May 17, 2022 | European Parliament

Russian Disinformation and Propaganda in Relation to the War Against Ukraine

Subcommittee on Security and Defence; Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation
May 17, 2022 | European Parliament

Russian Disinformation and Propaganda in Relation to the War Against Ukraine

Subcommittee on Security and Defence; Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation

Video

May 17, 2022

Excerpt

Of full written testimony

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am honored to appear before you today to discuss Russia’s information warfare playbook.

As you all well know, the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine extends far beyond Ukraine’s borders. This is not just a war on Ukraine; this is a war on Europe’s cultural and civilizational values. The scale of this threat requires a proportional response. Europeans have the power to determine the outcome of this conflict, if only we have the courage to use it.

The threat that Russia poses to Europe is clear. President Vladimir Putin has invaded two of his neighbors, Georgia and Ukraine, partly to stop them from aligning with NATO and the West. He has given cover to Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons, and Russian agents have used chemical weapons in attempted assassinations in Europe. Moscow has frequently threatened the use of nuclear weapons. And Moscow has interfered in elections and domestic political discourse across the globe, including in the West.

I will focus my testimony today on three key points. First, I will explain how Russia strategically uses information operations. Second, I will show how Russia is attempting to use these operations to shape global perceptions of the war in Ukraine, at the expense of Europe. Third, I will discuss how Russia is exploiting Europe’s vulnerabilities in the information space.

Putin seeks to replace the rules-based liberal international order with an order that is safe for authoritarianism and features Russia as a global power and power broker, entitled to a sphere of influence over its “near abroad.” Putin’s quest to dominate Ukraine is at the forefront of this broader struggle.

Given Russia’s military shortcomings in Ukraine, many in the West are already celebrating his failure. However, it is too early to do so, in part because Putin still has a powerful non-military tool at his disposal: information weapons. The Kremlin does not limit itself to hacking our computers — it also wants to hack our minds, aiming to disrupt our democracies, polarize our societies, and sow fear and doubt among our populations.

The importance of information operations is clear to anyone who follows Russia closely. The Soviets were known for “active measures.” They used disinformation campaigns to shape the information space abroad and influence events in other countries; they often referred to these campaigns as “political warfare.”

Russian active measures today do not differ in their goals. The only difference is in the technology used to pursue them. Social media platforms allow Russia both to increase its reach and to target specific audiences when conducting information operations, which Moscow uses both for political warfare and to augment conventional military operations. Last year, Russia published a new National Security Strategy, in which it devoted an entire section to “information security.” Similarly, Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu declared that “information has become a weapon.” In 2017, Russian officials acknowledged the establishment of information warfare troops.

Moscow’s information operations and other hybrid warfare undertakings in Europe aim to undermine European security and NATO unity.

Russia’s information campaigns are integral part of its hybrid warfare strategy. Russian information operations against Ukraine kicked into high gear in 2014. When the war started, Russia used disinformation to shape the information space. For instance, Moscow claimed that NATO’s enlargement was a threat to Russia. Russia and Putin have spread a long line of such falsehoods about Ukraine. Moscow claimed that Russian-language speakers in Ukraine faced “genocide” at Kyiv’s hands and would welcome a Russian invasion. Moscow denied Ukrainian statehood, claiming Ukraine has always been part of Russia and framing its “special military operation” as necessary to “liberate” Ukrainians from their “Nazi leader.” This messaging was intended to be consumed inside Russia, in Ukraine, and globally. Ukraine, which has been strengthening its information operations tools for over a decade, has achieved notable victories in this space since the war began.

Download
Full Written Testimony

Issues:

Russia