West needs strategy to combat Russia’s active measures


The Kremlin is actively promoting a campaign to undermine Western democracies, a former British ambassador to the US has warned.

“What we do know is that the Russians are engaged in information warfare against the US and the UK and a lot of Western democracies,” Sir Peter Westmacott told the BBC’s Today program.

The aggressive actions of the Kremlin are unprecedented in the modern era, according to an Open Letter of European security experts to Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy.Yet, “despite the seriousness of this threat,.. …. Mogherini has spent the last two years trying to avoid naming Russia as the main creator of hostile disinformation,” they add. “We as European security experts have seen her constantly appease the Russian aggression:”

When European leaders called for an EU action against “ongoing Russian disinformation campaigns” in March 2015, they really meant it. If she keeps avoiding naming the Russian Federation and its proxies as the main source of hostile disinformation operations, she is systematically neglecting a clear threat perceived by many EU Member States that she represents. Moreover, the only real EU response to this threat—an eleven-man EEAS East STRATCOM Team (paid mainly by member states, not by the EU institution that barely tolerates it)—is absurdly understaffed….The right thing to do would be to triple capacity of the EEAS East STRATCOM Team and give it a budget in single millions EUR, so it can start fulfilling its mandate.

Online surveillance in what is now the Russian Federation is basically as old as the internet, notes analyst Nathalie Maréchal:

The System of Operative-Investigative Measures, or SORM, was first implemented in 1995, requiring telecommunications operators to install hardware provided by the FSB (the KGB’s successor agency) to monitor users’ communications metadata and content—including phone calls, email traffic, and web browsing activity, despite the low internet penetration rate at the time. In 2012 SORM was expanded to include social media platforms, though very little is known about how this works in practice.

“There’s a broad trans-Atlantic agreement that we need to take the threat of information warfare seriously, and various actors (including the European CommissionFacebook, and Google) are launching stopgap measures in advance of the upcoming French and German elections,” Maréchal writes for Slate. “But no coherent strategy has emerged yet. Policymakers need to understand the totality of Russian information policy to successfully defend against it.”

The phrase ‘information warfare’ fails to capture the full weight and meaning of the Kremlin’s active measures – and the role of the FSB, says analyst Brad D. Williams:

In their book, The New Nobility, Russian journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogin document the KGB’s decline immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union and its rise again as the Federal Security Service (FSB), an organization they argue is more powerful today than the Soviet-era KGB ever was.

The Kremlin’s aggressive “propaganda war” must be countered, among other ways by the development of quality independent media in the Russian language that would provide objective information to Russians both inside and outside the country, says Vladimir Kara-Murza, vice chairman of Open Russia, a Russian pro-democracy movement.

In 2015, while holding the rotating EU presidency, the government of Latvia put forward a proposal to establish a Europe-wide Russian-language television channel, but the idea did not win backing from other EU states. Meanwhile, the Kremlin continues to pump substantial resources into RT, its English-language broadcasting outlet that is widely available (if not widely watched) in Europe and North America, he writes for World Affairs.

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