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As NATO warns of rising numbers of Russia's hybrid acts and EU sanctions pro-Kremlin websites, two out of four Visegrad countries seem to be loosening their caution towards foreign threats, creating more space for them in the process.

By Rudolf Berkes, Political Capital, Natália Silenská,, Aneta Zachová,, Krzysztof Ryncarz,

Two weeks shy from the EU elections, the EU has imposed sanctions on the pro-Russian news website Voice of Europe and two businessmen connected to it, extending penalties imposed by the Czech Republic.

According to Prague, the platform served as a tool of Russian influence operation aimed at undermining the territorial integrity, sovereignty and freedom of Ukraine, as well as influencing June’s EU parliamentary election.

Simultaneously, NATO reported that European intelligence services have uncovered a series of activities labelled as Russian espionage, and expressed “deep concern about Russia's hybrid acts, which pose a threat to allied security”.

Since last autumn, rising hybrid threats, as well as cautiousness in bilateral relations with Russia and China, have been addressed more strongly by the Czech Republic and Poland, while significantly less so in Slovakia and Hungary. This even led some to believe the Visegrad four is rather turning into Visegrad 2 + 2.

How do politicians from the Visegrad Group countries view hybrid threats in their respective countries?


After the latest parliamentary elections in October, Slovakia has significantly changed its foreign policy, mainly in its relations with Russia. While the previous governments reacted to the aggression of Kremlin by severing their ties with it as much as possible, Robert Fico’s cabinet chose the opposite direction, ceasing military aid to Ukraine and slowly re-opening itself to cooperation with Moscow.

Besides renewing it in areas such as culture, it does not shy away from setting up a meeting with Kremlin chief diplomat Sergei Lavrov, or inviting the Russian ambassador to the parliament to discuss possible future cooperation on cybersecurity.

Hybrid threats from Russia and China have been recognised by the Slovak Intelligence Services (SIS) for many years. Slovak citizens also score as one of the most susceptible to conspiracy theories and disinformation in the EU.

Back in November, the Interior Ministry told EURACTIV Slovakia it considers hybrid threats to be a “serious risk to the security of citizens” and that it plans to focus on strengthening the state’s resilience against them, adding that it does not plan to reduce personnel.

These words do not coincide with reality, as very shortly after the elections, the government ended contracts with several disinformation experts working for state institutions.

Approximately at the same time, the Culture Ministry repurposed EU funding worth €300,000, initially targeted for projects fighting disinformation and strengthening media education, into roof repairs.  

Government politicians also prefer disinformation websites over mainstream media outlets. Several of them have been labelled as “adversary media” and the government refuses to communicate with them. Due to this fact, media questions about hybrid threats were answered only by Slovak opposition parties – liberal parties Progressive Slovakia (PS) and Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), and the conservative Christian Democratic Movement (KDH).

All of them acknowledge the risks of hybrid threats from Russia. “The Russian propaganda machine has assessed our country as particularly vulnerable, and the volume of resources and intensity of activity corresponds to this,” MP Tomáš Valašek (PS) told EURACTIV Slovakia.

Valášek, the former Slovak ambassador to NATO, says that “while Russia’s agenda is to undermine democracy in Slovakia and the region and to weaken EU and NATO unity”, China's agenda appears to be “more limited”.

“Slovakia is not a very important actor in these issues, which is why China's activities on our territory appear to be smaller compared to Russia's,” he pointed out.

However, MP Juraj Krúpa (SaS) thinks that there currently is an ambition to create space for Chinese influence in Slovakia as well, based on the acts of the current government. Its foreign policy is based on the premise that Bratislava has to lead it towards “all four cardinal points”, meaning it cannot be “strictly focused” on the EU and the US.

In regards to both domestic and foreign hybrid threats, MEP Miriam Lexmann (KDH/EPP) supports “the strengthening of cybersecurity components with a focus on protecting society and essential state functions”.

At the same time, she supports the “strengthening of the forces for combating the spread of disinformation and extremism on the Internet and their active participation in the EU structures set up for the same purpose”.

When asked what should the EU do to successfully battle the hybrid threats, Krúpa (SaS) pointed out to some steps Brussels has already taken, quoting the European Digital Media Observatory, the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act, the EU Toolbox for 5G Security and others.  

“On the other hand, all these decisions can only be considered a partial success, as challengers to our value system continue to successfully exploit social networks and are able to use hybrid threats in some parts of the EU. In this context, the situation will require the EU Commission to be given more competences in combating hybrid threats and disinformation, so that it is able to better influence social networks in favour of greater regulation,” Krúpa adds.

According to him, the Commission must also be enabled to strengthen its defence capabilities and capacities as complementary to the NATO.

Lexmann (KDH/EPP) also praised the EU legislation initiatives mentioned by Krúpa. However, KDH deems “unfortunate” that the Commission and the Council did not include algorithms of social platforms that contribute to the spread of disinformation in a list high-risk artificial intelligence.

“We therefore believe that the negative impact of these algorithms will be taken into account in the next revisions of the legislation,” Lexmann told EURACTIV Slovakia.

Valášek (PS) sees the main EU contribution in the hybrid threats-fight in regulating social networks and in sharing the lessons learned by individual Member States and relevant EU bodies.

“The Union has powerful tools at its disposal – pressure on nation states or drawing attention to specific cases. The governments of the Member States need to realise that combating hybrid threats is crucial for democracy and freedom on the continent. If these threats engulf one country, it will affect the whole bloc,” Valášek explains the domino effect.

None of the three parties deem introduction of a potential EU commissioner for disinformation to be an effective solution in battling the aforementioned issues.


Hungary has a uniquely disinformation-ridden media space, especially inside the EU, as the ruling party Fidesz takes advantage of its media dominance by using state resources, GONGOs, traditional and gray zone media to spread factually incorrect or otherwise misleading allegations and narratives about its political opponents, with virtually no external control.

Pro-government media outlets also regularly provide safe-heavens for pro-Kremlin, anti-West, and to a lesser extent pro-Beijing viewpoints, which usually reinforced Fidesz’s campaign messages. This opened the door for foreign influence operation, especially those coming from Russia and China.

The Hungarian government or state actors are mostly unable or unwilling to mount a strong defense in the information realm. Key legal frameworks, such as the Hungarian National Infocommunication Strategy or the National Security Strategy of Hungary, do not address Russian and Chinese influence and information operations as clear military or national security risks. There is also a lack of specialized state institutions to deal with foreign information threats, while the state is unable or unwilling to integrate civic anti-disinformation capabilities into its strategic communication system. Instead, they are perceived as enemies for their occasional critique of the Hungarian regime.

Rather than dealing with the malign influence of authoritarian regimes, the Hungarian government is mainly interested in combatting the – alleged and imagined – electoral interference of Western countries, primarily the United States.

The government has established the so-called Sovereignty Protection Office with the hidden intent to harass anybody accused of “serving foreign interests”, first and foremost opposition politicians, independent media outlets and civil society organisations. On the other hand, the Orbán regime has spent the last decade spreading its influence over the minority media in neighbouring countries, which is used to spread pro-Kremlin disinformation, in alignment with the interest of the Hungarian ruling party.

In this environment, the opposition parties have diverging views compared to the ruling Fidesz party, regarding the risks posed by disinformation and hybrid threats from China and Russia.

The liberal opposition party, Momentum (Renew Europe), in response to our questions, noted that in response to the acute hybrid threats experienced by Europe over the last decade, the EU has supported and coordinated Member States, prioritising counter-disinformation.

Momentum believes that “the established security functions and protocols should be operated uniformly across the Commission and the EU institutions, supported by adequate resources and professional background, not by further complicating bureaucracy.”

In addition, for effective joint action, it is essential in their view that all Member States “take ownership of the common objectives, which unfortunately is often hindered by the Hungarian government when it acts like a Trojan horse for Russia” and “is economically intertwining with China, in cooperation with the communist police state's Ministry of Public Security, to the clear detriment of the EU and Hungary”.

Momentum highlighted that it was one of their MEPs, namely Katalin Cseh, who initiated a debate in the EP about “the serious risk of the presence of Chinese police officers and Chinese reserve soldiers in Hungary”. 

Klára Dobrev, MEP, and leading politician of the social-democrat Democratic Coalition (DK, S&D) party sees the need to “build a common European intelligence agency, which would have a major role to play in detecting and taking joint action against disinformation” and a “Commissioner responsible for implementing these measures”.

According to her assessment, “it is becoming increasingly difficult to counter hybrid threats on the level of Member States, while some – I am sad to say that Hungary is one of them – are specifically promoting disinformation”.

Left-wing MEP, István Ujhelyi (Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, S&D) is sceptical about whether the establishment of a distinct EU Commissioner would be the “most appropriate solution” to countering malign influence operation, however, he thinks that “it is undoubtedly worth considering whether institutional or personnel changes are needed to substantially strengthen the European Union's internal security”.

In addition, Ujhelyi highlighted in his response to our questions that “the European Union must have the right tools and protocols to be able to counter any influence attempts or threats, whether they come from any direction, allied or otherwise” not limiting the scope only to Russian and Chinese hybrid threats.

“It is also a fact that the Orbán-Rogan propaganda factory is not only brainwashing Hungary with disinformation, but they are also succeeding in many member or candidate countries,” he pointed out.

Márton Gyöngyösi, MEP, and leader of the right-wing Jobbik (NI) party have also said previously that “Europe is at war with Russia” and “Russia has been seeking to interfere in the affairs of Europe” via disinformation and by “investing heavily into various parties on the extreme left and extreme right of the political spectrum to destabilise Europe”.

In his view, the “extent and efficiency with which Russia relies on proxies, like Orbán’s regime in Hungary, represents a “frightening development”: “The Orbán government not only disseminates Putin’s propaganda and blocks common European initiatives but also interferes in various European elections to promote the illiberal cause – as has happened in France, Slovakia, Poland and Slovenia, as well as in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia.”

Similarly to other opposition parties, the leader of Jobbik also highlighted the need to take this issue seriously.


Czechia considers hybrid threats to be serious, especially the activities of Russian agents and cyber-attacks by Russian actors.

According to Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala (ODS), Russian President Vladimir Putin is waging a hybrid war against Czechia, which is manifested not only in the field of cyber-attacks targeting Czech public institutions but also physically – as Czech authorities recently informed, Russian agents caused the explosion of ammunition depots on Czech territory in 2014.

Some Czech political parties also draw attention to hybrid threats ahead of the European elections.

“Yes, hybrid threats are present both in the EU and in Europe as a whole. They are information, influence and other operations. We can look, for example, at the recent disclosure of Russian funding of talks with some politicians, money for AfD politician (Petr) Bystroň. But it is also about the spreading of Russian propaganda, whether on social networks such as Facebook or Telegram or, for example, through websites,” the Starostové (STAN) party told

“Hybrid threats have been around for a long time, unfortunately. And their intensity is growing,” said Luděk Niedermayer, MEP and candidate for the centre-right coalition SPOLU.

In terms of solutions, Niedermayer sees hybrid threats in the broader context of security. In his view, there is a need to support independent media and ensure greater accountability of online platforms. The fight against hybrid threats should also be reflected in foreign police, according to Niedermayer.

STAN points out that the EU has relatively limited powers in the area of security. “We can, of course, provide synergies,” STAN said when asked by the editorial board, and elaborated further:

“The EU could improve the regulations on the transfer of information and cooperation of the various intelligence agencies within the Union, demand from the member states, for example, a thorough enforcement of sanctions, which will reduce the budget that the Russian state will be able to work with and thus spend fewer resources on spreading propaganda and bribing politicians.”

However, political parties are sceptical about establishing a new European Commissioner for disinformation.

“I think the new commission must be stronger in the area of the aforementioned broader security, where this issue falls. But it makes more sense to me to interface all threats in one place, not to split them into different portfolios,” Niedermayer said.

STAN would disagree with the establishment of this role as well. In their view, such a commissioner would not have any directorate-general.

„Besides, those practices that prove best for countering misinformation (such as education or strategic communication) are in the hands of member states. We consider it unnecessary to create another, highly specialised position for this reason,” the party added.

The other political parties did not answer the questions about hybrid threats that Euractiv Czechia had sent them. In general, however, the Czech Pirate Party, a member of the current Czech government, warn against them.

On the contrary, the opposition party ANO and Freedom and Direct Democracy do not stress the topic of disinformation and hybrid threats.


Disinformation threats in Poland mostly concern Russia, with a lot of fake news emerging, particularly related to the war in Ukraine.

During the rules of the Law and Justice (PiS, ECR) party, which lost power last December, the public media faced accusations of spreading disinformation, especially regarding the opposition or the EU that the government used to be in harsh relations with.

The new cabinet, established in late 2023, has passed the changes in the public media that resulted in them being much less critical of the European Union. The question of Russian disinformation, though, still has not been resolved.

The current Polish government recognises the threat posed by the Russian disinformation. Consequently, the Ministry of Digital Affairs, together with the National Research Institute (NASK) has announced actions aimed at combating it.

“We need a new approach to fighting disinformation. We want to be a leader in this area,” said Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Digitisation Krzysztof Gawkowski.

Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski mentioned disinformation in his recent foreign policy parliamentary speech.

“We will put an end to impunity for Russian disinformation spreaders. (...) We will not allow the Kremlin to manipulate our internal affairs or EU debates. (...) That is why we are strengthening the departments of strategic communication and combatting disinformation at the Foreign Ministry. We have launched international cooperation to counter disinformation campaigns related to the upcoming European Parliament elections,” he said. talked to PiS MEP Ryszard Czarnecki on the EU’s action targeted at disinformation activities.

“The European Parliament has established a special committee, which I participated as a coordinator on behalf of the European Conservatives and Reformists, dealing with disinformation and foreign interference in democratic processes in the EU, not only by Russia, but also China, Iran and the Arabian countries that are less discussed. On top of that interference we had the Qatargate. Thus, the problem is serious,” Czarnecki said.

“In the previous (European Parliament) term, we were the ones to demand establishing such a committee. MEP Anna Fotyga prepared a report of external interference, which became an impetus for the establishment of the committee.”

Czarnecki is critical of the proposal to appoint a new EU commissioner for disinformation, as such a portfolio would currently be too narrow.

“It is certainly not possible to have a commissioner who would deal only with this area. Maybe in case of an EU expansion to include the Western Balkan and post-Soviet states, then there would be enough work (concerning tackling disinformation).”

The MEP rather sees disinformation „to be a part of a larger portfolio.”

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