Scourge of Russian disinformation aims to undermine democracy


Western observers were quick to treat Valery Gerasimov’s articulation of the science of war as the blueprint for a future Russian hybrid attack against the west. From the proliferation of pro-Russian news media and financial support for anti-establishment politicians in the EU, to allegations of Russian hackers targeting western political campaigns and elections, all of it led back to the so-called Gerasimov Doctrine, The Financial Times reports:

“In the 21st century we have seen a tendency towards blurring the lines between the states of war and peace. Wars are no longer declared and, having begun, proceed according to an unfamiliar template,” Mr Gerasimov argued in a 2,000-word essay in February 2013 …. “Among such actions are the use of special-operations forces and internal opposition to create a permanently operating front through the entire territory of the enemy state, as well as informational actions, devices, and means that are constantly being perfected,” he wrote.  Transcribed from a speech made three months after his appointment as chief of the general staff, this depiction of a hybrid battleground involving “political, economic, informational, humanitarian, and other non-military measures” appeared prophetic a year later. Russian soldiers in unmarked uniforms popped up in Crimea to launch what became the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula, following demonstrations against a pro-western government orchestrated by Russian agents.

The Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns, cyberwarfare and propaganda are a crucial part of an emerging arsenal of weapons which could bring former Soviet satellite states back under a greater Russian sphere of influence, says US historian Amy Knight, author of forthcoming book Orders To Kill: The Putin Regime and Political Murder.

“I don’t think they aspire to militarily control Ukraine, but it’s enough for them to try to destabilize the government there and make every effort to prevent Ukraine from joining Nato for example. I think taking over all of Ukraine would be biting off more than they can chew. But I might be wrong,” she tells The Independent.

The United States has yet to attempt to control, govern and lay claim to cyberspace, notes Samuel Sanders Visner, senior VP of cybersecurity and resilience at ICF International, and adjunct professor at Georgetown University. Our country and our government must recognize what other countries are doing online, and formulate a plan to protect our digital national interests, he writes for The Hill:

A recent column from [National Endowment for Democracy board member] Anne Applebaum noted that the U.S. is facing a world in which competitors and adversaries such as Russia, China and Iran are using disinformation to diminish America’s global influence, weaken our alliances, and undercut our national interests. Author Alexander Klimburg notes in “The Darkening Web” that other countries are using cyberspace to project power.

A majority of Germans believe their democracy is strong enough to withstand Russian meddling, and take a pragmatic approach to contentious issues including migrants and relations with Russia, according to a poll by the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Center for Insights in Survey Research.

“This survey paints a mostly positive picture of a robust democracy capable of responding to complex challenges without falling prey to external interference,” said IRI Regional Director for Europe Jan Surotchak. “Germans clearly wish to confront difficult issues in a cooperative, pragmatic manner, and while they recognize the challenges represented by Russia and the ongoing migrant issue, they appear confident in the resilience of their democracy.”

Russia’s “deliberate and systematic interference in the affairs of nations, with its stated intent to trigger a loss of faith in democratic institutions … [is] the latest manifestation of a no-holds-barred KGB (FSB) strategy that Russia adopted over a quarter-century ago to pummel Western institutions and first tried on Russian satellite countries to work out the kinks,” writes analyst Richard Levick.

Information warfare

Disinformation is a means of warfare. It is the core component of a war being waged by the Russian state against the West,” said Molly McKew of the communications consulting firm Fianna Strategies, in testimony to the Helsinki Commission hearing on The Scourge of Russian Disinformation (above).

“I think even the Kremlin is surprised at how easy it is to use social media as an amplification tool for the kind of narrative that they do,” she told VOA.

Russian disinformation is a national security threat that should be countered by objective, truthful journalism, not by alternative counter-propaganda, the hearing was told.

“Make no mistake the United States is confronted by information warfare, and I don’t use that term lightly,” said the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ CEO John F. Lansing (above). “The good work of our journalists around the world is an essential element of the national security tool kit through the export of objective, independent, and professional journalism and the universal values of free media and free speech,” he added, citing the February launch of Current Time, a 24/7 Russian-language digital network.

Active Measures

“Through its active measures campaign that includes aggressive interference in Western elections, Russia aims to sell fear, discord, and paralysis that undermines democratic institutions and weakens critical Western alliances such as NATO and the EU,” charged Republican Senator Corey Gardner. “Russia’s ultimate goal is to replace the Western-led world order of laws and institutions with an authoritarian-led order,” he told the Helsinki Commission hearing.

While it is welcome news that RT, the Kremlin’s global disinformation network, will be required to register as a foreign agent, there is a need for “an overall comprehensive review” of Russia’s disinformation efforts, said Jeffrey Gedmin, a senior fellow with the Future Europe Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

The New York Times Magazine cover story this weekend explores how Russia uses its international cable network RT, its Kremlin-run radio network Sputnik News and social media platforms to spread misinformation and enhance political agendas, CBS reports. Author and New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg joins “CBS This Morning” to discuss how the country built its powerful information machine and the role companies like Facebook need to play.

“One way of looking at the activities of Russia’s information machine is as a resumption of the propaganda fight between the United States and the U.S.S.R. that began immediately following the Second World War,” Rutenberg writes:

In 1947, Stalin formed the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform), a Belgrade-headquartered forum to coordinate messaging among European Communist parties. Cominform used Communist newspapers, pamphlets and posters to paint the Marshall Plan as an American plot to subjugate Europe. A representative Soviet poster (left) distributed in Vienna showed an American — identified by American-flag shirt cuffs — offering aid packages with one hand while plundering Austria’s gold with the other. Radio Moscow — the state-run international broadcaster — and Soviet-supported newspapers throughout Europe accused the “imperialist” United States of pursuing a plan of “dollar domination” to make the Continent dependent on American goods and services, and of conscripting local youth to fight American proxy wars elsewhere.

One of the aims of the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign is to twist the narrative of WWII. This time, weekly Russian news show Vesti Nedeli accused Poland of initiating the Second World War, notes the EU East StratCom Task Force’s disinforeview:

We’ll leave it to more reliable sources than Vesti Nedeli to set the record straight on this. But the Russian audience is constantly exposed to this parallel reality. And the results of this disinformation campaign are clearly visible for example in a Levada centre poll on the Molotov-Ribbentrop secret protocols, which reveal that 40% of Russians think it’s true, 17% think it’s false, and 44% are not aware or unsure that the protocols existed.

Click here for the FULL COLLECTION of recent stories repeating disinformation.

Calls to crack down on Russian “disinformation campaigns” have reached a fever pitch in the United States, notes Meduza. After publishing this infographic (below), Meduza received the following statement from RFE/RL.

“RFE/RL objects to the false equivalency suggested by the headline, ‘Comparing Russian and American government ‘propaganda,’’ that introduces the infographic published on September 14. The U.S.-funded international media networks are editorially independent of any government, and are transparent about the amount and sources of their funding.”

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