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EU urged to help #Ukraine counter Russia disinformation campaign

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The EU supported by the international community has been urged to help Ukraine counter an ongoing “disinformation campaign” being waged by Russia.

The appeal comes with concern about the impact of Russian “cyber and hybrid warfare” against the Ukrainian population, particularly in the eastern part of the country where war has claimed the lives of more than 15,000  people.

Speaking in Brussels on Wednesday (10 April), Professor Dr. Anatolyi Marushchak, of the International Information Academy (IIA), also warned that “lessons” of Ukraine’s experience can be learned for the upcoming European elections from 23-26 May, adding, “This is not just about Ukraine but about defending democracy around the world.”

He was one of the keynote speakers at a conference, at the Brussels Press Club, on the Ukrainian Experience in CyberSecurity conference, organized by the IIA, the Ukrainian Academy of Cybersecurity and the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine in conjunction with the EU Ukraine Business Council.

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Marashchuk said the IIA was set up to combat a concerted and aggressive “fake news” and “misinformation” campaign orchestrated by Russia which, he added, started soon after the annexation of Crimea back in 2014.

The psychological impact on many Ukrainians, not least in Crimea and also the Dombass region, had been “unbelievable” with the aim being “to spread lies about a revolution in the country.”

It was conducted, he said, with the support of a controlled, Russian-language media and via “internet trolls”.

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Marushchak's own family experienced the impact after the Ukraine bank where his wife worked was hit by a cyber attack which, along with other similar incidents, had resulted in “serious” economic and financial cost.

Another example he cited was a serious cyber attack in 2015 which had caused a major power outage in parts of the country.

In 2018 alone, some 35 cyber attacks were recorded in Ukraine, mostly involving the Russian state, including one targeting the UEFA Champions League final in Kiev.

The United States and Britain joined Ukraine in blaming Russia for the NotPetya campaign in 2017 which took a costly toll on the quarterly results of major global corporations including Cadbury chocolate maker Mondelez International Inc and freight logistics company FedEx Corp.

More recently, Russia’s hybrid warfare campaign against Ukraine was being fought in other ways, for example in “supporting local unrest” and on the diplomatic front, but the aim was the same: to destabilize and undermine the country.

He said: “Everything we’re seeing, everything we’ve intercepted in this period: 99 percent of the traces come from Russia.” You can only conclude that Russia has been trying to persuade our people that the path they have chosen is the wrong one.”

However, such attacks, he said, had accelerated the adoption of domestic legislation designed to counter such “destabilising” efforts. They had  also led to the emergence of NGOs such as his own and fact-checking organisations whose aim was to help Ukrainians “distinguish between fake news and real news”.

Ukraine is better prepared to withstand such attacks thanks to cooperation with foreign allies including the United States, Britain and NATO but there are some Ukrainian companies that are still vulnerable to such attacks.

Looking to the future, he said it was vital that the wider international community, including the EU, continued to help counter Russia’s “cyber aggression”. He said: “They have to ask how they would feel if it was a member state of the EU that was subject to such things and how they would react to such attacks on their infrastructure.”

The aim, he suggested, was to use Ukraine’s experience and to enhance co-operation in combating fake news,  misinformation and cyberattacks, both against Ukraine and other countries.

Another speaker, Elnur Ametov, a close aide to a top Ukraine MP, suggested thatRussian government-affiliated actors launched coordinated cyber attacks against Ukrainian government and military targets before and during the attack and seizure of Ukrainian ships and sailors in the Azov Sea on November 25.

He said that Russia had totally “scorched the media scene” in Crimea and, as a result, it was now hard to distinguish between fake and real news.

The outcome, he argued, had been to shift international attention from the continuing “illegal occupation” of Crimea.

“Russia has conducted a massive propaganda campaign in Crimea and people there now depend on the internet or social media for their news.”

This had, he noted, resulted in the emergence of “citizen journalists”, ordinary members of the public who live-stream incidents of “unlawful raids and arrests” by the Russian authorities.

He, too, said the EU and others had a role to play in countering such problems, saying, “everyone has an interest in this because what is happening in Crimea and Ukraine affects not just these areas but the stability of the whole world legal order.”

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Belgium

Clashes break out in Brussels in protests over coronavirus restrictions

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Police and protesters clashed in the streets of Brussels on Sunday (21 November) in demonstrations over government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions, with police firing water cannon and tear gas at demonstrators throwing rocks and smoke bombs, witnesses said, write Christian Levaux, Johnny Cotton and Sabine Siebold, Reuters.

About 35,000 people took part in demonstrations, police said, which began peacefully before violence broke out.

Protesters wearing black hoods threw stones at police as they advanced with water cannon at the main junction in front of the European Union Commission headquarters, Reuters journalists said.

Facing up to the police lines, the protesters held hands and chanted "freedom". One protester was carrying a placard reading "when tyranny becomes law, rebellion becomes duty".

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Police forces stand guard as people protest against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) measures near the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium November 21, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

Protesters also threw smoke bombs and fireworks, the newspaper Le Soir reported. The situation calmed down later, police said.

Belgium tightened its coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday (17 November), mandating wider use of masks and enforcing work from home, as cases rose in the country's fourth COVID-19 wave. Read more.

There have been 1,581,500 infections and 26,568 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country of 11.7 million people since the pandemic began. Infections are increasing again, with 13,826 new cases reported on average each day.

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Violence has also broken out in anti-restriction protests in Belgium's neighbour the Netherlands in recent days. On Friday, police in Rotterdam opened fire on a crowd.

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European Commission

NextGenerationEU: Commission receives payment request from Spain for €10 billion under the Recovery and Resilience Facility

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The Commission has received the first payment request from Spain under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) for a disbursement of €10 billion in financial support (net of pre-financing). Spain's overall recovery and resilience plan will be financed by €69.5 billion in grants. Payments under the RRF are performance-based and contingent on Spain implementing the investments and reforms outlined in its recovery and resilience plan. This first payment request relates to 52 milestones covering several reforms in the areas of sustainable mobility, energy efficiency, decarbonisation, connectivity, public administration, skills, education and social, labour and fiscal policy.

The Commission now has two months to assess the request. It will then send its preliminary assessment of Spain's fulfilment of the milestones and targets required for this payment to the Council's Economic and Financial Committee. More information on the process of the payment requests under the RRF is available in this Q&A. More information on the Spanish recovery and resilience plan is available here.

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Belgium

'When the Smurfs meet Monkey King'

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'When the Smurfs meet Monkey King' is a children's art exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium.

The successful art exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium in La Louvière, the birthplace of Surrealism in Belgium that ended on 24 October gave the opportunity to nearly 300 local primary and middle school students in just one week to depict their vision of friendship between China and Belgium.

On 17 October, during the opening ceremony, Françoise Ghiot, Laurent Wimlot, aldermen of La Louvière, and their guests from China and Belgium attended the event. Counsellor Yang Qing, wife of the Chinese Ambassador to Belgium, also recorded a video for the inauguration of the event.

Counsellor Yang Qing said in her speech that she admired the exhibition held in La Louvière. Using pure and innocent artistic perspective, extraordinary creativity and imagination, the children have well defined the cultural elements of both countries. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium with children’s eyes, sincere feelings, those future ambassadors of friendship have expressed their visions of a better collaborative future between the two nations.

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Ghiot said in her speech that she was very happy on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium to see children’s paintings from China. The art exhibition opened a skylight of artistic exchange for local children.

This children's art exhibition was jointly curated by the city of La Louvière, the Nardone Gallery, and Yellow Vitamines. Through the LPGA (Little Painter Global International Art Exhibition), covering 40 cities and 500 aesthetic education training institutions in China, 5000 children’s work were collected and 200 were finally selected to focus on Belgium. With the innocent help of children's brushes, imagination and understanding, art and culture provided an ideal medium to understanding differences and strengthening the bond between China and Belgium.

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