Russia’s info warfare stoking tensions, sowing discord – not advancing coherent ideology


Credit: CNA

Russia has recently been accused of stoking tensions in the Balkans by waging ‘information warfare’ in the region, notes Jarosław Wiśniewski. Even if these allegations are true, the West should avoid responding in kind. Rather than engaging in the same tactics, the carrot of European integration should be used to exert greater influence, he contends:

In the end, what is needed, as Milan Nic eloquently argues, is greater attention from the EU. The carrot of EU integration is still the most tempting of those available, especially since all Russia can offer is maintenance of the status quo. The recent tour of the region by the EU’s High Representative, Federica Mogherini, sent a clear signal that ‘the doors of the EU are open’. What the region needs though is less shuttle diplomacy and more actual involvement, with a clear path toward EU integration.

The Kremlin’s hybrid warfare is not designed to advance a coherent political or ideological agenda, but to sow chaos and disruption, reports suggest.

In a declassified report released this year, U.S. spy agencies described destabilization as one of Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s objectives, the Washington Post reports.

“The Kremlin sought to advance its longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order,” it said.

James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, offered a similar assessment in Senate testimony last week, noting that Moscow consider its electoral interference with a great deal of satisfaction.

“The Russians have to be celebrating the success of . . . what they set out do with rather minimal resource expenditure,” Clapper said. “The first objective was to sow discord and dissension, which they certainly did.”

Russian officials are convinced that Moscow is locked in an ongoing, existential struggle with internal and external forces that are seeking to challenge its security in the information realm, according to a recent report. The internet, and the free flow of information it engenders, is viewed as both a threat and an opportunity in this regard, say analysts Michael Connell and Sarah Vogler:

  • Russian military theorists generally do not use the terms cyber or cyberwarfare. Instead, they conceptualize cyber operations within the broader framework of information warfare, a holistic concept that includes computer network operations, electronic warfare, psychological operations, and information operations.
  • In keeping with traditional Soviet notions of battling constant threats from abroad and within, Moscow perceives the struggle within “information space” to be more or less constant and unending. This suggests that the Kremlin will have a relatively low bar for employing cyber in ways that U.S. decision makers are likely to view as offensive and escalatory in nature.

Russia’s interference in Western democracies’ elections should surprise no one, given President Vladimir Putin’s (mis)understanding of soft power, notes Harvard University’s Joseph S. Nye, Jr., a former US assistant secretary of defense and chairman of the US National Intelligence Council.

Before his re-election in 2012, Putin told a Moscow newspaper that “soft power is a complex of tools and methods to achieve foreign policy goals without the use of force, through information and other means of influence.” He writes:

From the Kremlin’s perspective, color revolutions in neighboring countries and the Arab Spring uprisings were examples of the United States using soft power as a new form of hybrid warfare. The concept of soft power was incorporated into Russia’s 2013 Foreign Policy Concept, and in March 2016, Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov stated that responding to such foreign threats “using conventional troops is impossible; they can be counteracted only with the same hybrid methods.”

As some analysts point out, the best response to a “fire hose of falsehoods” is not to try to answer each lie, but to forewarn and inoculate against the process, Nye observes.

Russia’s political warfare is also designed to bolster the case that Putin makes against Western democracies and against democracy assistance.

“It plays into the idea that we are as corrupt as anybody else, that what the United States is exporting isn’t something you want,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official.

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