The Snowball Effect
Using various tactics and disinformation narratives, the Kremlin has been sowing the seeds of this discontent now for nearly half a decade. It has habitually supported populist, anti-EU parties and candidates on both the far right and the far left, attacked the integrity of mainstream politics and media, and emphasised the illegitimacy and futility of elections in a system it alleges to be fundamentally corrupt. Through these efforts, the Kremlin has empowered and amplified other venal and anti-democratic actors to grow their influence in Europe, creating a snowball effect for its anti-Western agenda.
Due to this meticulous groundwork and the long-term integration (and normalisation) of anti-EU narratives in the public sphere, the Kremlin's attempted manipulation of the EP elections looks far less sensational than other more infamous cases, such as #MacronGate or the 2016 US presidential election. But this doesn't mean that no manipulation is taking place – on the contrary, the pro-Kremlin media continues to persistently attack the EU, its values, and its democratic mandate whilst simultaneously promoting Eurosceptic voices.
For example, Sputnik systematically features interviews with and updates of anti-EU parties as well as their candidates and positions. Sputnik Poland headlines anti-EU politicians, giving them space and promoting their narratives, while Sputnik Italy has given exclusive attention to the national-conservative Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party. Questioning the legitimacy of European elections on grounds of corruption and the EU's alleged capture by special interests is another common trope aimed at discouraging voter turnout.