MODERATOR:  Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub.  I would like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s virtual press briefing.  We are very honored to be joined by James P. Rubin, the Special Envoy and Coordinator of the Global Engagement Center.

Finally, a quick reminder that today’s briefing is on the record.  With that, we can get started.  Special Envoy Rubin, thank you so much for joining us today.  I’ll turn it over to you for opening remarks.

MR RUBIN:  Thank you very much for that, and thank you all for gathering.  I think it goes without saying that you’re here because you understand the dangers that we’re facing from information manipulation around the world.  I think I should therefore start by stating very clearly that one of the things I’m very, very confident we’ve established here in the United States, in the U.S. Government, and was reaffirmed by Secretary Blinken yesterday, is that information manipulation – foreign information disinformation – is a national security threat, and understanding that it is a national security threat is the first step towards doing something successful about it.

I think it’s something people have talked about for many years now, but I think increasingly there’s an acceptance among leaders here in the United States and increasingly in Europe and Asia that this information warfare conducted by Russia’s Kremlin and by the PRC as part of their great power competition is a danger to the United States because it’s a danger to our allies; it’s a danger to democracy because it undermines the democratic process, which can’t function without a fact-based world; it undermines democratic institutions and it’s specifically designed to move governments away from support for the world of rules and rights and towards a world where authoritarian countries believe they can dominate.

We’ve put out reports here at the State Department’s Global Engagement Center about the Chinese – PRC’s effort to gain information dominance around the world, precisely to make this aware – this is the first time the U.S. Government put a report out, several months ago, and you’re all obviously – we’d like you to look at that.  But whether it’s the PRC or what the Russians have been doing every day in every way for the last several years, this is a real challenge for all of us.  Russia is using information warfare to try to fracture international support for Ukraine and to try to undermine democratic evolution in Europe.

And I think perhaps the best signal of the success that we’ve had in alerting the world to this danger is the fact that last year, Davos reports didn’t even really mention disinformation, and this year in their presentation to the membership of Davos they described disinformation as the biggest short-term threat along with climate change and one of the major long-term threats over the years.  So that means that in the last year, we’ve galvanized – not just the United States, but obviously the European EEAS action center where my friend Lutz does very, very good work, and I’m sure all of you know him – that this is starting to become accepted by the leadership of our societies.  Because the truth is governments alone cannot solve this problem.  We can galvanize, we can organize, and I’m going to talk to you about that in a second.  But without support and recognition from society at large – meaning academia, meaning journalists themselves, meaning NGOs and people – that Russian disinformation is an element of information warfare, that China’s desire to gain information dominance is a threat to our democracies, we’re never going to be able to do anything about that.

Now, obviously this year there’s a particular vulnerability because in 2024 there are democratic elections occurring around the world.  I believe, if I have my numbers right, there’s something like 64 countries with some 2 billion voters going to the polls in the next year, and obviously there are a number of specific elections in Europe.  Elections are not the only way that information warfare becomes a problem, but they’re a particularly discrete way when people are paying attention to political issues that the Russian disinformation efforts are activated and focused and targeted.

And I think the second large point I’d like to make is that the Gaza crisis itself has taught us something as well.  We’ve all understood, those of us in this business, that there’s a great power aspect to our foreign policy that’s new with Russia and China increasingly working together on Ukraine and other matters, but it’s not been until recently that we’ve seen a pattern develop.  So first under COVID you saw Russian disinformation and Chinese disinformation try to blame, somehow, COVID on the United States through these lies about where it started, and you had a virus that we all understand started in China they were trying to blame on the United States.  Then we have a Ukraine crisis goes – comes along.  Russia invades its neighbor with hundreds of thousands of troops for no obvious reason, and yet over the last two years Russia and China have blamed the United States for the war as if the United States is responsible.  And now most recently in the Gaza crisis, obviously this crisis was caused by the atrocities committed on October 7th, and yet somehow out of the Kremlin’s mouthpieces and increasingly PRC official sources, this is blamed on the United States.

So what we’re seeing is that for the foreseeable future, this blame America first attitude that comes out of these disinformation and information manipulation and full-fledged propaganda efforts is something we’re going to have to deal with.  And the reason why this is so hard is because there’s a fundamental asymmetry.  Russia and China have closed their information spaces to the rest of the world.  China did it first with the so-called Great Wall, and Russia has increasingly done it since the war in Ukraine, so their information spaces are not free.  They are not open.  The people in their countries can’t see what’s going on.

And I think the best evidence of that, of why the world has changed and why this is so difficult and so different, came about during the Prigozhin episode.  I’m old enough to remember that when Tiananmen Square happened, when Yeltsin stood on the tank and stood down the coup plotters, we all watched that on television all over the world at the same time.  And yet forevermore now in China and Russia, when we have a crisis, we are not going to see it real time.  We’re not going to get accurate, instant knowledge of what’s going on.  We basically had reporters looking at Telegram channels and having their translators translating them and then dictating that to the world on television or through – in the internet.  And so what I’m saying here is that this fundamental asymmetry means that the rest of the world is now the free playground for Russia and China to try to dominate, to confuse, and to manipulate the information space.

So what are we going to do about it?  Well, over the last year, I’ve tried to generate some specific actions by the Global Engagement Center to do, most importantly, the best thing you can do, which is try to stop it before it gets started.  So in Latin America recently, you may have followed that we are – were able to preempt a Russian manipulation operation by revealing it before it got started, because that’s the best way to prevent it.  Once so-called disinformation gets out there and is spread, you’re already at a disadvantage.  We’re going to continue to do that in other parts of the world.

But the second effort that we’re making here is called the Framework to Fight Information Manipulation, and it’s a diplomatic framework.  It’s the first of its kind to try to detail what are the steps that a country needs to take to maximize their struggle and their effort to deal with this problem, and it came out of the analogy – I think I was in Brussels.  I must have met some of you last spring, and I began to – in understanding this problem to think about it in the terms that we think about terrorism, where we understand that we have to make a 100 percent effort and we understand that we’re not always going to be 100 percent successful.  So we’ve tried to, through this diplomatic framework, list – what does a 100 percent effort look like?  What steps does a government need to take?  What steps does civil society need to take?  How do you organize yourselves for this and then then socialize and get agreement around the world for countries who want to fight the information challenge from Russia and China?

And so this diplomatic framework is basically our foundational effort to come to agreement on what the problem is, because the reason this is so difficult is because on the one hand you do not want to get into censorship, you do not want to try to just find what’s true or not true – that’s not the role of government – but you have to make a maximum effort.  And what I’ve found is that these terms and these efforts are talked about in different ways.  In some, let’s say, central and east European countries, I would talk to ministers about this problem and they would say, “Yes, I read today this article and it was disinformation.”  And then you looked into it and you discovered it was just an article they didn’t like.  That’s not disinformation.

And so I’ve worked very, very hard through this framework to try to clarify what it is we’re actually trying to do here, and I – if I were to summarize it, it would be to say we’re trying to be sure that countries that believe in a free and open information space, countries that believe their information space should be protected will know when Russia or China is using its hidden hand to manipulate them.  That is not Russian and Chinese statements from RT and statements on the record.  I’m talking about when they’re operating in effectively a covert operation to manipulate information by secretly inserting it into the system without a made-in-Russia or made-in-the-Kremlin stamp on it, because there’s a fundamental difference between reading a piece and – or seeing an article or watching TV or listening on the radio or whatever form you get your news, finding out that the Russian Government says something is true, versus just something is reported.

Say, for example, in the case of biological weapons in Ukraine, if you read that the Kremlin says there are biological weapons made by the United States in Ukraine, you’re going to have a certain reaction that’s different than if you just read that the U.S. is secretly deploying biological weapons in Ukraine, which was one of the Russian pieces of disinformation over and over again.  I would say – I’m going to come to the end in a second – that this diplomatic framework is important because it’s America leading the world in defining the problem and developing a coalition of countries that want to work together to ensure that Russian and Chinese information manipulation doesn’t harm their societies.

I’ll stop in a second and take your questions.  I’m getting handed notes about this.  Let me just say that we have several partners that we’ve already – have agreement with.  The German Government has fully endorsed this framework.  And we’re going to continue to build out, bilaterally and multilaterally, countries that agree to it.  You may have noticed in the EU-U.S. presidential statement from last fall, they agreed to the five action areas that are in this document – on national strategies and policies, governance structures, technical capacity, working with civil society, and making sure you have a multilateral engagement.  Those are the ways you fight this information.

With that long, winding opening, I am happy to take your questions.

MODERATOR:  Excellent.  Thank you, sir, for those opening remarks.  We are now in the Q&A portion.  Please do raise your hand if you have a question, and we do have some pre-submitted questions, though.  We’ll start with Lisa Carroll from The Guardian in the UK, who asks:  “NATO has said disinformation is a real threat in the EU – in a briefing, for example, last week in Brussels.  What is your assessment of the impact of this threat at home and in the EU?  Are you worried or pleased that Twitter/X is being investigated by the EU for platforming content that may breach European Union law?”

MR RUBIN:  Yes.  Good question.  The GEC – I need to say this because of the complications of understanding here at home – doesn’t look at the American information space.  Our job is solely to look at what threat actors, primarily Russia and China, are doing in Europe, in Latin America, in Africa, and in Asia, not in the United States.  There are other agencies that do that.  But I think it’s fair to say that the NATO countries’ statements about this threat that you’re referring to and the statement by Davos’s report about this statement indicate that increasingly Western governments are realizing the depth of this problem.

And I can tell you that when I came first to this job a year ago and took my first trip to Brussels and met with High Representative Borrell’s team, I have to say – as an American who’s worked with European Governments over the years – I was extremely impressed with the seriousness with which they took this problem and their willingness to respond in a forceful fashion; that it wasn’t one of those cases where the Americans came from Mars and the Europeans came from Venus, as you may know the phrase; that there’s really a unity of understanding of the top levels of our governments here in the United States and Europe.

As far as individual investigations are concerned, I have to obviously be careful in this matter.  Let me say that one of the reasons why this framework is so important is because everybody has different laws and everybody has different capabilities.  For example, in the United States, we don’t have a Digital Services Act that the Europeans have now put in place that gives them tools to interact with the social media companies.  As an American, normally we are simply saying our companies are doing the best job, et cetera, et cetera.

I have to say as someone who puts the information warfare problem at the top of his agenda, I am pleased that the Europeans have a Digital Services Act, that they are using their governmental powers to make sure that the social media tools are not being used by those who would conduct information manipulation.  And, let’s face it, for many years the social media was seen as a way to spread democracy across Western countries.  It was seen as an advantage that we had, and it was one of the reasons why we didn’t think we needed to spend the money that the Russians and the Chinese were spending on building our own governmental megaphones.

But we’ve discovered that there’s a dark side to this digital revolution and the information revolution, and that Russia and China are exploiting it and using social media in – for inauthentic, coordinated behavior – bots, et cetera – to try to magnify and amplify.  And then they’re magnifying and amplifying each other’s disinformation to try to create an ecosystem, so this is a real problem.

In the United States, we consult with our social media companies as appropriate.  We identify tactics and tools that the Kremlin and the PRC use, but we don’t have the same regulatory powers that the Europeans have.  But I am glad that, since European countries are the target so much – so often of Russian information warfare, that European governments have these tools and are using them to try to defend the – their information space from these – from this information warfare.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Thank you, sir.  Next question going to Maarten Rabaey from De Morgen here in Belgium.  He asks:  “European societies have been made aware that Russian or Chinese agencies are trying to influence the political debate as they do/did in the U.S.  We know they magnify civil unrest on social media and stir up polarization.  Currently, we’re seeing a lot of farmers in Europe blocking critical infrastructure.  They have legitimate demands but also risk being manipulated to serve extreme or authoritarian foreign agendas.  How do you think one should respond finding a balance between the right to protest and national security?”

MR RUBIN:  Boy, that’s a good one.  Let me try to distinguish between legitimate government propaganda – or, sorry, let me rephrase that – let me distinguish between legitimate messaging by Russia and China all over the world, where they have Chinese television, they have RT – which has been blocked in European countries because of the Ukraine war – and the use of hidden information manipulation, where ideas, concepts, manipulative tools, are invented in Beijing by the PRC or invented by the Kremlin and secretly inserted into the information system of countries in Europe.

Those are two very different things.  The first, the statements of governments about their policies and their differences with other governments’ policies, is something that is fine.  We can disagree with it; we have our podium; we’ll say we agree, we disagree.  What’s unacceptable is when the PRC or Russia use covert tools, whether that’s inauthentic – coordinated inauthentic behavior in social media, whether that’s paid journalism that’s placed into the ecosystem without a stamp of “Made in PRC” or “Made in the Kremlin,” whether it’s journalists posing – intelligence operatives posing as journalists.  Whatever the technique is, that’s Russia and China’s hidden hand.  And that is what the framework to fight this information is targeted at.

And so yes, there will be democracies – the price of freedom and democracy is an open information environment, and I think the distinction between protest and manipulated protest is up for each country to decide to what extent people are doing things because they want to do them or because they’ve been inspired to do them by foreign governments.  Obviously, the latter is less tolerable than the former, but what’s completely intolerable is when physical protests are inspired secretly by Kremlin disinformation.  And that’s what we’re after in this framework, is to identify that quickly, be able to identify it quickly, because we believe that when people find out they’re being manipulated by the Russians and the Chinese, they will be less likely to accept that position, do that protest, whatever the circumstance is.

So again, there’s these three categories.  There’s protests that are going to happen.  There’s government statements and policies, which are going to happen.  But what is unacceptable is when it’s done covertly.  And we’re working to uncover that, to stop it, to identify it as quickly as possible because that’s the information warfare conducted against open societies that’s done in an asymmetrical way, because their societies are closed.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  Next question from Momchil Indjov from Bulgaria.  He asks: “Excellency, could you please tell us which European countries in your opinion are the most vulnerable to disinfo at this time?  And where is that disinformation coming from?”

MR RUBIN:  Right.  I have no doubt that in the coming series of elections throughout Europe that Russia – the Kremlin will seek to use information warfare to undermine our democracies, to build up those who would do less in defending and supporting Ukraine, and try to undermine the remarkable degree of unity that has developed between European countries, the United States, and many countries around the world in helping Ukraine defend itself.  I have no doubt that those elections will see that happening.  You all know where the elections are.  They’re in Slovakia.  They’re in Lithuania.  They’re in Moldova.  They’re in Romania.  There’s EU parliamentary elections.  They’re in Croatia throughout the year.

I guess what I would say about that is that that’s one of the prime targets for Russian disinformation efforts, but not the only one.  Every day across Eastern Europe and in Western Europe, where they believe Ukraine is a subject they can make changes on, they’re going to make an effort.  But what I’ve detected in the year that I’ve been in this job is that increasingly the Kremlin has realized that they are not having much success in Europe, that they are not able to change government opinion and popular opinion about the Ukraine war, and they are trying to direct their efforts to the rest of the world, first in Latin America, where we uncovered one of their operations, and continuing elsewhere because they know they haven’t succeeded in Europe, because once people find out it’s Russian manipulation, they’re less and less likely to believe it, and more and more people accept that this war was Putin’s war, his decision, his unjustified invasion.

And all that’s happening here is Ukraine is trying to defend itself and European countries are helping them.  That premise has not been adjusted in any significant way by all of Russia’s disinformation and information warfare.  And so increasingly, they’re probably going to try to direct their efforts elsewhere.  For example, the RT was shut down.  A lot of the diplomats have left their posts throughout Europe as a result of their use of – misuse of diplomatic immunities and activities.  And so those efforts are now, we believe, going to try to move their efforts to other parts of the world because they’re not being successful.

Does that mean they’ll stop in Europe?  No.  And that’s the hard part here.  We have to use the tools we have now to fight Russian and Chinese disinformation, and we also have to build the new tools that I’m describing to you.  It would be nice if we already had this framework agreed by all of European countries, not just Germany and not just Bulgaria and Moldova signing this – MOUs with us.  But we’re going to work our way through all the European countries and hopefully by next year, if we do an event like this, this coalition will be much stronger and much more robust, and we will be acting with one operational picture so that we can all understand what’s going on quickly, identify Russians’ and Chinese hidden hand, and take some action against it.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  Do you have time to take one more question, or –

MR RUBIN:  Absolutely.

MODERATOR:  Great, thanks.  This next one – this last one, I think, we – is from Igor Tabak.  Igor asks – he’s asking you to comment about NATO/EU member states that try and follow Viktor Orban’s illiberal democracy approach and actively limit or work their domestic information space in one way or the other.

MR RUBIN:  Well, you’re talking – I think he’s asking about government control of their media.

MODERATOR:  Yes, sir.

MR RUBIN:  And we’ve seen this play out, obviously, in Poland, where the new government is trying to make changes because they’re concerned about what happened previously in terms of free and open media environment.  All I can really say about this is that despite all the vulnerabilities it creates to these disinformation operations I’ve been talking about, despite all the vulnerabilities it creates internally to have societies debate matters, to create ruptures, to have vigorous disagreements, it’s still better to have a free and open information environment.  And manipulating that environment by government action is something the United States does not believe in, does not agree with, and thinks that democracies will be healthier and stronger over the long term if issues are debated based on facts, and policies are chosen through democratic and representative governments allowing freedom of the press, allowing freedom of expression, even though it does create a vulnerability that we’ve been talking about.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  Unfortunately, that is all the time we have for today.  Thank you all for your questions, and thank you especially to the special envoy, Mr. James Rubin, for joining us.

MR RUBIN:  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Shortly we will send an audio recording of the briefing to all participating journalists, and provide a transcript as soon as it is available.  We’d also love to hear your feedback.  You can always contact us at  Thanks again for your participation and we hope, of course, that you can join us again for another press briefing in the future.  This ends today’s briefing.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future