February 18, 2017

New Aspects of the Information Confrontation between Russia and the West

Ivan Sichen, Military and Political Expert

Lately there has been observed an active intensification of the confrontation between Russia and the West in the information (including the cyber) sphere, which is associated with Moscow's active attempts to influence the policy of the USA and the EU for the Kremlin's own advantage. The most resonant manifestations of such actions of Russia were the interference with the presidential elections in the United States, as well as with the electoral processes in a number of European countries.

All this causes a significant concern and negative reaction of Western political circles which take measures to counter the rise of Moscow's information expansion. Most active positions in this issue are those of the US Congress and the European Union and NATO's leaderships, who see Russia's actions as a direct threat to their own interests and security.

 

As part of the adoption by the US Congress of the bill on expenditures on the intelligence in 2017, a separate provision was adopted to strengthen the struggle against Russia's “covert influence” on the United StatesFor example, at the end of 2016 as part of the adoption by the US Congress of the bill on expenditures on the intelligence in 2017, a separate provision was adopted to strengthen the struggle against Russia's “covert influence” on the United States.

To this end, measures are being taken to create a special Interagency Committee with the task of coordinating US intelligence activities in this sphere (as defined by one of the main priorities of their work). The committee is planned to include representatives of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Federal Bureau of Investigation, State Department, as well as Justice Department, Treasury Department and Energy Department.

Besides, according to the decision of the US Congress, a special Commission has been created tasked to investigate Russia's attempts to influence the results of the presidential elections in the United States. The Commission has an independent status and includes representatives of both the Republican and Democratic parties of the United States. The Commission's main task is to find out the extent and forms of Moscow's actions to use cyber tools to break into the election systems and to spread misinformation.

At the same time, in January this year to the US Congress was introduced a bill on additional allocation of 100 million US dollars to expand the Interagency Office at the US State Department, which deals with countering other state's destructive propaganda. The additional funds will be spent exactly on fighting the Russian Federation's propaganda aggression.

 

Moscow has been leading a coherent information policy aimed at undermining A. Merkel's positions and destabilization of the situation in GermanyThe EU countries are taking active positions to counter Moscow's informational expansion. For example, as a result of the investigation into Russia's actions in Germany, the German intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow has been leading a coherent information policy aimed at undermining A. Merkel's positions and destabilization of the situation in Germany. Russia's similar actions have been reported on in the United Kingdom, France, Austria, Poland and several other EU countries.

Based on this, the European Union's leadership has decided to use new approaches in the information confrontation with Russia. Thus, in November 2016, the European Parliament approved a plan on the implementation of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, which includes provisions on counteracting the EU's opponents' “hybrid” wars and means of “soft power”, including in the information sphere.

Russia's use of aggressive methods and tools for carrying out hostile propaganda against Europe, equates to the level of threat from the “Islamic State”This question has been fleshed out in the Resolution of the European Parliament “On EU Strategic Communication to Counteract Propaganda Against It by Third Parties”, adopted in November last year. The document for the first time directly recognizes Russia's use of aggressive methods and tools for carrying out hostile propaganda against Europe, which equates to the level of threat from the “Islamic State”. In particular, the document states that propaganda is part of a “hybrid war” and aims to “...distort the truth, to sow doubt and hostility between the countries of the Union”.

Among the main methods of such actions of Moscow are called as follows: the spread of subversive information in the European information space, unauthorized entry into computer systems of European countries, the provision of information and financial support for the ultra, populist and pro-Russian forces in the EU, as well as presenting individual regions of Europe, as the “sphere of the Russian Federation's traditional influence”. Besides, the document points out Russia's using the contacts with European partners for propaganda purposes and to weaken the European Union's positions.

According to the document, the main organizers of Russia's information attacks on Europe are the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Federal Agency “Rossotrudnichestvo”, which use the complex of instruments, including the media, information and analysis centers and special funds. According to European experts, the greatest threat to the European Union is Russian pseudo-news agencies and multimedia services, in particular: Sputnik agency, RT (“Russia Today”) TV channel, and the “Russkiy Mir” (Russian World) Foundation.

Taking into consideration the above-mentioned circumstances, the document determines the activities to improve the counteracting Russia's information influence, including: development of a new information strategy for the EU; study of the forms and methods of Moscow's actions in the sphere of information; deepening cooperation between the European Information Security agencies; intensification of actions the European media in the regions that are most exposed to Russian propaganda; raising awareness of the European and world community on the EU's politics; support for independent media in Russia; exposing the crimes of the former communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe.

To implement these measures, it is planned to increase the capability of the “East StratCom Task Force” which was created as part of the European External Action Service (actually — Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the European Union), and is engaged in counteracting Russia's information influence. The Team will be turned into a full-fledged department with a greater number of employees working on the directions of Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and the Western Balkans. To implement these actions, on 24 January 2017, the European Commission allocated an additional 800 thousand Euros.

Besides, in December 2016 the EU and NATO agreed to deepen cooperation between the parties in the development of defense capabilities, including counteracting “hybrid” wars and strengthening the protection of cyberspace. For this purpose, it is planned to create a “European Centre for Counteracting Hybrid Threats” with a wide range of functions, including information confrontation.

A separate area of the USA, NATO and the EU's actions is strengthening of the capability of their partners to resist Russia's propaganda's expansion. In particular, it’s provided in the Comprehensive Assistance Package for Ukraine, adopted during the Warsaw summit of NATO in July 2016.

 

These actions of the USA and EU undermine Russia's ability to implement its neo-imperial policy by methods of “hybrid” wars. This becomes a critical problem for the Putin regime because it actually does not have other effective leverage over either Western countries and international organizations or Ukraine.

All this causes Moscow's extremely nervous reaction of a hysterical character. Thus, in the traditional cynical manner of distorting the facts, Russia at all levels — from the Russian leadership to some media — accuses the USA and EU of “abandoning Western democratic values”, namely: of using “Soviet methods of suppression of freedom of speech” and of “information racism”.

In this regard, it states about “non-acceptance” of such EU's positions by a number of European political parties, among which it mentions purely pro-Russian marginal parties and movements. It also argues about the alleged “...the USA and EU's misinformation campaigns about the situation around Ukraine, as well as Syria, Iraq and Libya”.

Information Security Doctrine for the Russian FederationIn these circumstances, in order to improve the effectiveness of Russia's information policy, December 5, 2016, Moscow adopted a new Information Security Doctrine for the Russian Federation. According to this document, the main goal of Russia's actions in the sphere of information is “a break through the USA and EU's information blockade” within the framework of creation of “equal interstate relations in the information space” and “creation of a secure information circulation environment”. At this, they refer to “human rights” to receive and spread information, and all this is presented in the context of accusing the West of blocking the work of the Russian media.

Besides, special attention is paid to preventing destabilization of the situation in Russia under the external influence under the scenario of the “Arab Spring”. To this end it is planned to create a system of strategic deterrence and prevention of conflicts that may arise in the territory of the Russian Federation due to Russia's rivals' use of information technologies. In this regard, under the pretext of “keeping the balance between the free flow of information and limiting access to it for the sake of information security”, in fact, censorship is legitimized.

Great attention is being paid to improving the system of information defense of the Russian Federation's Armed Forces. First of all, the work of this system is supposed to prevent the “attempts to undermine the foundations and patriotic traditions related to the protection of the Motherland”, increase morale of the Russian troops, and to ensure the security of the military control and communications systems.

At the same time, the new Information Security Doctrine of the Russian Federation admits the RF's lagging behind the leading Western countries in the spheres of computer and telecommunications technologies, which means a significant threat to the Russian Federation. In this context, the new Doctrine separately reads about the danger of subversive activities against Russia over the Internet.

 

These principles form the basis of V. Putin's regime's information policy, which is conducted within the framework of the implementation of its strategic plans for the revival of Russia as a “great world power”. Given the current situation around the Russian Federation, today the main aim of Moscow's actions in the sphere of information is to strengthen Russia's positions in the international arena by improving relations between Russia and the West. At the same time this should create conditions for lifting the US and EU sanctions against Russia.

In this regard, the Kremlin's main efforts are aimed at justifying Russia's actions against Ukraine, discrediting our State in the eyes of its Western partners and shifting the responsibility for the continuation of the conflict in the Donbas onto Ukraine, as well as persuading the USA and European countries of the need for cooperation with Russia.

As part of the above-mentioned approach, Moscow pays special attention to ensuring beneficial to it changes in the leaderships of Ukraine and leading Western countries and international organizations. To this end, Russia is providing information and other (mostly financial) support for pro-Russian forces in Ukraine, as well as for Euro-skeptical, left-wing and nationalist movements in Europe.

The Kremlin's actions in these spheres have got intensified, especially after D. Trump's election US President, which was seen in Moscow as a kind of “guarantee” of changes in US policy toward Russia. At this, the Kremlin counted on this becoming a powerful factor of influence also on Europe's attitude to Russia and Ukraine.

Taking into consideration the fundamental importance of this issue for the Putin regime, Moscow is fully applying all its information capabilities for the provocative “pushing” the USA and EU to the adoption of decisions favorable for Moscow. Moreover, it actively imposes on the public the idea of the alleged “West's turning to Russia's positions”. In particular, for this sake, Russians arbitrarily interpret and comment on any statements and individual expressions by representatives of the USA and the EU's leaderships, as well as by Western politicians and experts (even if they are exactly opposite to Russian expectations).

 

Taking into consideration the above-mentioned circumstances, it is the results of the struggle between the West and Russia in the information sphere that will be a key (decisive) factor in the development of the situation in the world, Europe and around Ukraine itself. In particular, in this regard, as Moscow's certain “achievements” have already been mentioned as follows: the election of pro-Russian presidents Rumen Radev in Bulgaria and Igor Dodon in Moldova, the victory of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the parliamentary elections in Romania, as well as the supporters of the regime of V. Putin — M. Le Pen and F. Fillon's becoming the leaders on the list of candidates for the post of the President of France.

However, the consequences of such actions of Russia can be largely leveled by the European Union through the strategic use of measures for counteracting Moscow's informational expansion. Manifestations of this can be called a change of position of the new president of Bulgaria R. Radev immediately after the elections in the country (spoke for the need to deepen Bulgaria's integration into the EU and NATO), the French Government's anti-corruption investigations against the pro-Russian candidate for the presidency, as well as mass protests in Romania against the SDP's corruption actions.

 

In the near future evidence of the information advantage of this or that side way will be the direction of the USA and EU's policies towards Russia and Ukraine, especially in terms of the continuation or lifting of sanctions against the Russian Federation.

Moreover, illustrative will be the results of the parliamentary elections in the Netherlands on 15 March 2017, presidential elections in France on 23 April 2017 (1st round) and on 7 May 2017 (2nd round) and parliamentary elections in Germany on 24 September this year.