On 2 March 2022, in response to framed and anti-Western narratives surrounding the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Council of the European Union legally banned two Russian state-sponsored media outlets, RT and Sputnik, within EU borders. The decision of the Council divided opinion. While the ban indeed limits the reach of these Russian ‘organs of influence’, it also infringes on fundamental human rights within the EU. It is therefore pertinent to scrutinise if the benefit of prohibiting the Kremlin’s antagonistic narration is worth the sacrifice of impeding fundamental principles of democracy. How proportional and how necessary is the ban? The current article assesses these questions from a psychological and legal perspective. It argues that while the decision to ban RT and Sputnik is legally sound, the justification for the decision would benefit from a more elaborate explanation of balancing the different (colliding) fundamental rights, not least since the disruptive effect of the RT and Sputnik narration is unsettled. Moreover, instead of a blanket ban, a less stringent and more nuanced approach could be more appropriate, affording the ability to appropriately sanction RT and Sputnik while remaining proportional and mitigating a possible backfire effect.

Keywords - Ukraine-Russian War, narratives, freedom of expression, European Union, proportionality, strategic communications, strategic communication

About the Authors: Aiden Hoyle works at the Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands; Defence, Safety & Security, TNO, The Hague; and the Faculty of War Studies, Netherlands Defence Academy, Breda.

Peter B.M.J. Pijpers works at the Amsterdam Centre of International Law (ACIL), University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, and the Faculty of War Studies, Netherlands Defence Academy, Breda.