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FILE PHOTO: Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu watches honor guards passing by during a wreath-laying ceremony to mark the 71st anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin walls in Moscow, Russia May 9, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's military has created a force tasked with waging information warfare, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Wednesday, in a move likely to heighten the West's concerns about what it sees as Moscow-sponsored "fake news".
Russian military planners, like their counterparts elsewhere, see the spreading of propaganda as a crucial part of modern warfare.
Moscow's activities in this area are under intense scrutiny after U.S. intelligence agencies accused the Kremlin of mounting an "influence operation" to help Donald Trump win the U.S. presidential election last November.
European intelligence agencies have also said Moscow is seeking to destabilise governments and influence elections in Europe with cyber attacks and fake news. Moscow has denied interfering in other countries' elections.
In an address to the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, Shoigu said the new troops tasked with information warfare are more potent and effective than those used in the past.
"Propaganda must be smart, competent and effective," the TASS news agency quoted Shoigu as saying. It did not specify when the troops were created.
Vladimir Shamanov, the head of the State Duma defence committee, was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying that the information operations troops have been "mainly created for the protection of the interests of national defence and for counter-activities in the information sphere".
"Essentially the information conflict is a component of general conflict. Deriving from that, Russia has made an effort to form structures that are engaged in this matter," he said.
Last week, General Petr Pavel, a Czech who heads NATO's military committee, said that Russia was behind a false report of a rape by German soldiers in Lithuania, warning that Europe should expect more such "fake news".
Estonia's Foreign Minister Sven Mikser said he also expected more "hostile propaganda" from Russia due to its anger over the buildup of NATO forces in the Baltic republics near to its western borders.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Christian Lowe and Gareth Jones)