Tag Archives: Information war

Turbans and propaganda

Russian ‘information warfare’ is back in the headlines today, with Postmedia publishing a typically over-the-top piece by Matthew Fisher entitled ‘Russia sharpens information weapon’. What prompts this story? According to a Latvian colonel, somebody somewhere on the internet (we are not told who) wrote a derogatory comment about Canadian defence minister Harjit Sajjan wearing a turban. Of course, nobody writes racist nonsense on the internet without first receiving directions from the Kremlin, so this is clear evidence that Moscow is ‘sharpening’ its information weapons in order to discredit the deployment of Canadian troops to Latvia (though what is so ‘sharp’ about this,  I cannot see). Fisher complains that in a recent report, the ‘pro-Kremlin website’ Vestvi.lv, which is directed at Russian speakers in the Baltics, ‘grossly exaggerated what NATO was doing.’ Gross exaggeration – we can’t have that, can we, Matthew?

Meanwhile, a group of ‘security experts’ from 27 countries are meeting today in Prague for a conference to discuss the threat posed by Russia to democratic elections in the West. Among other things, the delegates will discuss a report issued on Thursday by the Kremlin Watch program of the European Values think-tank entitled ’35 measures in 15 steps for enhancing the resilience of the democratic electoral process’.  The report outlines various ways that Moscow is allegedly interfering in Western elections, as summarized in this diagram:

infowarelections

Let us take a look at this in more detail.

Continue reading Turbans and propaganda

Pathetic

There is a foreign land so threatened by its neighbour that it requires Canadian troops to defend it, and so dangerous within its borders, so full of traps and snares, that it isn’t safe for those Canadian troops to leave their bases other than in large, organized groups. The country? No, not Afghanistan (we’ve given up on that), and not Iraq (out troops there aren’t confined to base); not Mali (talk of a Canadian military peacekeeping there has vanished of late); and not Yemen (besides, we support the people bombing that country into smithereens and are selling them armoured vehicles); no – Latvia. Yes, that’s right, Latvia, a country so teeming with danger that Canadian soldiers are forbidden to leave their barracks.

According to the National Post

As Canada prepares to stand up a multi-national NATO battle group here this summer, army commanders have come up with a plan to prevent their soldiers being exploited by the Kremlin via ‘honey pots,’ ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ and other such temptations…

The plan is for the 450 Canadian troops bound for Latvia as part of a tripwire against Russian aggression to be confined to their base, about a half-hour drive northeast of Riga, for the first few months after they arrive. This is partly because there will be much work to be done before the unit can be declared combat-ready. But there are also grave concerns that Russia will try to undermine the Canadian mission by attacking it with ‘kompromat’ and ‘dezinformatsiya,’ as it has already done with a similar NATO enhanced forward-presence battle group from Germany which is up and running in neighbouring Lithuania.

Even after the newcomers, mostly drawn from 1 Battalion, Princess Patricias Canadian Light Infantry, are certified sometime in August as operationally effective, they will be allowed off base only on ‘supervised cultural days,’ the commander, Lt.-Col. Wade Rutland, said. … ‘There will be no 48-hour weekend passes,’ the colonel said referring to the good old days during the Cold War when Canadians stood watch against the Red Army in Germany.

Riga
Riga. Here be Russians!

Continue reading Pathetic

Weaponizing comedy

As Monty Python pointed out, jokes can be the deadliest weapon of war. In the current atmosphere of Russophic hysteria, therefore, we should not be surprised that NATO this week has accused the Kremlin of weaponizing comedy. At first, given the topic, I thought that this must a Pythonesque spoof, but it appears that the accusation is deadly serious.

Continue reading Weaponizing comedy

The Russians are coming!

Macleans magazine, which, roughly speaking, is Canada’s equivalent of Time or Newsweek, has published a couple of articles this week on the topic of the day – Russia.

The longer of the two, entitled ‘The Return of the Tsar’ is fairly innocuous. I have to confess that I’m not quite sure what it’s trying to achieve, apart from expounding some vague cliché about Russians wanting a strong ruler. It’s a fairly typical piece of impressionistic journalism, in which the author wanders around a Russian town, speaks to a few people, and based on a handful of anecdotes infers some broad-sweeping conclusions about the eternal ‘Russian soul’ and the like. By all means read it if you’ve got nothing better to do, but to be frank I don’t think you’ll get much from it.

The other article, by contrast, deserves a long reply, as it exemplifies fairly well what’s wrong with so much commentary on things Russian nowadays. You can get a sense of the thing just from the title: ‘Russia’s Coming Attack on Canada’. Watch out, Canadians, the Russians are coming, author Scott Gilmore warns, starting out by saying:

Moscow has been waging an increasingly daring clandestine war against western democracies. Under the direction of President Vladmir Putin, Russia is targeting most of the major members of the western alliance. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned of Russian attempts at cyber attacks. In France, Moscow has funded right-wing populist Marine Le Pen and is alleged to be spreading false propaganda about her opponents. There are now reports from British parliamentarians that Russia may have meddled with the Brexit campaign. And, of course, Putin’s interference in the U.S. Presidential election has lit a tire fire in Washington that may bring down the Trump administration.

Let’s take a look at this. Gilmore takes a bunch of allegations (Merkel has ‘warned’; Moscow is ‘alleged’ to be targeting Le Pen’s opponents; a single British MP (Ben Bradshaw to be precise) claimed that Brexit was the result of Kremlin interference’, etc), and without producing any evidence to substantiate these allegations uses them to claim that it is a definite fact that ‘Russia is targeting most of the major members of the western alliance.’ But accusations aren’t by themselves evidence. So what proof is there?

Well, according to Suddeutsche Zeitung, the German state security service, the BND, has found that ‘there is no evidence for Putin’s disinformation campaign’.  In France similarly, no evidence of Russian involvement of leaks targeting Francois Fillon has been forthcoming, and it would be odd if it were given that Fillon is considered ‘pro-Russian’. In Britain, Foreign Minister Boris Johnson declared a couple of days ago that ‘We have no evidence the Russians are actually involved in trying to undermine our democratic processes at the moment. We don’t actually have that evidence.’ All the British have, according to Johnson, is ‘evidence that the Russians are capable of doing that,’ which is not at all the same thing. And finally, in the USA, according to a recent report, ‘Even some Democrats on the Intelligence Committee now quietly admit, after several briefings and preliminary inquiries, they don’t expect to find evidence of active, informed collusion between the Trump campaign and known Russian intelligence operatives’.

So much for all that.

Undeterred by the lack of facts to support his thesis, Mr Gilmore nonetheless ploughs on, as follows:

Moscow is being forced to play these aggressive and risky games out of desperation. The country is in bad shape is getting worse. The once great superpower now has an economy smaller than Canada’s and it continues to shrink. … Even the ragtag Ukrainians have fought them to a standstill. Diplomatically, Moscow has never been so isolated and powerless. You can count its friends on one hand, and it’s not an impressive list: Syria, Iran, Belarus.

How true is all this?

To be sure, the Russian economy isn’t in great shape. It has pretty much stagnated over the past 10 years. But it isn’t ‘getting worse’ and it doesn’t ‘continue to shrink’, as Gilmore claims. In fact, the economy has begun to grow again (not by much, to be sure, but growth isn’t shrinking), consumer demand is rising, and inflation is the lowest in post-Soviet history. As for ‘ragtag’ Ukrainians fighting Russia ‘to a standstill’, that is a very odd description of events in Donbass – a more accurate description would be that it was a ‘ragtag’ bunch of rebels (with some help from Moscow) who fought the Ukrainian army to a standstill. And finally, as for Russia’s friends, they go beyond Syria, Iran, and Belarus. What about China, for instance? For sure, Russia has fewer friends than it did a decade ago, but it’s hardly ‘isolated’.

And here we reach a serious contradiction in Gilmore’s thesis – Russia is supposedly at one and the same time ‘powerless’ and a deadly danger. This doesn’t make a lot of sense. Nevertheless, the article claims that Canada is likely to be the next target in Russia’s sights. Gilmore writes:

Russia has three objectives as it goes after Canada. The first is to undermine any policies or politicians seen to be against Moscow’s interests. For example, the Russian Embassy has already been trying to discredit Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, an outspoken advocate for continued sanctions, with a smear job about her grandparents. Russia also wants to discredit the broader political system, to undermine Canadians’ faith in “the system”, be it our own election process, our system of government, or parliamentary affairs. Finally, it wants to undermine Canada’s support for our allies, and for the international system including NATO and the United Nations.

All countries try to undermine policies which go against their interests. There isn’t anything odd about that. But the idea that the Kremlin wishes to undermine any ‘politicians seen to be against Moscow’s interests’ is rather problematic in the Canadian context, because that would be just about every politician. Say the Russians were somehow able to discredit the ruling Liberals. What then? They’d just get the Conservatives, who are every bit as Russophobic. Why would that help? Moreover, it’s rather strange to blame the Russian Embassy for the ‘smear job’ about Chrystia Freeland’s grandfather, as the story began not with the Embassy but with independent journalist John Helmer and spread thereafter, without the need for any outside help, via social media. As for whether Russia wants ‘to undermine Canadians’ “faith in the system”,’ that is pure conjecture. And while Russia might indeed wish to undermine NATO, it has repeatedly stressed its desire for an international system resting on the United Nations (UN), blaming Western states for discrediting the UN via actions such as the invasion of Iraq and the 2011 bombing campaign in Libya.

Gilmore’s accusations are unsubstantiated, and frankly more than a little bizarre. What possible good would it do Russia to launch an underground war against Canada? And how on earth could such a weak and ‘powerless’ country actually hope to succeed in a war against such a prosperous and stable proponent? And where is the evidence that it is doing any of this, anyway? It is perhaps more than a little appropriate, therefore, that Gilmore concludes by saying that:

To achieve these goals, Moscow will likely rely on the same methods it has used relatively successfully in the United States and elsewhere. It will spread disinformation—false stories that create confusion around a controversial and heated issue.

‘Disinformation’ and ‘false stories’ – like this one, maybe?

Chatham House Rules

The head of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation recently caused something of a scandal by writing an article suggesting that Western powers were waging an ‘information war’ against Russia. This, wrote Bastrykin:

is evidenced by the increase in US government spending on programs for the so-called development of democratic institutions in countries bordering on Russia and in the Central Asian states. … About 4.3 billion dollars have been allocated under this item in 2017, and around a billion dollars will go to programs for the so-called fight against corruption and supporting democracy in countries neighbouring Russia. Funds already received under this program have been spent by various non-governmental organizations under the guise of promoting education, developing civil society, and other seemingly useful purposes. The outcome has been the incitement of anti-Russian moods in neighboring countries, the shaping of the pro-American and pro-western so-called non-systemic opposition in Russia, and the spread of inter-confessional and political extremism within our country.

To counter this alleged information war, Bastrykin called for ‘a wide-ranging and detailed verification of the compliance with federal legislation of all religious, ethnocultural, and youth organizations’, as well as increased censorship of the internet and the criminalization of ‘the denial or falsification of historical events of particular importance to a state and society.’

Virtually simultaneously, the Royal Institute of International Affairs (aka Chatham House) published a report by Ukrainian analyst Orysia Lutsevych saying almost exactly the same thing, but the other way around – Russia is waging an information war in the countries adjacent to it; it is using the media and non-governmental organizations under the guise of promoting education, developing civil society, and other seemingly useful purposes.

The Chatham House report, entitled ‘Agents of the Russian World: Proxy Groups in the Contested Neighbourhood’, maintains that:

Russia employs a vocabulary of ‘soft power’ to disguise its ‘soft coercion’ efforts aimed at retaining regional supremacy. Russian pseudo-NGOs undermine the social cohesion of neighbouring states through the consolidation of pro-Russian forces and ethno-geopolitics; the denigration of national identities; and the promotion of anti-US, conservative Orthodox and Eurasianist values. They can also establish alternative discourses to confuse decision-making.

And how does Russia do this deadly deed of confusing democracies with ‘alternative discourses’? According to Lutsevych, through such dastardly techniques as ‘working with universities and schools globally’ to promote the Russian language. (How dare they!) Russia also ‘imposes its own version of history’ (‘imposes’, mark you!). Lutsevych writes that, ‘Although the Soviet historical narrative is recognized in the West as highly politicized and biased, Russia resists what it considers to be efforts by other sovereign states to reassess the events of the [Second World] war’.

Lutsevych complains that the former head of the Russian railways Vladimir Yakunin ‘has established the St Andrew’s Foundation and the affiliated Centre for National Glory. Both have the objective of promoting the Russian national heritage and peaceful coexistence of various nations and religions’. ‘Peaceful coexistence’ – shocking! We cannot have any of that. Organizations like these are ‘proxy groups’ actually working to destabilize neighbouring states, claims Lutsevych. Leading them is the Russian international development agency Rossotrudnichestvo. This operates a sinister ‘network of 60 Russian centres of Science and Culture’ around the world. I was at a meeting at one of these recently. I thought I was there to discuss academic exchanges. In reality, I learn from Lutsevych, I was one of the Kremlin’s ‘useful idiots’, for Rossutrudnichestvo is actually a political organization ‘consolidating the activities of pro-Russian players … and disseminating the Kremlin’s narrative’.

‘Russian state media operating abroad’, Lutsevych says, ‘must be closely monitored for compliance with the broadcasting regulations of their host countries and, where necessary, sanctioned for violations’, and ‘the activities of proxy groups in host countries should be closely monitored, and groups should even be closed down.’ It’s great to see that we in the West occupy the high moral ground.