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Institutional Resilience against Foreign Malign Influence

Key speakers

Over the past decade, Russia has significantly diversified its hybrid warfare strategy for carrying out multi-layered influence operations in the physical, information and digital domains. The Black Sea region remains vulnerable to the manifestations of continued Russian aggression and the Kremlin’s ambition to impose its agenda through manipulation, cyberattacks, economic blackmail, and political pressure. Bulgaria is a frequent target of Russia’s hybrid warfare. The Kremlin has exploited and further deepened local regulatory and institutional deficits to gain control over critical economic sectors like energy in order to finance its ongoing war against Ukraine.

On 25 June 2024, the Center for the Study of Democracy held a policy roundtable that took stock of opportunities and measures to ensure the self-sustaining capacity of public and private sectors to counter hybrid threats. Atanas Zapryanov, Minister of Defence of Bulgaria, noted Russia’s continued use of disinformation and the value of an institutional framework for strategic communications in enhancing inter-agency coordination to counter such threats. Kenneth Merten, U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria, highlighted that Russia’s disruptive activities and aggressive posture required a strong, unified, and allied response. Matthew Boyse, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute (former Deputy-Assistant-Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State), noted that Russia viewed the Black Sea region in zero-sum terms and used electronic warfare as a tool of economic pressure to control maritime navigation.

In the opening of the discussion panel, Richard Chalk, CEO of the British strategic communciations agency REOC, outlined a stepwise approach for the development of strategic communications to counter the distorting effects of disinformation. CSD's Dr Tatyana Novossiolova discussed Russia’s reliance on media capture tactics to advance its cognitive warfare giving examples with the Kremlin’s continued use of nuclear blackmail and malign narratives about biological weapons in Ukraine. Dr Song Tae-Eun from the Korean National Diplomatic Academy presented the cybersecurity policy of the Republic of Korea and the country’s collaborative activities with NATO to enhance preparedness against cyber-threats. Dr Kim Taeyoung from the National Institute of Security and Safety discussed the integration between cybersecurity and counter-terrorism efforts in the Republic of Korea to counter hybrid warfare and respond to its cognitive effects. Ms.Anastasiya Shapochkina, Director of the French think-tank Eastern Circles, discussed how Russia uses its nuclear energy sector as a tool of foreign influence to advance its geopolitical agenda.

The participants in the roundtable unanimously agreed that regional cooperation in the Black Sea region in the field of security and strategic partnership within the EU and NATO are key to synchronising efforts to deter and counter the hybrid war waged by the Kremlin. They stressed that joint training and exercise initiatives, the deployment of intelligence, surveillance and early warning systems, and defence modernisation are needed to strengthen the region's defence capabilities. These steps are essential to enhance the interoperability of NATO forces and strengthen the Alliance's position in the Black Sea region. 

Institutional Resilience against Foreign Malign Influence Policy Roundtable, June 25, 2024
Dr. Ognian Shentov, Chairman, Center for the Study of Democracy
Kenneth Merten, Ambassador of the United States of America to Bulgaria
Atanas Zapryanov, Minister of Defense of Bulgaria
Matthew Boyse, Senior Fellow, Center on Europe and Eurasia, Hudson Institute, Deputy Assistant Secretary, European and Eurasian Affairs at U.S. Department of State (2018 – 2021)

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