view counter

The Russian connectionThe active measures orchestra: An examination of Russian influence operations abroad

By David Salvo and Andrew Andell

Published 30 October 2017

Russia has embraced new technologies and forms of communication that have allowed it to take advantage of years of Western inattention to a growing problem. However, the tools Russia uses in its current influence operations are nothing new. Neither are its strategic objectives of subverting NATO and the EU and undermining Western governments and democratic institutions. While for many Americans Russia’s actions seem to have come out of nowhere, it is essential that we understand these actions occurred in the context of a wide and ongoing effort by the Kremlin.

“The approaches used by Moscow include control of the press in foreign countries; outright and partial forgery of documents; use of rumors, insinuation, altered facts, and lies; use of international and local front organizations; clandestine operation of radio stations; exploitation of a nation’s academic, political, economic, and media figures as collaborators to influence policies of the nation.”

Substitute “radio stations” with “websites” and this excerpt could have come from any number of recent studies on Russian active measures abroad. Instead, it is from a 1981 U.S. State Department report. Moscow has embraced new technologies and forms of communication that have allowed it to take advantage of years of Western inattention to a growing problem. However, the tools Russia uses in its current influence operations are nothing new. Neither are its strategic objectives of subverting NATO and the EU and undermining Western governments and democratic institutions. While for many Americans Russia’s actions seem to have come out of nowhere, it is essential that we understand these actions occurred in the context of a wide and ongoing effort by the Kremlin.

Russian disinformation: Not a new phenomenon
In the United States, much of the focus on Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election has been on information operations. In fact, the Kremlin has been deploying information operations throughout Europe for years, with a consistent pattern of either highlighting themes that are already of concern to a population or amplifying extremist points of view, exacerbating divisions in a particular society. For example, Russian media have targeted NATO missions in the Baltics in an attempt to turn the local population against the Alliance by fabricating stories claiming that a Canadian mission consisted exclusively of homosexuals and that a German mission harbored rapists. The Kremlin has used propaganda to sow discord in Macedonia since 2008 as part of Moscow’s ongoing effort to pull former Yugoslav republics away from NATO and European integration. The Russian media’s stoking of immigration fears may have helped the far-right Alternative for Deutschland cross the threshold into the Bundestag.