The European Parliament called on the EU and its states to do more to counter Russian “disinformation and propaganda warfare” on Wednesday, drawing an angry response from President Vladimir Putin. A motion endorsing a committee report, which also called for more effort against attempts by Islamic State to radicalise Europeans, passed by 304 votes to 179. Members on the far left and far right were opposed; many in the centre-left abstained.
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“The European Parliament … expresses its strong criticism of Russian efforts to disrupt the EU integration process and deplores, in this respect, Russian backing of anti-EU forces in the EU with regard, in particular, to extreme-right parties, populist forces and movements that deny the basic values of liberal democracies,” the 59-point motion read.
With East-West relations in deep freeze since Moscow responded to an EU pact with Ukraine by annexing Crimea in 2014, the Parliament’s report accused the Kremlin of funding media outlets that spread falsehoods and of sponsoring eurosceptic movements in Western Europe which are growing in strength.
Putin said that after lecturing Russia on democracy Europe was now trying to silence dissenting opinions. He told reporters in Moscow: “We are observing a certain, quite obvious, degradation … of how democracy is understood in Western society, in this particular case in the European Parliament.”
In Strasbourg, centre-left lawmakers said they could not endorse the report because Russia was not alone in posing such threats and they objected to the way it appeared to be given an equivalent status to the non-state militants of Islamic State.
Left-wingers denounced “neo-McCarthyism” that risked harming media freedom by treating suspect outlets as agents of Moscow and said the report could stoke confrontation with Russia.
Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, speaking for Marine Le Pen’s French National Front called the report “lying European propaganda”.
Le Pen, riding high in polls before April’s presidential election, turned to a Russian bank to fund her anti-immigration, anti-EU party. Polls show her unlikely to win power. She said last week she would form a trio with Putin and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump that would be “good for world peace”.
The UK Independence Party and Italy’s 5-Star eurosceptic movement also voted against the motion. James Carver for UKIP, whose success in the Brexit vote for Britain to leave the EU has raised concerns about the bloc’s ability to confront Russia, said the report was “worryingly reminiscent of the Cold War”.