Experts from Europe and the US met in Prague this week to discuss the hybrid war threat and ways of countering disinformation campaigns against Western countries. In an interview for Czech Radio the head of NATO’s Military Committee, General Petr Pavel, said the Czech Republic underestimates the dangers of the hybrid war waged by Russia.
Czech intelligence services have in recent years warned about the increasing activities of Russian agents in Czech Republic and General Petr Pavel added his voice to those who have been stressing the need for public media education which would counter the impact of increasingly sophisticated disinformation campaigns, particularly from Russia.
“Disinformation campaigns are extremely dangerous in that they are sub-threshold and we often fail to realize that we are a target of such a campaign. The ways of influencing public opinion are very subtle – the mix of facts and fake news presented is intended to cast doubt on our political order and our democratic institutions. Russia’s aim is to undermine trust in liberal democracies, to present our administration as ineffective and outlived, which needs to be replaced by something with a firm order and strong leadership.”
General Petr Pavel said that in recent decades Russia had realized the importance of not just gathering intelligence, but developing instruments that would influence public opinion in other countries, to help achieve political goals by non-military means, and had become increasingly adept at using this weapon in the Internet age. The general said that while many Czechs still fail to perceive this, there could be no doubt at all that the Czech Republic is a target of Russian disinformation campaigns.
“We Czechs have a tendency to underestimate the danger of these Russian disinformation campaigns and the extent to which they may influence public opinion. But one of the main aims of such campaigns is precisely to play down the Russian threat. And if people keep hearing that Russia does not present a threat, that it is open to economic cooperation and that it wants to help boost stability and security in Europe and beyond, they will eventually believe it. So it should not surprise us that many Czechs no longer perceive Russia as a serious threat.”
“I see these efforts as highly damaging and even self-destructive, because our membership in NATO is a reliable guarantee of security. And we Czechs often fail to realize that membership in the EU, which we are so prone to criticizing, and membership in NATO, which we sometimes question, are the main reasons why our life is now better than it has ever been in the past.”