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Risks, Resilience, Response (3R): India-EU Cooperation on Russian and Chinese Disinformation and Propaganda

Executive Summary
  • India and the European Union (EU), as two of the largest democratic entities, are particularly exposed to foreign manipulation and interference in the information domain. External developments such as Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014 and border clashes on the India-China border in 2017 have pushed the EU and India to pay more attention to foreign disinformation efforts and invest more in institutional, legal, and educational resilience to counter these challenges. As a consequence, while the EU regards Russia as a major source of disinformation, India focuses exclusively on Chinese activities.
  • Despite a growing awareness of a new major threat in the information domain, there is a lack of common understanding between the EU and India about what constitutes “disinformation” and a limited dialogue and cooperation on this issue. This creates space for more EU-India information and intelligence-sharing, exchange of best practices, and discussions about the nature of disinformation and effective countermeasures at both the official and expert levels.
  • This research project, implemented in 2023 by the Polish Institute of International Affairs and the Observer Research Foundation and funded by the European Union, aims at an examination and comparison of the approaches of the EU and India to disinformation from two key actors, Russia and China, in order to propose ideas for closer cooperation in this domain. The project team proposes a set of recommendations for the EU and India, including:
  • Launching an EU-India special dialogue on disinformation within the EU-India Cyber Dialogue mechanism or the EU-India Trade and Technology Council;
  • Inviting India to cooperate with the EU’s Rapid Alert System (RAS) on disinformation to allow for regular exchange of information on foreign influence operations;
  • Strengthening the resilience of their respective societies to foreign information manipulation by supporting cooperation and dialogue on disinformation between European and Indian civil society, experts, academics, and journalists;
  • Engaging in shaping global regulations on disinformation, also by drawing some lessons from the European Digital Services Act;
  • The EU can establish a new special StratCom unit at the European External Action Service (EEAS) to better monitor disinformation threats in India and its region;
  • Supporting the creation of a Centre for Excellence for Countering Disinformation and Hybrid Threats in New Delhi (like the CoE in Helsinki) or a special EU-India Disinfo Lab platform as an academic hub for research and collaboration between Indian and European experts;
  • Extending the mandate of EUvsDisInfo to monitor disinformation threats to the EU coming from China;
  • Supporting the Indian government in developing an official body for monitoring and countering disinformation, and in raising social awareness and resilience to disinformation;
  • Preparing a public information campaign for the EU and India ahead of the spring 2024 election campaigns to raise awareness about disinformation and foreign interference in democratic processes and to boost the resilience of European and Indian societies.
  • Supporting further research and analysis on Russian and Chinese disinformation operations in India

    In an increasingly competitive, unstable, and interconnected international setting, the use of disinformation and propaganda as a tool of foreign policy to influence domestic politics and foreign policy choices in other states has been on the rise. These threats are especially acute in democratic, open, and pluralistic societies like India and European Union Member States. As the parliaments of both India and the EU are conducting elections in 2024, the risk of foreign interference in this democratic process is an impending challenge; therefore, engaging this phenomenon to counter it is an urgent necessity for both entities.

    Yet, there is limited experience and literature on EU-India cooperation in this area. While expansion of the EU-India strategic partnership has attracted attention, there has been no comprehensive comparative study of the European and Indian understanding of the nature and approaches to disinformation threats.

    This report is a result of a research project meant to help fill this gap. It was implemented by two teams of experts, one from Europe (Polish Institute of International Affairs, PISM) and the other from India (Observer Research Foundation, ORF), within the framework of the EU-India Think Tanks Twinning Initiative 2022-2023. It is based on an extensive literature review on the subject, desk research, and interviews with key stakeholders and practitioners on disinformation in the EU and India. The main findings of the project were discussed and evaluated at a closed-door webinar with experts in November 2023. It helped to refine and sharpen the final conclusions and recommendations. The project focused on disinformation threats in Europe and India from two major external sources: Russia and China. It was designed to address six research questions:

    • How is disinformation and propaganda understood in India and the EU?
    • What are the EU’s experiences with Russian and Chinese disinformation?
    • How does the EU deal with and minimise the risks of foreign information manipulation and interference (FIMI) campaigns from Russia and China?
    • How serious and well-recognised are Russian and Chinese information interference threats in India?
    • What are the strengths and gaps in Indian preparedness and the tools to deal with foreign disinformation?
    • Are the current EU-India cooperation mechanisms to counter disinformation sufficient to deal with foreign interference and how can they be improved?

    In the following sections, we analyse the phenomenon of disinformation in India and the European Union to identify the gaps and vulnerabilities as well as the preparedness of the Indian and European structures dealing with this challenge. We also look at the prospects of India-EU cooperation in this area and suggest recommendations on how to move forward.

    1.1 Note on Terminology

    The first methodological challenge of the project was the lack of universally accepted definitions of “disinformation” and “propaganda”. As politically sensitive terms, it is not always clear what “disinformation” consists of and who are the main culprits or victims of such activities. What some call “disinformation” or “propaganda” can be “information” and “public diplomacy” for others. This dichotomy is highly relevant to the current study, as there is no mutually agreed definition of “disinformation” in use by the EU and India.

    The EU proposes to understand disinformation as “verifiably false or misleading information that is created, presented, and disseminated for economic gain or to intentionally deceive the public, and may cause public harm”[1]. However the Union has promoted and used a broader term of Foreign Information Manipulation and Interference (FIMI), which describes “a mostly non-illegal pattern of behaviour that threatens or has the potential to negatively impact values, procedures, and political processes. Such activity is manipulative in character, conducted in an intentional and coordinated manner, by state or non-state actors, including their proxies inside and outside of their own territory”[2].

    India, on the other hand, has no official definition of “disinformation”. The closest description of it in the Indian legal system is contained in certain provisions of the Indian Penal Code, for example Section 124A, which refers to disinformation used against the workings of the government. Similarly, Section 505 deals with publishing rumours and fear-mongering. In addition, some elements in the Information Technology Act of 2000 refer to false or misleading information. Yet, thus far, no Indian government nor any other non-governmental or expert body has come up with a proposal close to that of FIMI in the EU.

    While there are clear definitions that differentiate between misinformation, disinformation, malign information, and propaganda, the conceptual proximity and the frequent use of these terms interchangeably has resulted in a kind of merger of them. The key questions are when does a misinformed opinion become propaganda and how does propaganda take the shape of disinformation? While there are no easy answers to these questions—and these are critical concerns for the countries dealing with the issue—what is clear is that such misused information exploits the vulnerability of the intended audience to push forward a desired narrative in a way that sharpens differences in society and projects public cynicism, uncertainty, distrust, and, in some cases, paranoia.

    Therefore, for the purpose of this study, we have used the basic understanding of disinformation as the spread of false or manipulated information or a narrative with the intent to influence people. It is close to the general understanding of the Indian experts and the EU’s FIMI definition in the sense that it underlines the intentional, manipulative, and harmful character of certain kinds of information spread for some other party’s benefit.

    Read the full report here.

    This report was first published in December 2023 as part of the EU-India Think-Tanks Twinning Initiative 2022-23. The original report can be accessed here:


    [1] European Commission. 2018. “Tackling online disinformation: A European Approach. COM(2018) 236 Final”.

    [2] European External Action Service (EEAS). October 2021. “Tackling Disinformation, Foreign Information Manipulation and Interference. Stratcom Activity Report”.

    The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


    Patryk Kugiel

    Patryk Kugiel

    Patryk Kugiel Senior Researcher The Polish Institute of International Affairs

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    Ankita Dutta

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    Ankita Dutta was a Fellow with ORFs Strategic Studies Programme. Her research interests include European affairs and politics European Union and affairs Indian foreign policy ...

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    Agnieszka Legucka

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    Agnieszka Legucka is an Analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, specialising in Russia. ...

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    Kalpit A Mankikar

    Kalpit A Mankikar

    Kalpit A Mankikar is a Fellow with Strategic Studies programme and is based out of ORFs Delhi centre. His research focusses on China specifically looking ...

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    Filip Bryjka

    Filip Bryjka

    Filip Bryjka is an Analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, specialising in international security. ...

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    Sitara Srinivas

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