Disinformation Threats in the Countries of Eastern Partnership


Disinformation Threats in the Countries of Eastern Partnership

Author: Anano Kavalashvili

Opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, or its partners.


Disinformation, often referred as ‘’fake news’’, is a false information deliberately spread to deceive people. Technological development and the growing impact of social media in our daily lives have paved the way for the fast and large-scale spread of disinformation. Social media is often used for promoting conspiracy theories and hate speech.1

Disinformation has a negative effect on democratic growth within the state, as it hinders the credibility of various institutions, hampering the effectiveness of the institutions in the process.

The problem is particularly visible in the countries of the Eastern Partnership.  The Eastern Partnership is an initiative of the European Union. It is a forum aiming to improve the political and economic trade relations between the EU and its Eastern European neighbors:  Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.2The main sources of disinformation in these countries are state-controlled media, political and external actors, and other individuals with various intentions.

In this paper, I will discuss the problems caused by propaganda in the aforementioned countries, its consequences and underlying implications. 


Challenges posed by disinformation in the countries of Eastern Partnership


In general, the main problem caused by disinformation is the manipulation of public opinion. Such manipulation has turned into an important challenge for the Eastern European members of EaP. Fake news, distorted facts, and false narratives are often spread in media in order to influence the political and social landscapes, as well as public opinion.

The spread of disinformation in these countries is often linked with political propaganda. Political actors spread false narratives and manipulate public opinion to either discredit their opponents or boost their own reputation.

Disinformation threatens the stability and security of those countries. It is a dangerous weapon, slowly but steadily progressing and reaching the objective.  Especially in those cases, when the perpetrator spread it between groups of people, where the seeds of hatred and conflict have already been sown. The rapid progression of social media has contributed to the rise of hate speech toward minorities. For example, in Georgia false information and conspiracy theories are used to fuel animosity toward ethnic, religious, or sexual minorities. As a result, instances of violence against minorities increase.3


Sources of disinformation


In the non-EU members of the Eastern Partnership disinformation can come from many sources: state-controlled media, social media, political actors, external actors, or even the misinformed public itself.4

In some EaP countries television and the press are partially regulated by the government. This can be used by the government to spread misinformation to boost their ratings. For instance, in Belarus state media propagates false narratives about the leaders of the opposition, discredits them and, by extension, helps the ruling party to maintain constant control over the state and suppress free speech.5

As mentioned, social media plays a big role in spreading propaganda.   In general, information on the platform is publicized through the lens which fits the beliefs of the majority. This accelerates the process of spreading the information. Social media also benefits external actors. Social media works in ways that make it easier for external actors to get involved in the internal politics of the aforementioned Easter European states.   For example, during the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020, both sides, Armenia and Azerbaijan used social media platforms to spread propaganda as a way of gaining an advantage.External actors, such as Russia and Turkey, were also involved in this propaganda war on social media platforms

It is also worth noting that, misinformed individuals also play a big role in spreading propaganda and false narratives. Usually, they just take the news at face value, either because they follow the outlets blindly or their ‘’trust’’ is motivated by ideological/selfish reasoning.


The effects of disinformation in the countries of Eastern Partnership


Disinformation leads to undesirable results in the Easter European states. Instability and lack of national security among many others. These processes give a rise to political polarization, resulting in a disharmonious society riddled with animosity.

On the other hand, manipulation of public opinion and dissemination of misinformation clouds the judgment of the members of society, causing hasty decisions. As Joseph Goebbels once said: ‘’Propaganda works best when those who are being manipulated are confident they are acting on their own free will.’’Therefore, well-executed disinformation affects public opinion, hindering state institutions’ ability to operate on a competent level. Disinformation can harm the credibility of the electoral system as well. Eventually leading to the demise of democratic institutions within the state. For reference, disinformation is often used in Eastern European countries for spreading false narratives about elections.

False information has a big impact on the media landscape. State media regularly discredits independent media outlets, be it through distorted facts or false accusations, threatening the integrity of the free press. 

Disinformation often targets various minority groups, spreading conspiracy theories and false information, causing friction in society, and giving rise to hate speech and violence against minorities.




-           During the Russo-Georgian war in 2008 Russian media accused Georgian armed forces of attacking and harassing ethnic Russians in the Tskhinvali region, straining the relationship between Russians and Georgians.8

-           Russia used propaganda to disguise the war against Ukraine as a reaction to Ukraine’s mistreatment of the Russian-speaking population in the South-Eastern part of the country. Propaganda intensified the hostility between the two nations, leading to a war in Ukraine.9

-           In 2017 anti-LGBTQ+ campaign started in Azerbaijan. Several posters and videos were made, painting LGBTQ+ as a threat to national security and integrity. Instead of taking action against the discriminatory campaign, the government sided with anti-LGBTQ+ groups.10-             In 2016, during the elections in Moldova, pro-Russian candidate, Igor Dodon, used anti-Western rhetoric during his presidential campaign, fueling animosity between pro-Russian and pro-Western groups.11
-           In 2018, during the Armenian Revolution, ruling and opposition parties used strong propaganda messages to discredit one another. This led to a series of anti-government protests, culminating in Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan announcing his resignation.12


How to combat propaganda


There are many ways of combating propaganda in the countries of EaP:

-           Promotion of media literacy -  can be implemented through educational campaigns, raising awareness towards propaganda and disinformation within society.

-           Fact-checking is another proven method of combating propaganda. It is necessary to establish fact-checking organizations. These organizations, with the help of media members, will verify the accuracy of the information and stop the spread of fake news.

-           Supporting independent media outlets is crucial for this cause, as they tend to be less politically biased. Promoting independent outlets will help us in building a healthy and diverse media landscape.

-           Strong democratic institutions can impede the spread of propaganda. It can be achieved through implementing the rule of law, protecting human rights, and conducting free and fair elections.

-           To prevent foreign intervention, the government should put emphasis on strengthening cybersecurity and international affairs.

Finland and Estonia can be used as examples of the successful eradication of propaganda. Russian propaganda was a particularly dangerous threat to Estonia.  The Estonian Center of Eastern Partnership was established to combat propaganda and promote free press. Finland and Estonia also use all the previously mentioned methods for opposing disinformation.13 Of course, disinformation and propaganda are still present in these countries, but the progress is undeniable.

To conclude, disinformation is a major threat to democracy in the six members of EaP preventing them from establishing western values in their state and society. It is necessary for the governments of these countries to promote campaigns in order to prevent the spread of disinformation. It is a difficult but manageable task, that can be fostered through a persistent effort from the government and society itself. 





1.         Fallis, Don. "What is disinformation?." Library trends 63, no. 3 (2015): 401-426.

2.         Tiido, Anna. "Russians in Europe: Nobody’s Tool. The Examples of Finland, Germany and Estonia." Estonian Foreign Policy Institute 10 (2019).

3.         Odabashian, Vahe, Agassy Manoukian, and Paul D. Witman. "Social media and the Velvet Revolution in Armenia." In Proceedings of the EDSIG Conference ISSN, vol. 2473, p. 3857. 2018.

4.         Birnbaum, M,  Moldova elects pro-Russian Igor Dodon as president. The Washington Post. (2016, November13).

5.         "Azerbaijan: Anti-LGBT Campaign Fuels Homophobia," Human Rights Watch, 17 June 2017.

6.         Ukraine conflict: Russian propaganda war," BBC News, February 6, 2015.

7.         Makaryan, Sargis. Russian media and the 2008 Georgia war: Propaganda, disinformation, and Russian public opinion.Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization 19, no. 2 (2011): 147-167.

8.         Jackall, Robert, ed. Propaganda. Vol. 8. NYU Press, 1995.

9.         Mamadaliev, Anvar M. "Military Propaganda around the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War: Official Materials of Armenia and Azerbaijan Defense Ministries (as illustrated by the first day of the conflict-September 27, 2020)." Propaganda in the World and Local Conflicts 7 (2020): 29-40.

10.       Mazepus, Honorata, Antoaneta Dimitrova, Matthew Frear, Tatsiana Chulitskaya, Oleksandra Keudel, Nina Onopriychuk, and Natallia Rabava. "Civil society and external actors: how linkages with the EU and Russia interact with socio-political orders in Belarus and Ukraine." East European Politics 37, no. 1 (2021): 43-64.

11.       Krekó, Péter. "The Drivers of Disinformation in Central and Eastern Europe and Their Utilization During the Pandemic." Globsec Policy Brief 9 (2020).

12.       Julakidze, Grigol. "How Russian propaganda works in Georgia." New Eastern Europe 04 (42) (2020): 13-19.

13.       Kerikmalle, Tanel. Political and legal perspectives of the EU Eastern Partnership policy. Springer, 2016.