Russia’s information warfare: propaganda is not soft power


Russia’s use of information warfare to defeat its adversaries has a long history. However, whereas previously information warfare was an adjunct to Russian statecraft, today it is the Putin regime’s governing modus operandi, according to a new report.

It is difficult to overestimate the centrality and ubiquity of information warfare in the current conduct of Russian statecraft, analyst Deborah Yarsike Ball writes in “Protecting Falsehoods With a Bodyguard of Lies: Putin’s Use of Information Warfare”:

As Putin aggressively pursues Russia’s geopolitical revival, his reliance on information warfare will only increase, as he moves from success to success. While Western policymakers have come to a belated recognition of the challenge posed by Russian information warfare, the sheer scope and ambition animating its employment is insufficiently appreciated. Nor has there been even the beginnings of a coherent, unified response from Western capitals. Unless current trends are reversed, Putin is well on his way to at least partly reversing the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” and riding this achievement to enduring domestic popularity and the resultant regime legitimacy it will afford.

The Kremlin’s recent acknowledgement of Russia’s information warfare capability indicates its strategic importance and impracticability of maintaining plausible-deniability policy, according to IHS Jane’s Country Risk Daily Report.

The vectors of Russia’s attacks on the West overlap: force plus propaganda equals intimidation, notes The Economist’s Edward Lucas:

Russia’s use of the information vector is far more effective than the Soviet approach during the cold war. The internet has brought anonymity, immediacy and ubiquity. You can send an e-mail from an invented address, and create a convincing-looking website. If you take some sensible precautions, nobody will know who you are. The material you send will be accessible to everyone in the world within seconds.

“Russia is not a rich country. But it deploys money effectively, in both clandestine and open ways,” he writes for the Center for European Policy Analysis. “It buys politicians, political parties, media outlets, and high-profile social assets such as sports clubs; it donates to influence-mongers such as think-tanks and universities. It builds bridgeheads through trade and investment. The information vector acts as a force-multiplier.”

Soft power v propaganda

Russia’s new information warfare is more powerful and effective than Soviet propaganda. notes Roman Dobrokhotov (left), a Moscow-based civil activist and editor-in-chief of The Insider.

“But no matter how inventive Moscow is in using new technologies for information warfare, it still has the same vulnerability which led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union – propaganda is useless if it is not backed with soft power, or the power of being a model nation,” he contends. “Hackers and trolls might help you discredit the opponent, but they cannot create a positive image of your country, when it is a poor, unfree state with rampant corruption, backward education and a weak healthcare system.”

Civil society groups are also pushing back against the Kremlin’s fake news, The New York Times adds:

What appears to be a nightly newscast is about to begin, only with a very Ukrainian twist: Everything is a lie, from start to finish. “Welcome to ‘StopFake,’ the place where we set the record straight on fakes about Ukraine,” the anchor, Margo Gontar, intones.

In other parts of the world, viewers might suspect the evening news is just a bunch of lies, but watching the weekly broadcast of “StopFake News,” they can be certain of it. The group is highly respected in journalistic circles here in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, for its specialty of debunking fake news. … The journalism department at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy oversees the program and provides the basement television studio where, once a week, all the lies are gathered in one place.


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