The international hybrid roundtable took place on 1 June 2022 at Grand Hotel Sofia as part of Dr. Rumena Filipova’s IVLP Impact Award supported by the U.S Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs with Meridian International Center as the implementing partner. The overall topic of the project is related to raising awareness of foreign authoritarian-state influence activities among students and the wider expert and journalist community in Bulgaria.
The roundtable offered a holistic and comparative perspective on foreign authoritarian-state disinformation based on the similarities and differences of Russian and Chinese influence operations in Europe as well as in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Dr. Jagannath Panda, Institute for Security and Development Policy, Sweden, analyzed the increasing influence of Moscow’s media operations in India especially in the context of the Ukraine war. He also noted the steady inroads that China is making in academia, civil society and the informational space in South Asia. Mr. Patrik Szicherle, Political Capital, Hungary, focused on the domestic political factors that enable Russian economic and media influence in Hungary, further noting the polarization in the country between political and societal groupings with pro-Russian and Russia-critical views. Mr. Ruslan Trad, Atlantic Council DFRLab, explained that the extent to which Russia exercises media leverage in the Middle East remains largely unknown to European publics. He emphasized the continued operation of RT and Sputnik in Arabic as key channels for the dissemination of the Kremlin’s propagandist narratives. Mr. Trad also directed attention to Russia’s media operations in Africa, which frequently build on anti-Western sentiments.
The discussion touched on a wide range of issues, including a comparison of societal susceptibilities to Russian messaging in Europe and the Middle East; the role of Hungary in sponsoring media outlets in North Macedonia that fuel tensions between Sofia and Skopje; the extent to which Moscow can credibly rely on anti-imperialist sentiments in the Middle East and Africa for disseminating disinformation, given the legacy of its own actions in those regions.