Russian Disinformation Network Targets EU Countries Ahead of Elections

French security officials alert 19 EU countries, including Ireland, to a Russian disinformation network, Portal Kombat, ahead of European and local elections. The network aims to erode EU support for Ukraine and foster discontent in Western societies.

Aqsa Younas Rana
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Russian Disinformation Network Targets EU Countries Ahead of Elections

Russian Disinformation Network Targets EU Countries Ahead of Elections

French security officials have alerted the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and 18 other EU countries about aRussian disinformation network, dubbed "Portal Kombat," which has expanded its activities ahead of the European and local elections. The network aims to erode European support for Ukraine, boost Russia's image, and foster discontent within Western societies.

Why this matters: This Russian disinformation campaign has far-reaching implications for the integrity of European elections and the future of the EU's support for Ukraine. If successful, it could lead to the erosion of European unity and the empowerment of extremist groups, ultimately threatening global stability.

Portal Kombat was first revealed in February, exploiting grievances around issues like immigration to sow discord in France and other EU countries. Since March, the efforts have become more pronounced and extended to Ireland, with the European elections scheduled for June 7th. The network includes websites and social media accounts adapted for each country, repeating talking points from Russian or pro-Russian personalities and pro-Kremlin news agencies.

In late March, 31 new websites were added to the network, including one targeting Ireland with an IP address in Russia. The Irish website, which remains live, features articles with claims of Ukrainian army violence and street fights between African immigrants and Irish nationalists, as well as praise for Russia from Irish "journalist" Chay Bowes. The content is often written inwillingpoor-quality Irish.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs stated, "International partnerships play an important role in countering the threat posed by such campaigns." The department considers the pro-Russian Portal Kombat campaign "completely unacceptable." French government officials warn that the Irish website may be only the tip of the iceberg, with other more discreet networks likely in operation.

Security services believe Russia wishes to see candidates from the extremes of the political spectrum succeed in the European elections to weaken EU support for Ukraine. The French agency Viginum, tasked with countering hostile disinformation campaigns, has been monitoring Portal Kombat's activities. Officials are concerned that the influx of Euroskeptic, anti-establishment figures will make them vulnerable to adversarial states seeking to do the EU index harm.

Research by political scientist Anton Shekhovtsov has documented links between Russia and far-right parties in Europe. These parties seek to gain legitimacy and influence by reaching out to the Kremlin, which then decides whether to use them to exert influence. Russia presents itself as a key regional player, challenging the international status quo and the West's liberal democratic political consensus, which appeals to far-right parties.

The European Parliament itself does not have a unit set up to screen parliamentarians and relies on the 27 EU member states to vet their MEPs. The EU treaties do not apply to security services, leaving a lack of central oversight, and countries are not obliged to share sensitive information. As the European elections approach, the threat of Russian disinformation networks like Portal Kombat looms large, with far-reaching implications for the future of the EU and its support for Ukraine.