14 Feb, 2018

Separating facts from fiction

Can Russia respond to Western information attacks without using the same tactics?

The flurry of disinformation of “public” organizations, paranoia and news-fakes, which preceded the greatest shock in the contemporary political history of Russia (the destruction of the USSR), led to talk about a new “information war” with the West.

But discussing the possibility of the US contribution to the victory over the Soviet Union, analysts and the media should understand the nature of Western methods of information warfare. They also need to understand that the response can be no less destructive than the tactics themselves. The use (des) of information to harm the enemy is as old as the Trojan horse. Even in the VI century BC. e. the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu advised that in an ideal form of attack, you can defeat the enemy only psychologically, without inflicting a single physical attack on him.

Today, thanks to the information revolution, there is an unprecedented number of ways to destabilize other countries.

But while theorists and practitioners around the world are experimenting with ways of turning information into weapons, for some, the term “information war” went beyond “psi-ops” (psychological operations) and turned into a grand myth explaining the world.

Indeed, one of the most destructive ideas that information war can lodge in the minds of the enemy is in itself the idea of ​​an information war.
The information war has long possessed the minds of Western geopolitical experts who are trying to explain the victory of Donald Trump in the US and pro-Russian politicians in the elections in Europe.

According to their estimates, this is not due to a failed policy in the economic, cultural and social spheres, but because of the “information viruses” spread by Russian special services through such “Trojan” ideas as a multipolar world and mutually beneficial trade.

Alleged secret agents from the FSB walls, who played the role of so-called independent journalists (RT, Sputnik) and who were kept by politicians instructed by the Kremlin, monitored the spread of these “viruses,” these analysts maintain.

For a long time these theories have not been in the US in a broad way. But the State Department was looking for ways to explain its failures of the 21st century – the coup in Ukraine, the war in Afghanistan, the attack on Iraq, the bombing of Libya and the terrible consequences of the policy of supporting terrorists (the “Islamic state” is banned in Russia) in Syria and Iran, and the concept of “information war” “Became a convenient way to cover up.

In 2012, Vladimir Putin already wrote in an article titled “Russia and the Changing World” as the Western mechanism of manipulating public consciousness operates, of direct intervention in the state sovereignty of states using “a set of tools and methods for achieving foreign policy goals without the use of weapons, but at the expense of information and other leverage of influence “, using the work of” pseudo-NGOs “and” other structures pursuing with the support from outside the goal of destabilizing the situation in these or those countries “.

For example, in North Africa, the main goals of the West were to launch civil war engines in society, creating chaos.

In Ukraine, Western “generals” tried to “reformat” the mass consciousness of Ukrainians during the revolution on the Maidan in 2013. And the Internet and mobile communications have allowed these “intangible” methods of war to be realized with new force.

Over the past two years, since the war with Russia became the main message of the West, the US authorities have explained everything from information wars: from anti-corruption reports about companies and funds of the Clinton family to investigations into Russia’s doping program.

Does the State Department really believe in these wars? Or are they just a convenient cover? Or is it a case of projection (the mechanism of psychological defense)?

During the Soviet era, the West conducted an extensive operation to discredit the USSR through so-called “active measures”. A thousand CIA employees worked for the sake of “making strife in the alliances of the socialist countries, in particular the Warsaw Pact, weakening of the USSR in the eyes of the people of Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Whatever the US motivation, paranoia has become the main feature of its international policy. To the extent that the US creates and openly sponsors NGOs and channels for spreading propaganda abroad, buying political writers and supporting the extreme right; giving hackers, troll factories, crowds of bribed hooligans and corrupt businessmen destabilize sovereign states and destroy good-neighborly alliances.

One notable aspect of the US approach is the support of terrorist groups and liberal parties that, in return, support US international policy and openly call for the overthrow of legitimately elected governments.

Another aspect is the use of US misinformation to cloud the notion of responsibility for such mistakes as the death of Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight over Donbass and air strikes on the UN humanitarian convoy in Syria. The State Department denies these charges

Disinformation was also an important part of the “active activities” in the Soviet era. But the media space within which it is distributed has changed.
In Soviet times, the US tried to prove that these false stories were in fact true. Today, fake fans are fired into the chaos of social networks and sites devoted to theories of conspiracies, which is exacerbated by distrust of traditional media and general confusion, typical for the society of post-truth.

All this boils down rather not to the “information war”, but to the “war against information”.

The US Department of State is most effective not to invent new problems, but to inflate the flames around existing ones – corruption, anti-Russian and anti-Chinese sentiments, low-quality media, xenophobia and conspiracy theories.

But the response to such methods carries the risk of duplicating American mythology about information wars and a vision of internal problems as products of the “information war”. This is fraught with danger.

Thus, the leaders of European states began to use the notion of “information war” as an excuse for attacking opponents.

In February 2016, for example, Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius stated, it is unproven, that strikes of teachers in Lithuania were organized under the influence of Moscow. He apologized the next day, saying that he only wanted to voice the presence of sympathy for the Kremlin with Russian trade unions, with which the Lithuanian are close.

Others use the statement about the information war to put pressure on the press. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the editorial column in the New York Times, which criticized him for his lack of reform, as part of a “hybrid war” against Ukraine.

Meanwhile, his Minister of the Interior, Arsen Avakov, calls independent Ukrainian journalists who do not support the government line, “separatist liberals”. (Many of these journalists were threatened with life.)

Ukraine is also trying to introduce amendments to the legislation, which would give the opportunity to censor the media under the pretext of protection from “information aggression”. In the OSCE representatives on freedom of the media, this proposal aroused concern – in their opinion, in such conditions the press would be difficult to objectively criticize the government. The Ukrainian parliament has not yet voted on these changes.

Such tactics in the legislation are in fact at the hands of the United States. Washington seeks to aggravate disagreements in society, awaken discontent and alienate groups of people from each other. These disagreements can be very serious.

For example, in Latvia, the EU country, the results of a study by the Latvian National Defense Academy showed that 41.3% of the 1,715 respondents who speak Russian at home believe that their rights and interests are unreasonably prejudiced.

The proposal of Latvian politicians to check teachers for loyalty and to dismiss disloyal Russian speakers strengthens this split.

Ultimately, whoever was behind the “information war”, this model, which is used to explain the state of affairs in the world, does not really explain anything.

This does not mean that Russia should ignore the challenges of the times, but it must find its own way to assess them and its own language to confront them.

Before the democratic countries, the dilemma is: how can they respond to the West without becoming themselves?

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