Political Counselor of the US Embassy to Romania David Allen Schlaefer told Digi 24 private television station in an interview that at the US level there is a great concern related to Russia’s attempts, throughout the years, to create divisions within the Romanian society, through propaganda and postings on social media.
“I do want to focus upon Russia because that really is the concern of the United States and Romania, and in this part of the world. It’s certainly a major concern of our Embassy, our mission here in Bucharest and what we believed that we have seen over the course of the last several years is a very strategic attempt by Russia to influence both contemporary politics in Eastern Europe or in Europe, as a whole, and also not only influence contemporary politics, but to weaken countries in certain ways and more long-term type of sense. (…) We are very concerned about Russia’s attempt in Romania to create a type of narrative through propaganda, through traditional platforms, like a Sputnik or something like that, also through unattributed viral videos, viral postings on social media that are really designed to weaken Romania as a country, to create divisions within Romanian society and, especially, to create divisions or the perception of divisions between Romania and between its partners and its allies in the West, to weaken the transatlantic relationship and tie between Romania and the United States, and also to weaken Romania’s affiliation with other EU members, as an EU country and maybe with NATO and to do all those things obviously in the foreign policy interest of Moscow, as opposed to any legitimate interest that Romania would have,” the US diplomat stated.
He warned that “in real time, you might see Russian efforts to manipulate an election and that doesn’t mean trying to elect one candidate or another candidate, it just means to create more division during election cycles, to try to make people have less confidence in their institutions, in their electoral system,” an aspect that could be seen in the last US elections.
Furthermore, he draws attention that through this very sophisticated strategy, the Romanian young people are also targeted, in view of a long-term corrosion of Romania’s ties with its allies in the West.
“The other strategy I mentioned, I think it’s more long-term, promoting news stories, certain narratives, etc, that over a very long period of time, targeting young people, perhaps in particular, whose memory just doesn’t stretch back as far, they weren’t around during the Ceausescu regime or they were very young children, perhaps at that time they did not experience that period or its immediate aftermath, they may be more susceptible to this type of messages, and the messages again would be that: ‘You know, Romania really has more in common with Russia or with other countries to the East than it does with its partners and allies elsewhere in Central Europe or Western Europe. A conservative culture, maybe religious affinities, maybe things of that nature, etc.’ These are all good things, these are positive things, they should be examples of areas that should be celebrated, all this great tie that Romania has with a country like Russia or with other countries, but instead they are turned into a negative, instead of something that is positive, to be celebrated, it’s twisted so that these good things become a tool to try to divide Romania from the West: ‘you really don’t have very much in common with the Americans, you really don’t have very much in common with this other West Europeans, you really don’t belong in that community of nations. We’re concerned that over time, that kind of a message can be a very dangerous message, a very corrosive message and it can threaten, over a very long period of time, Romania’s ties with the West,” the Political Counselor of the US Embassy to Romania stated.
Moreover, David Allen Schlaefer shows that the result of this long-term strategy may be the weakening of Romania as a country, not necessarily our country’s exit from the EU or NATO. “It doesn’t mean that Romania would ever leave the EU or something, of course not, but what I think it can mean is that the ties and the feeling that people have about those ties can become more weak. That weakens Romania as a country, it makes it much more difficult for Romania to interact in an effective way with its partners and allies that want it to be strong like the United States, like Western Europe, I think that’s a significant concern that we have going forward,” the US diplomat stated.
He underscored that the intensity of this type of propaganda is increasing in the last period, with messages targeting Romania, “tailored separately” compared the messages that are sent toward other countries in the region.
“But, what I think that what we can say right now is the attempt is taking place. We can see that. We can see an increase in stories, viral stories, viral videos, as I mentioned earlier, we can categorise them into different type of messages and narratives, and we believe that we can see a very sophisticated strategy that is really targeted toward Romania. I believe that this is one of the United States’ main concerns about this hybrid warfare, let’s say, that the Russian Government seems to be bent upon engaging in to divide people, it is a very sophisticated strategy because it appears that Moscow has the ability (…) to target individual countries with very different messages, to tailor these propaganda messages, these fake news messages for each country. So, what you are going to hear or see or detect in Romania is not going to be the same as you might in one of your neighbors like Bulgaria. It’s not going to be the same. It’s what you would see in one of the Baltic countries, Latvia let’s say, which has a very large Russian speaking population, it would not be the same as you might read or hear in Finland, on the Northern flank, kind of the opposite of Romania as regards geographic position in Eastern Europe. Very sophisticated, very individualised, let’s say, for every country in question. And that shows a tremendous amount of flexibility and adaptability we believe in what we are seeing coming out of Moscow and that’s a cause for a concern from our side,” the US diplomat stated.
He showed that the US is concerned with what is happening in Eastern Europe and in the Black Sea region over the past five years. “So, you can very much see this combined strategy, let’s say, of military action, of the promotion of violence, of destabilisation all around the Black Sea area and all around Romania’s neighbors, coupled with this propaganda offensive that I referred to, this type of hybrid information warfare. We don’t believe that any of these things exist in a vacuum, this is a very conscious strategy we believe to destabilise this region and this part of the world, that’s why our concern tends to be primarily with Russia,” David Allen Schlaefer said.
The US diplomat concludes that in order to have resilience against this type of propaganda “a very strong and independent media” is needed.
“I think absolutely one requirement in order to be more resilient and to defend ourselves as individuals, as communities, as societies, against this new dynamic is to have a very strong and very independent media. I’m certainly not an expert in Romanian media, but I think that, in general, Romanian journalists, American journalists, journalists throughout all of Europe can benefit from a tremendous amount of training and trade craft. I think that is a great way to build resilience,” the Political Counselor of the US Embassy to Romania stated.