In recent years, European democracy has been shaken by internal and external events. European nations and institutions are confronting numerous challenges like migration, nationalist extremism, and discontent with the political status quo. They also face challenges from a revanchist Russia that seeks to reestablish influence it lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union and to weaken democracy across the continent. Regimes like Vladimir Putin’s Russia amplify divisive narratives to undermine public trust in democracy using a combination of state-controlled media outlets, government-sponsored online trolls masquerading as European citizens.
The Russian government has interfered in elections and referendums in several European nations, and initial assessments of the May 2019 European Parliament elections revealed that Russian disinformation campaigns “covered a broad range of topics” to attack the EU, amplify localized polarizing content to influence public opinion. Authoritarian incursions into the daily lives of Europeans have increased since the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, and they will grow by an order of magnitude as technologies evolve and more actors adopt these tools.
By using these tools to exploit existing cleavages in democratic societies and vulnerabilities in democratic governments, authoritarian regimes are trying to diminish confidence in democracy as a viable form of government.