The Kremlin is "weaponizing information" to divide US allies in the Balkans, said US diplomat James Rubin.
Rubin, coordinator for the US State Department’s Global Engagement Center, called on the media outlets in the region to increase efforts to detect Russian disinformation and distinguish it from the truth.
For the Kremlin, he said, it’s part of a broader plan because Russia understands it can’t win the argument on the ground over the war in Ukraine.
“They are trying to use whatever technique they can to divide the West in its support to Ukraine,” Rubin said in an interview with Radio Free Europe (RFE).
Rubin spoke with RFE in Sofia, one of the stops on his current European tour.
He is talking to governments about developing the will to spot disinformation and the capacity to do something about it.
The US official said that, while every country has the right to free expression and news outlets have the right to report what foreign governments say, they shouldn’t repeat foreign government disinformation without reporting where it comes from.
“We need to use whatever tools we can in a democratic society to distinguish between the noise in the information domain and those operations that are run by the Kremlin that are designed to divide us, that are intended to upset democratic process so that NATO support evaporates,” Rubin said.
He said his job is to ensure there’s transparency and to expose any links to Russian media and let each government make its own decision on how to respond, noting that Bulgaria, along with Slovakia and Montenegro, are among the countries where Russia has spent money and corrupted politicians and media organizations.
The United States is also aware that China also has spent spend billions of dollars developing what he called „disinformation manipulation systems“ around the world, but its tactics are different from Russia’s, Rubin noted.
The Chinese offer their Xinhua news service for free to newspapers in certain countries and do not allow the newspapers to use other independent Western news agencies.
“So that means that the African journalist writing a story about the world is writing it from a Chinese point of view in which horrible things happen in America, wonderful things happen in China,” said Rubin.
He underlined that the US is attempting to “make sure that that is transparent,” so that readers know that the newspaper is getting its news from China.