Britain’s exit from the European Union will deprive Central and Eastern European governments of a key ally when
. Like them, the United Kingdom sees the bloc as a trade association among countries not necessarily interested in developing supranational structures. London has been skeptical of proposals to federalize the European Union and has obtained multiple opt-outs from initiatives such as the euro or the passport-free Schengen area. For Poland and Hungary, a United Kingdom that defends these views from within the EU was a much more valuable ally than a country that is on its way out of the bloc and uncertain about its future.
In addition, the impact of the British referendum was so profound that most EU leaders now understand that they cannot remain immobile. In recent months, there has been a plethora of proposals for EU reform. Most are in an embryonic phase, and many will be watered down or shelved. But there is a common narrative that makes Central and Eastern Europe nervous. Most of the plans involve the eurozone, not the European Union as a whole. This makes sense, as the crisis of the past decade focused primarily on the currency union, and its members are particularly driven to solve its pending problems. But underneath this seemingly pragmatic view, there is a deeper message: The European Union is the eurozone, and the countries that do not use the euro are not as relevant as those that do.
This connects directly to the concept of a “
,” a Continental bloc where some countries deepen their integration while others do not. The European Union already moves at different speeds because, for example, some countries use the euro while others don’t, and some countries take part in the Schengen Agreement while others don’t. But so far, the official goal of the European Union is that at some point all its member states will reach the same level of integration. If the European Union were to abandon its pledge of an “ever closer union,” the political and institutional environment on the Continent would be severely disrupted. It would mean that for first time the bloc is officially acknowledging the existence of first- and second-tier member states.
This is a worrisome prospect for Central and Eastern Europe. The region depends on the European Union for trade, investment, subsidies and, to some extent, security. The Czech Republic and Slovakia are intimately connected to the German economy. Poland and Romania see membership as a part of
, which consists of having as many international alliances as possible to deter Russian aggression. Should these countries opt out, or be excluded, from the next stage of Continental reform, some would have to rely on the United States for investment, protection or energy imports. But the White House may not be as interested in subsidizing Polish farmers or paying for Romania’s roads as Brussels is.
Since the end of the Cold War, peace and prosperity in Central and Eastern Europe were the result of a combination of close ties with the United States and of membership in the European Union and NATO. If any of these factors is removed from the equation, entire national strategies have to be revised. A point could be made that in the case of weaker ties between Central and Eastern Europe and the rest of the European Union, NATO membership could be enough to provide security to the region. But security is not only connected to the military. Over the past two decades, EU membership has meant more solid institutions, more transparent democracies and a stronger rule of law in the former Communist bloc. All of these reduce the room for Russian manipulation, especially when Moscow’s strategy is based on exploiting institutional shortcomings, not just on military intervention.
Difficult Choices Ahead
Slovakia and the Czech Republic have already suggested that they intend to remain as close as possible to the Continent’s biggest players. Their decisions are motivated by economic and historical reasons, because they are former members of the Holy Roman Empire that are intimately connected to the German economy. But the choice will be harder for Poland and Hungary, which are governed by nationalist forces that see the European Union’s federalist and post-national aspirations as a threat to their national sovereignty and identity.
Geopolitics suggests that Poland should want to remain as close as possible to Western Europe. The existence of Poland as a nation, located in the heart of the North European Plain and easy to invade, has been challenged traditionally by
, forcing Warsaw to seek as many foreign allies as possible. Germany is no longer an immediate threat, but Poland still feels an intense sense of urgency — more than its peers in the Visegrad Group — when it comes to Russia. And this is where Polish and Hungarian imperatives diverge, because Budapest does not perceive an external threat the way Warsaw does.
It is also possible that the nationalist governments in Warsaw and Budapest are only an exception and that sooner or later pro-European administrations could return to power. In fact, there have been large demonstrations against both governments in recent years. So far, the contradiction between criticizing the European Union and enjoying the benefits of membership has not led to any meaningful consequences in the rebel countries. As the prospect of weaker ties with the bloc becomes more real, voters could return to pro-EU leaders. But the more the nationalist rhetoric takes root in these countries, the harder it will be for them to change direction.
But Central and Eastern European countries are not the only ones facing strategic choices; dilemmas lie ahead for Western European countries as well. In recent weeks France has criticized Poland and Hungary, suggesting that
for the next stage of EU reform. In addition, France and Austria have pledged to restrict the use of an EU program that allows Central and Eastern European nationals to find temporary jobs in Western Europe. EU officials, in turn, have threatened to suspend voting rights and even to cut funding for countries that fail to follow the bloc’s rules.
But enforcing these threats could fuel new waves of nationalism in the region. A weaker EU presence in Central and Eastern Europe could lead to illiberal and unstable states on the bloc’s eastern flank, creating political, economic and even security threats for the European Union. Such a scenario would profoundly worry Germany. The fate of the region may be a secondary concern for France, but Germany sees the area as its natural sphere of economic and political influence. In the coming debate on the future of Europe, Berlin will probably seek to be involved in the region as much as possible. This could come at the price of compromises and watered-down EU policies to accommodate the region.
Roadblocks to Reform
The question of whether Central and Eastern Europe will let go of the EU is intimately linked to the question of whether the EU will let go of the region. And, all things considered, a multi-speed Europe may never happen. As well as managing existing East-West tensions, EU reforms have to
the grating relationships between Europe’s northern and southern members, which have different views of the bloc’s future. Regardless, the mere discussion of a reformed European Union is enough to trigger strategic discussions in Central and Eastern Europe. After all, this is a region where the fate of nations is often determined by events beyond their borders.
For the European Union, the main challenge will be to find a balance between countries that want to deepen cooperation on monetary, fiscal, defense and migration affairs and countries that are reluctant to give up their national sovereignty. Without the United Kingdom, the ability of Central and Eastern Europe countries to shape the negotiations will be heavily constrained, forcing those countries to make decisions that they have been able to avoid for two decades.
Central and Eastern Europe’s Crisis of Convergence
Recently, several Central and Eastern European countries have tried to increase military, economic and energy cooperation from the Baltic to the Black seas to enhance their autonomy. … Poland and Romania see membership as a part of their security …
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WASHINGTON — The FBI recently questioned a former White House correspondent for Sputnik, the Russian-government-funded news agency, as part of an investigation into whether it is acting as an undeclared propaganda arm of the Kremlin in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
As part of the probe, Yahoo News has learned, the bureau has obtained a thumb drive containing thousands of internal Sputnik emails and documents — material that could potentially help prosecutors build a case that the news agency played a role in the Russian government “influence campaign” that was waged during last year’s presidential election and, in the view of U.S. intelligence officials, is still ongoing.
The emails were turned over by Andrew Feinberg, the news agency’s former White House correspondent, who had downloaded the material onto his laptop before he was fired in May. He confirmed to Yahoo News that he was questioned for more than two hours on Sept. 1 by an FBI agent and a Justice Department national security lawyer at the bureau’s Washington field office.
Feinberg said the interview was focused on Sputnik’s “internal structure, editorial processes and funding.”
“They wanted to know where did my orders come from and if I ever got any direction from Moscow,” Feinberg told Yahoo News. “They were interested in examples of how I was steered towards covering certain issues.”
It is not clear whether the agent and prosecutor who questioned Feinberg were acting as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s broader investigation into Russian efforts to disrupt the 2016 election and possible links to the Trump campaign. “We are not confirming whether specific matters are or are not part of our ongoing investigation,” a spokesman for Mueller emailed. A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment, and the FBI did not respond to questions.
But the inquiry comes at a time when members of Congress and others have pushed the Justice Department to strengthen its enforcement of the FARA, especially as it relates to the operations in Washington of two Russian news organizations, Sputnik and RT (formerly known as Russia Today).
“This is incredibly significant,” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent and now an associate dean of Yale Law School, about the bureau’s questioning of the former Sputnik reporter. “The FBI has since the 1970s taken pains not to be perceived in any way as infringing on First Amendment activity. But this tells me they have good information and intelligence that these organizations have been acting on behalf of the Kremlin and that there’s a direct line between them and the [Russian influence operations] that are a significant threat to our democracy.”
Sputnik is owned by Rossiya Segodnya, a Russian government media operation headed by Dmitri Kiselyov, a belligerent television broadcaster who is known as Putin’s “personal propagandist” and has been sanctioned by the European Union in response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. On its website, Sputnik describes itself as a “modern news agency” that “covers global political and economic news targeting an international audience.”
Contacted by Yahoo News, Sputnik’s U.S. editor in chief, Mindia Gavasheli, said, “Any assertion that we are not a news organization is simply false.” He also said he was unaware of the FBI probe. “This is the first time I’m hearing about it, and I don’t think anyone at Sputnik was contacted, so thank you for letting us know,” Gavasheli said.
Gavasheli attributed the push to have Sputnik register through FARA to paranoia surrounding Russia. “I think it tells about the atmosphere of hysteria that we are witnessing now,” Gavasheli said. “Anything being related to Russia right now is being considered a spycraft of some sort.”
Shortly after this story was published on Monday, a Sputnik spokeswoman released a statement saying the company reached out to the Justice Department after being alerted to the investigation by Yahoo News.
“Unfortunately our requests to the Justice Department for information has not been answered to date,” the statement said. ” We are more than happy to answer any questions the DOJ or the FBI might have.”
The statement also defended Sputnik as “a news organization dedicated to accurate news reporting.”
“Our journalists have won multiple media awards throughout the world. Any assertion that Sputnik is anything but a credible news outlet is false,” the statement said.
Both Sputnik and RT were identified in a U.S. intelligence report in January as being arms of Russia’s “state-run propaganda machine” that served as a “platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences.” As an example, the report said, Sputnik and RT “consistently cast President-elect Trump as the target of unfair coverage from traditional US media outlets that they claimed were subservient to a corrupt political establishment.”
The investigation appears to center on whether Sputnik should be covered by the foreign agents registration law, a 1938 act passed by Congress to combat Nazi propaganda. The law mandates that foreign entities seeking to influence American public opinion and engage in lobbying must file detailed reports with the Justice Department on their funding and operations. If the Justice Department concludes that Sputnik is covered by the law, its executives in the U.S. could face criminal charges and fines, while the news agency’s reports would have to be explicitly labeled as foreign propaganda rather than presented as news.
There is an exemption under the law for media organizations that engage in legitimate news-gathering activity. But Feinberg, the former Sputnik reporter, said the FBI agent and Justice prosecutor who interviewed him focused their questions on how Sputnik determined what stories it would cover, where its directions came from and what he knew about its sources of funding.
(Yahoo first learned about the FBI inquiry from a U.S. intelligence source. Feinberg then confirmed he was interviewed and showed the business cards of the FBI agent and Justice Department lawyer who questioned him.)
While his instructions as White House correspondent came from the senior editors and news directors at Sputnik’s Washington office, Feinberg said these supervisors regularly “would say, ‘Moscow wants this or Moscow wants that.’”
The thumb drive of emails and other documents that Feinberg turned over to the FBI contains messages that could shed light on Sputnik’s funding, its operations in Washington and how it makes editorial decisions. It includes documents Feinberg submitted on behalf of Sputnik to obtain congressional press credentials in which he confirmed that the Russian government is the company’s main funding source.
The questioning of Feinberg, Sputnik’s former White House correspondent, came just two weeks after Yahoo News published an interview in which he claimed he was fired by Sputnik’s D.C. bureau chief for refusing orders to ask the president’s press secretary about a since-discredited Fox News report in a televised briefing. That report claimed that WikiLeaks obtained internal Democratic National Committee emails not from material hacked by Russian intelligence services, as the U.S. government has asserted, but from a low-level DNC staffer, Seth Rich, who was murdered on the streets of Washington in July 2016. (Fox has since retracted the report.)
Feinberg, who first made his allegations on May 26, the day he left Sputnik, has also claimed the company pushed him to ask questions that suggested the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad, who is a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was not behind chemical attacks in that country. Feinberg said the interviewers specifically asked him about a piece he wrote detailing these claims that was published by Politico on Aug. 21. A spokeswoman for Sputnik has previously denied Feinberg’s allegations and told Yahoo News his contract with the company “was not renewed due to performance-related issues.”
The FBI reached out to Feinberg shortly after another former Sputnik staffer, Joseph John Fionda, sent a letter to the Justice Department’s national security division detailing a series of similar accusations against the news organization and requested that it be investigated for FARA violations.
In a brief conversation over an encrypted messaging app, Fionda told Yahoo News he also sent “a big packet” of information to the division on or about Aug. 15.
In his letter to Justice, Fionda said he was employed by RIA Global LLC, a media company associated with Sputnik, from Sept. 5 to Oct. 19, 2015. During that time, Fionda wrote, Sputnik conducted “a perception management information warfare program” about Russia’s military involvement in Syria. He said the news organization falsely described Russia’s targets in that country as “terrorists” affiliated with the jihadist group ISIS when, he asserted, the Russian forces were actually bombing other anti-Assad rebel groups.
In another instance, Fionda said, an article he wrote in September 2015 about President Obama’s repatriation of Guantánamo detainees to a number of countries was “censored” to omit any reference to the fact that six of the detainees were being sent back to Russia, where they were later imprisoned.
Fionda said his last straw with Sputnik came on Oct. 19, 2015, after excerpts of private emails from then-CIA Director John Brennan were published by a hacker on Twitter. He claimed Gavasheli, Sputnik’s U.S. editor in chief, asked him to “obtain the CIA Director’s stolen emails” from the hacker.
“I refused because I believed this was a solicitation to espionage,” Fionda wrote.
When he refused the order, Fionda wrote that Gavasheli told him to “get the f— out of my office” and then fired him. Gavasheli, in his interview with Yahoo News, denied this and said Fionda was fired after falsely claiming his father was ill in order to take time off from work.
The probe into Sputnik also comes shortly after the Russian news agency announced a significant expansion in the U.S. capital: It took over a popular Washington FM radio station dedicated to playing bluegrass music and replaced it with an all-talk format with hosts who regularly criticize U.S. policies — as well as one co-host who is a former Breitbart News reporter and Trump supporter. “I’m sure you heard a lot about us,” Gavasheli was quoted as saying by the Washington Post. “Now you can actually listen to us.”
This article was updated at 1:30 p.m. with an additional statement from Sputnik.
Read more from Yahoo News:
Sputnik (news agency)
|Type||News and Media|
|Slogan||Telling the Untold|
|10 November 2014|
Sputnik (Russian pronunciation: [ˈsputʲnʲɪk]; formerly The Voice of Russia) is a news agency, news websites and radio broadcast service established by the Russian government-controlled news agency Rossiya Segodnya. Headquartered in Moscow, Sputnik has regional editorial offices in Washington, Cairo, Beijing, London and Edinburgh; in Sputnik’s Washington D.C. office, Peter Martinichev is the editor and Mikhail Safronov is the bureau chief. Sputnik focuses on global politics and economicsand is geared towards a non-Russian audience. Sputnik has been widely accused of bias, disinformation and being a Russian propaganda outlet.
Sputnik currently operates news websites, featuring reporting and commentary, in over 30 languages including English, Spanish, Polish, Serbian, and several others. The websites also house over 800 hours of radio broadcasting material each day and its newswire service runs around the clock.Alongside its news content, Sputnik also produces photo essays, live streaming, infographics, and public opinion surveys.
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