France want the European Union to drive a wedge between President Vladimir Putin and the Russian people with a campaign to counter propaganda in Russia and a visa policy that signals Europe is still open to ordinary citizens.

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In a joint non-paper entitled “Defending the international order in the age of systemic rivalry: EU-Russia relations”, France and Germany say the EU must continue to explore “creative ways” to allow the dissemination of independent information to and within Russia, according to a copy of the document seen by Bloomberg. A non-paper is an unofficial document written by technical experts from EU member states for discussions behind closed doors.

The countries are also calling for open channels of communication with the Russian government, even as they urge the expansion of sanctions against Russian officials and continued financial and military support for Ukraine.

The document was circulated to EU member states ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers in Prague on Tuesday and Wednesday, where they will discuss the subject of a visa ban for Russian tourists. The Baltic states have lobbied to ban EU visas for Russian tourists, but German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has urged greater caution.

The Franco-German document stresses the “transformative power of the direct experience of life in democratic systems”, adding the warning of countries against far-reaching visa restrictions, “in order to avoid fueling the Russian narrative and trigger involuntary rallying, flag effects and/or alienation of future generations.

“Technical measures”

The plan to counter domestic propaganda could include the use of “technical measures against Russian censorship, i.e. via an Internet censorship circumvention center”, the newspaper says, as well as the provision of content in the Russian language to Russian-speaking minorities abroad. Another suggestion includes funding for media literacy courses in Russian that could be broadcast by video bloggers on YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, Telegram and Vkontakte channels, the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, the EU should “maintain certain channels of communication with Russia” to minimize the risk of unintended escalation and ensure “minimum cooperation” in areas of overriding interest, such as in the UN Security Council. UN or on a nuclear agreement with Iran, says the Franco-German document.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s frequent phone calls with Putin have already sparked criticism that he was being too soft on the Russian president. The French leader has since defended the efforts saying he had hoped to find a way forward with Putin “via trust and reasoning”.

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Shirley K. Rosa