France Exposes a Secret Russian Campaign in Europe

( – A French security agency says it’s uncovered a huge Russian disinformation campaign in Europe. Officials say the network, which it’s calling “Portal Kombat,” is aimed at influencing European Union (EU) elections later this year. It’s significant that France is the one to call this out because the country usually takes a softer line on Russia than most of its neighbors.

Massive Network Unmasked

In June, the European Union will be electing new members for its parliament, and who they choose could make a big difference to Russia. Right now Vladimir Putin’s regime doesn’t have many allies in the bloc’s Brussels parliament, but it seems he’s determined to change that. On February 12, France’s Viginum agency reported that it had found a vast network of sites linked to Russia and spreading information designed to promote the country’s government.

According to Viginum, which was set up in 2021 to counter foreign attempts to change public opinion, the network contains at least 193 sites that are putting out pro-Russian propaganda, much of it linked to the ongoing war in Ukraine. The agency first noticed it last year and analyzed it between September and December. Now it says it’s traced it back to Moscow — and identified an almost hyperactive level of output. One Telegram account is almost constantly active and publishes up to nine articles an hour.

Regular themes in the network include propaganda criticizing Ukraine’s government and justifying Russia’s February 2022 invasion of the country. That’s a big worry to European states, who are finally realizing that Putin’s aggression could be a threat to them.

After decades of freeloading on US defense spending, European members of NATO have boosted their military budgets significantly. Ten years ago only three of the 29 members — the US, UK, and Greece — met the alliance’s target of spending 2% of GDP on defense. This year, if governments stick to their spending plans, 18 out of 31 will reach it. Military appropriations surged in the months after Putin’s troops went into Ukraine, suggesting the invasion was a long-overdue wakeup call.

Now experts warn that Russia is using the same rhetoric against Moldova as it did towards Ukraine before attacking. On February 14, the Russian foreign minister claimed the US and EU control the country’s government, mirroring what he said about Kyiv two years ago. The Institute for the Study of War says Moscow is laying the groundwork for its next intervention — and networks like the one the French are calling “Portal Kombat” are key tools for spreading Putin’s message.

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