Cyberwarfare takes a new turn: China joins Russia’s ‘geoinformational struggle’ against West



The recent “ransomware” attacks masked a greater cyber-issue: chaos and disruption on the Internet as the new normal, according to analysts Brandon Valeriano, Ryan C. Maness and Benjamin Jensen. In our forthcoming work, we classify these acts as cyber-disruptions: the use of malware and website defacements between rivals as a form of coercive bargaining. Rival states use cyber-operations to signal one another. Cyber-operations are a 21st-century form of political warfare, they write for The Washington Post:

Previous cyber-incidents focused on information acquisition, network infiltration or precision strikes to sabotage the opposition. What are we seeing now are disruptive cyber-actions — with the apparent goals of signaling capability, disrupting normal systems and demonstrating the instability of Western democratic models…. Earlier this week, in fact, the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a new effort headed by former U.S. national security officials, formed as a separate, nongovernmental program to investigate Russian cyber-meddling.

How the Kremlin has defined its strategic interests threatens Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, says a new report on Russia’s Hybrid Threat to the Baltic States. But Central and Eastern Europe is also a principal target of Russia’s active measures, a recent Atlantic Council forum heard.

Slovaks’ vulnerabilities to Russian influence on issues of security, identity and media consumption are revealed in a poll released today (above) by the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Center for Insights in Survey Research:

More than half (53 percent) of respondents think that NATO is no longer as important to European security as it once was, and say that Slovakia’s approach to security should be “rethought.” Seventy-four percent agree that Russia should be considered a “partner” in European security, and a combined 73 percent favor neutrality over choosing to ally with either NATO or Russia (27 percent “strongly agree;” 46 percent “somewhat agree”).

In addition to skepticism towards transatlantic institutions such as NATO and the belief that Russia defends “European values,” the poll suggests that Slovaks are vulnerable to Russian disinformation. Thirty-eight percent don’t believe that Russia funds alternative news sources, and attribute such a charge to “anti-Russian interests”; additionally, 38 percent “don’t care” if such sources are funded by Russia because “they tell the truth”.  Forty-five percent trust their friends and colleagues as their main source of news over mainstream news outlets, indicating a corrosion in trust for traditional news sources and an openness to unconventional sources.

“This poll paints a disturbing picture of public opinion in Slovakia on issues ranging from the weak support for key transatlantic partnerships to the lack of skepticism towards Russian disinformation,” said IRI* Regional Director for Europe Jan Surotchak. “If these trends continue, there is a real danger that Slovaks may be used as pawns in Russia’s gambit for increased influence over Europe.”

A significant number of Slovaks (41 percent) feel that Russia has taken the side of traditional European values against Islamic and other non-European cultures, the poll suggests.

“This is a weakness that Moscow can easily use to exacerbate the conservative/liberal divide on this issue,” said IRI Regional Program Director Miriam Lexmann.

Credit DIA

China is also collaborating with Russia in working against the United States around the world, according to a recent report from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). “Moscow and Beijing share a common interest in weakening U.S. global influence and are actively cooperating in that regard,” the report says.

“Russia views the information sphere as a key domain for modern military conflict,” it notes “Information warfare is a key means of achieving its ambitions of becoming a dominant player on the world stage.”

Beijing-Moscow ties are the closest in a decade, the report adds.

“In fact, the Russian National Security Strategy lists developing a strategic partnership with China as one of Russia’s most important goals,” the report said, adding that some in Russia fear that the growing power disparity between the two countries will make Moscow a “junior partner.”

China also is developing strategic information warfare capabilities as part of what one specialist calls Beijing’s “geoeconomic and geoinformational struggle” with the United States. China’s people Liberation Army has formed a new military unit – the Strategic Support Force (SSF) – for psychological warfare in the information sphere.

“The PLA’s information warfare strategy calls for its information warfare forces to form into ad hoc ‘information operations groups’ at the strategic, operational and tactical levels, and the establishment of the SSF will save time and enable better coordination and integration into joint forces,” an analyst said.

*A core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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