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Russian Information Warfare as Domestic Counterinsurgency

Authors:
  • Foreign Policy Research Institute

Abstract

Although information warfare (IW) and information operations (IO) have become ubiquitous global phenomena, not everyone views them in the same way. Whereas the United States and many other advanced powers see these new strategic capabilities as useful mainly to disrupt enemies’ physical infrastructure and military command and control, Russia, because of its historical experience and the legacy of Soviet thinking, sees IW and IO in an additional light. While not denigrating their usefulness for the aforementioned purposes, Russian thinkers see IW and IO as a new means to conduct large-scale political warfare to reshape the thinking of an entire political community. Indeed, Moscow has followed this approach in its information strategy—in the war in Chechnya after 1999 and more recently at home to suppress movements for reform. This article argues that, for Russia, information weapons and operations are a means to wage an information war whose defining feature is that they are used to wage a domestic counterinsurgency.
... Putin's overarching strategy involving IWIO is a strategy that appears to be rooted in maintaining the Leninist tradition of keeping the state locked into perpetual conflict with both his domestic population, and with democratic nations, specifically the U.S (GEC, 2020; Blank, 2013). To that end, their focus on 'informatization' of cyberspace, compared to the U.S' technical definition of it, is seen as a concept that is meant to gear them more towards disrupting an adversary's information, rather than stealing or destroying it (Blank, 2013, p. 32). ...
Article
Full-text available
Information disorder has become an increasing concern in the wake of the 2016 US presidential election. With the state of the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolving in all facets, the vaccination debate has become increasingly polarized and subjected to a form of politics based around identity markers such as nationality, ethnicity, gender, and ideology. At the forefront of this is the COVID-19 anti-vaccination movement that has gained mainstream attention, leading to conflict with pro-vaccinationists. This has paved the way for exploitation by subversive elements such as, foreign state-backed disinformation campaigns, alternative news outlets, and right-wing influencers who spread false and misleading information, or disinformation, on COVID-19 in order to promote polarization of the vaccine debate through identity politics. Disinformation spread sows confusion and disorder, leading to the erosion of social cohesion as well as the potential for real-world conflict and violence. As a result, the article below will generate further understanding of the modern-day spread of disinformation, the strategies and tactics utilized by state and non-state actors, the effects of its exposure, and the social-psychological processes involved in its spread and resonance. Furthermore, in countering this phenomenon, this article recommends a collaborative framework involving emphasis on critical media literacy skills, citizen participation, and development of counter-offensive capabilities towards state-backed information operations.
... In Western strategic thinking (especially in the USA), the information-technical level-which sees information warfare capabilities as useful primarily to disrupt a target states' physical infrastructure (with special attention to the command and control communication channels)-dominates (Molander et al., 1996;Brunetti-Lihach, 2018). While not diminishing the usefulness of information tools for the aforementioned purpose, Russia, on the other hand, gives a lot more relevance to the psychological pressure which information tools can produce (Blank, 2013). In this sense, Russian information warfare conception reinvigorates the effort to influence the thoughts and actions of the target foreign audience by means of socio-psychological manipulation (Mattsson, 2015). ...
Book
This book examines Russian influence operations globally, in Europe, and in Russia’s neighboring countries, and provides a comprehensive overview of the latest technologies and forms of strategic communication employed in hybrid warfare. Given the growing importance of comprehensive information warfare as a new and rapidly advancing type of international conflict in which knowledge is a primary target, the book examines Russia’s role in Global Knowledge Warfare. The content is divided into three parts, the first of which addresses conceptual issues such as the logic of information warfare, the role of synthetic media, and Russia’s foreign policy concepts, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on influence operations. The second part analyzes technological, legal and strategic challenges in modern hybrid warfare, while the third focuses on textual, cultural and historical patterns in information warfare, also from various regional (e.g. the Western Balkans, Romania, Ukraine, and the Baltic) perspectives. The book is primarily intended for scholars in the fields of international relations, security and the military sciences who are interested in Russian foreign policy and influence operations, but also their impact on the global security environment.
... In Western strategic thinking (especially in the USA), the information-technical level-which sees information warfare capabilities as useful primarily to disrupt a target states' physical infrastructure (with special attention to the command and control communication channels)-dominates (Molander et al., 1996;Brunetti-Lihach, 2018). While not diminishing the usefulness of information tools for the aforementioned purpose, Russia, on the other hand, gives a lot more relevance to the psychological pressure which information tools can produce (Blank, 2013). In this sense, Russian information warfare conception reinvigorates the effort to influence the thoughts and actions of the target foreign audience by means of socio-psychological manipulation (Mattsson, 2015). ...
Chapter
The collapse of the Soviet Union has been followed by a series of conflicts between the Russian Federation and its neighbours. Although some of these conflicts have been fought at the kinetic level, they were justified by Moscow through information warfare activities and supported by influence operations. This chapter, which includes an extensive survey of the literature on the topic, aims to investigate the hybrid warfare strategy carried out by the Russian Federation in its “sphere of influence” over the last three decades—the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), Ukraine (Crimea and Donbass, i.e., Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics), Georgia (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) and Moldova (Transnistria)—and to assess the effectiveness of the Russian (dis)information strategy. The essay focuses on the nationalist discourse and the pro-Russia narrative.
... In Western strategic thinking (especially in the USA), the information-technical level-which sees information warfare capabilities as useful primarily to disrupt a target states' physical infrastructure (with special attention to the command and control communication channels)-dominates (Molander et al., 1996;Brunetti-Lihach, 2018). While not diminishing the usefulness of information tools for the aforementioned purpose, Russia, on the other hand, gives a lot more relevance to the psychological pressure which information tools can produce (Blank, 2013). In this sense, Russian information warfare conception reinvigorates the effort to influence the thoughts and actions of the target foreign audience by means of socio-psychological manipulation (Mattsson, 2015). ...
Chapter
Full-text available
The cornerstone of a democracy is the right for all citizens to have a voice in public affairs. However, when the thoughts behind that voice arise from maliciously distorted information, that cornerstone begins to erode itself. From aggression in Ukraine, MH17 to BLM, Russian information warfare undermines and misuses democratic principles along with institutions globally with a deluge of disinformation aimed at dividing and conquering. Democratic institutions, from the UN Security Council to national parliaments, are utilized to spread disinformation. This paper aims to examine Russia’s misuse of democratic institutions and principles, as well as available countermeasures.
... Virallisessa sisä-ja ulkopoliittisessa tilannekuvassaan Kreml korostaa tarvetta torjua länsimaiden vihamielinen puuttuminen Venäjän sisäisiin asioihin, mikä perustuu erityisesti tulkintaan entisten sosialististen maiden 2000-luvun värivallankumouksista länsimaiden juonina (Blank 2013). Tämä tilannekuva Kremlin yleisten metanarratiivien ja useiden aihekohtaisten narratiivien perustana ei ole muuttunut voimakkaasti arabikevään, Venäjällä vuosien 2011-2012 duuman ja presidentinvaalien vaalivilppiä seuranneiden suurten mielenosoitusten tai Ukrainan vuoden 2014 vallanvaihdosten myötä. ...
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