West must focus on countering Russian disinformation



The president of Bulgaria is the latest figure to warn that Russia is trying to divide and weaken Europe, the BBC reports:

Rosen Plevneliev warned of Russian influence in his country and across the continent and said Europe needed to take a stronger line. Elections to pick a new president take place in the country on Sunday, with a run-off a week later if no candidate wins an outright victory. Europe has not returned to the Cold War, the Bulgarian president believes, but instead is involved in a new “dangerous and unpredictable” confrontation which he calls “Cold Peacetime”.

“The game in Europe today is not to have a full-scale war and to shoot against your enemy, but the game of Mr Putin is to make other countries dependent,” he said. “What today Russia is trying to achieve is to weaken Europe, to divide Europe and to make us dependent.”

Western intelligence and law enforcement say tens of thousands of people have been working with Russia on its hacking and disinformation campaign for many years, Kurt Eichenwald writes for Newsweek:

They include propagandists and cyberoperatives stationed in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk, located in the southwestern part of Siberia. Operations have also been conducted in the United States, primarily out of New York City, Washington, D.C., and Miami. Those involved include a large number of Russian émigrés, as well as Americans and other foreign nationals. Intelligence operations in Europe and the U.S. have determined that the money these émigrés receive for their work is disguised as payments from a Russian pension system. One U.S. official says there is evidence many of these Americans and foreign nationals do not know they are part of Russia’s propaganda operation.

beaconIt’s time for the West to focus on the Kremlin’s threatening behavior, argues Jeffrey Gedmin, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and Georgetown University, who recently attended in Prague a conference of the Beacon Project, an International Republican Institute (IRI) initiative aimed at understanding and countering Russian propaganda and disinformation.

“The West has lagged behind in building coalitions and developing methodologies to fight these new threats,” says Miriam Lexmann, the Project’s director and head of IRI’s office in Brussels.

We need resources, Gedmin writes for The American Interest:

Stanislav Lunev, the Russian military intelligence officer who defected in 1991, claimed that during the period of the Vietnam War alone the Soviet Union spent roughly $1 billion on propaganda and disinformation. RFE/RL’s budget today, stretched to support television, radio, web, and social media in 28 languages, is roughly $100 million. East Stratcom, the new EU unit which has identified and publicized 2,500 Russia-planted fake stories over the past year, may soon be upgraded to a paltry budget of €1 million.

We also need to recall larger lessons from the Cold War. Our efforts in the information space must be part of a coherent and assertive foreign policy to be successful.

Russia’s strategy has been characterized as “hybrid warfare,” but historian Angus E. Goldberg contends in Small Wars Journal that a better term is the Russian word “bespredel,” which means “absence of limits,” or “anything goes,” The Washington Post’s David Ignatius adds:

Moscow’s new weapons range across the spectrum of hard and soft power, overt and covert. “What binds them together as a coherent system is the willingness of the Russian Federation to implement them without any constraints,” writes Goldberg.

sestanovich%20hi_resPutin himself displays an unusual combination of personal traits. “He can be emotional, headstrong, even impulsive,” argues Stephen Sestanovich [a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy], a Russia expert at Columbia University. But Putin is also calculating. “The Russians have a saying: Measure seven times, cut once. He’s that kind of careful guy.”

“In the history of the Cold War, they never did anything remotely like the intervention in Syria,” notes Sestanovich. Moscow calculates that “the risk of dangerous payback is less than it used to be.”

No one is saying that Vladimir Putin’s Russia poses precisely the same kind of global threat we faced with the Soviet Union, adds Gedmin, a senior advisor with Blue Star Strategies:

He’s also a new kind of dictator, an enemy arguably harder to rally against, as this Kremlin no longer presides over an ideologically defined, totalitarian state. Today’s authoritarianism is in many ways shrewder. State capitalism, kleptocracy, and pseudo-pluralism are often the order of the day. But the threats posed by today’s dictators demand a determined response. They view our problems as their opportunities, and there’s no end to the poison they can rub into our wounds.

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