Russia creates propaganda unit to wage information warfare


Russia has added information warfare troops to its military, Moscow’s defense chief said in a speech to parliament on Wednesday, The Hill reports:

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu would not describe the troops’ mission to the State Duma, but said, “Propaganda should be smart, competent and effective,” according to The Associated Press. The troops’ tasks will be to “protect the national defense interests and engage in information warfare,” Ret.Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, the head of a defense affairs committee in the Russian parliament, told Interfax.

Shoigu said the new troops tasked with information warfare are more potent and effective than those used in the past.

A unit of this type has been promised ever since the Russian armed forces faced difficulties in dominating the information landscape during the 2008 conflict with Georgia, said Keir Giles, a Russian military expert at Chatham House. But its role could extend to much more than just cyber warfare, he said.

“Some people may confuse this unit with the setting up of a cyber command unit, but that is a mismatch of definitions, since in Russia cyber is not a distinct area of warfighting,” said Giles, author of a recent report (above) on the Kremlin’s information warfare. “Under the broader Russian definition of informational confrontation, you are not limited just to computers and networks, but you are looking more generally at other types of information space as well—the media, or what is in people’s heads.”

Western Response

A fully-fledged Western response to Russian aggression should not be hard to formulate, argues John Lough, an Associate Fellow with the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House: See more at:

  • The first stage is for leading countries to audit jointly the range of threats posed by Russia and assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Russian system, including the sustainability of Moscow’s current policies.
  • The next stage is to integrate a set of symmetrical and asymmetrical responses to counter the threats posed. Among others, this will require further measures to reinforce nuclear and conventional forces, as well as diversifying energy sources, building proper cyber security defences and sensitising Western societies to the dangers of Russian disinformation. It will also be necessary to consider options for sharpening the current sanctions regime.
  • The third step is to signal to Russia that Western countries will defend their interests and will hold it accountable for its actions aimed at undermining their security, including attempts to subvert their political systems. This strategy must remain separate from efforts to reduce tensions and seek cooperation in areas where interests may coincide. While talking to Russian leaders is necessary, diplomats’ instinctive desire to ‘engage’ must not again become a substitute for policy, as it was, for example, after Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008, when Western countries thought they could quickly mend fences with Moscow and return to ‘business as usual’. 
  • Finally, Western governments must rebuild their Russia expertise and as necessary bring out of retirement specialists with knowledge of the USSR to help in the process of reading Russian capabilities and intentions. The West’s shortage of people versed in Russian statecraft is a serious deficiency. For example, there are senior officials in the British government managing Russia policy who have never served in the country and do not speak Russian.  RTWT

“It seems hard to remember now, but for many Russians 1991 was a moment of liberation for them as much as it was for those in the Soviet Union’s other 14 republics,” notes John Thornhill, a former Moscow bureau chief for the Financial Times. “The Westernising strand of Russian thought briefly flourished.”

“Democratic Russia should and will be just as natural an ally of the democratic nations of the West as the totalitarian Soviet Union was a natural opponent of the West,” the country’s first foreign minister, Andrei Kozyrev, proclaimed, he writes in a New Statesman review of Peter Conradi’s Who Lost Russia? How the World Entered a New Cold War, which traces the accumulation of distrust between the West and Russia. Perhaps it is fanciful to believe that Russia has ever been “lost” to the West, because it has never been fully “won”, Thornhill adds.

Russian Idea of Counter-Revolution

It is wrong to believe that Russia has only begun using cyber, information and hybrid war since the crisis exploded in Ukraine, argues Taras Kuzio, Senior Fellow at the University of Alberta’s Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies. The ideological roots of Russian policies can be traced to after the 2003 Georgian Rose and 2004 Orange Revolutions when Moscow launched a “technology of preventive counterrevolution,” he writes in a paper for the German Federal Academy for Security Policy. Russia viewed both revolutions as examples of Western-backed regime change and feared the West was planning to spread this soft power “technology” to Russia.

Putin’s demands for a reset of relations with the US are unlikely to succeed for three reasons, Kuzio contends:

  • The first is because Russia’s demands are far too great and therefore impossible for the US to deliver.
  • The second is that Putin’s nationalist and authoritarian regime is highly dependent upon the fanning of mass anti-Western diatribes in the Russian media whose continuation would be problematical under a reset.
  • The third is because anger – the driving force of Putin’s decade-long cyber, information and hybrid war against the West – has been successful and therefore there would be opposition from the Russian “siloviky” (security forces) to ending it.



Print Friendly, PDF & Email