Hybrid warfare: ‘squelching Internet freedom’


Russia has breathed new life into the concept of war by other means. Using an increasingly diverse array of tactics, conventional and otherwise, the country has deftly wielded its political sway in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, according to a new STRATFOR analysis. But its reach extends well beyond its traditional sphere of influence to countries such as the United States, France and Germany. Moscow’s dealings with these powers have showcased its hybrid warfare strategy, combining various techniques to try to create political chaos and undermine the leading members of the Transatlantic alliance.

“So far, the middling results of Russia’s bids to influence politics in the West haven’t discouraged the country,” STRATFOR’s Senior Eurasia Analyst Eugene Chausovsky notes (above). “The possible gains of extending its hybrid warfare strategy to Western powers outweigh the risks. And what its interferences have failed to achieve in policy, Moscow has tried to make up for in political upheaval.”

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As a declining power, Russia is seeking to gain relative strength on the world stage by weakening other states through cheap, asymmetric tools, notes the Alliance for Securing Democracy:

Using a combination of both overt and covert means, Russia is — at this moment — working to influence democracies around the world. …One of the greatest strengths of the United States and other western nations is their democracy….and Russia is seeking to exploit this system by sowing chaos through disinformation, cyber-attacks on political figures and institutions, assaults on the voting process, targeting of critical infrastructure, support for extremist parties and fringe views, and state economic coercion.

As tension between Russia and the West has mounted in recent years, Moscow has increasingly turned to hybrid warfare to gain and hold ground in their contest for power and clout, according to another STRATFOR analysis:

The nations along Europe’s periphery — the Baltics, the Balkans and Central and Southern Europe — are acutely aware of this reality. At the fringes of the Continental core, these states are ripe for manipulation as Russia seeks to prevent the expansion of, and sow discord within, the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — particularly over issues such as sanctions and military buildups…. Troops are not the only tool in Moscow’s arsenal, though. And some tactics of hybrid warfare, including political manipulation, punitive energy and economic measures, cyberattacks, subversion and propaganda and disinformation campaigns, pose a particular threat to the countries on Europe’s edges.

China’s Great Firewall [the subject of a recent report – left], a massive system of Internet filters and blocking, has long had a crack in it, The Washington Post notes:

China has been heading toward restricting them for some time, but now it is cracking down in earnest with a new cybersecurity law that carries criminal penalties. According to a BBC report, Apple informed more than 60 VPNs that they were being removed from the App Store in China on grounds that they were not licensed, although some others remain. ….Likewise, a Chinese company that operates Amazon’s cloud-computing business in China has sent a notice reminding customers to comply with local laws and cease using software such as VPNs that could pierce the Great Firewall. (Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.) Apple, Amazon and other Western technology pioneers can have a positive influence on China, but the laws they obey can also become tools of censorship.

China’s ruling Communist party has sought to assert the regime’s soft power by influencing foreign journalists and media outlets, international internet governance forums, and Hollywood productions, according to a report from the Center for International Media Assistance at the National Endowment for Democracy, “Beyond the Great Firewall: How China Became a Global Information Power.”

The first to analyze all three of these spheres of influence in tandem, Shanthi Kalathil, Director of the NED’s International Forum for Democratic Studies, argues that they signify a long-term vision for expanding Chinese soft power.

In late July, Russian President Vladimir Putin tightened restrictions on internet usage in Russia by signing amendments to an existing law the Kremlin claims are necessary to stop the spread of illegal content online, writes CEPA’s Donald N. Jensen:

The new changes give the government authority to block websites that offer internet proxy services (virtual private networks, or VPNs), which Russians frequently use to access blocked content by routing connections through servers abroad. Russia’s internet watchdog, Roskomnadzor, has been giving the nation’s internet service providers (ISPs) lists of banned websites to block. Even when ISPs heed the request, however, customers can circumvent blacklists by using VPN services or specialized software like the Tor browser to route their internet traffic out of Russia, effectively bypassing the regional firewall.

NB job vacancy: Disinformation Senior Program Manager: Governance, National Democratic Institute, Washington, D.C.

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