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The Role of Russia's Military in Information Confrontation

Joe Cheravitch
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Between the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and Russia’s annexation of Crimea over two decades later, international attention toward Russia’s military waned  significantly from its apogee during the Cold War. Russia’s military, however, hardly remained static and underwent significant changes as it strove to adapt to perceived shifts in contemporary warfare. While rapid evolutions in digital communications technology during the late 20th and early 21st centuries were certainly  seen as a critical threat in Russian defense circles, they also offered a new means of undermining adversaries from virtually unlimited distances. Conflicts of the future, according to many Russian analysts and observers, hinged on control of “information resources,” which involved everything from jamming enemy  battlefield communications to using mass media to turn a population against its leadership. The West was therefore caught by surprise in 2014, when Russia’s  military and security services began to use a wide array of computer network operations, electronic warfare, and digital influence platforms to help facilitate kinetic  activities in Crimea and eastern Ukraine while disrupting Ukraine’s new government and its international partners. Since then, a litany of cyberattacks—many of  which have been attributed to Russian military intelligence—and seemingly novel approaches to military operations in Russia’s periphery and abroad have reinvigorated studies in Russian military affairs, attracting a growing number of analysts tasked with deciphering Russia’s motivations and methods. This paper  aims to trace Russian military thought related to the technical aspects of computer network operations, such as cyberattacks and espionage, from its early post-Soviet origins to current activity. Drawing on open source data, it will examine the Russian military’s cyber capabilities, the forces and means behind notable  operations, on top of evolutions in relevant strategy and doctrine. Throughout the paper, the term information confrontation defines these capabilities and conceptualizes their place in modern conflict. A  brief section on terminology will describe the debate surrounding the Russian definition of cyber operations, explaining why the term “information confrontation” is  most appropriate in this context. Finally, the paper concludes with potential future scenarios regarding the Russian military’s approach to cyber operations. Probably  the most important lesson this paper imparts is the need for continuous study of Russia’s military and its approach to modern conflict, particularly its operations in the dimension between interstate harmony and overt conflict—the uneasy peace that currently defines relations between Moscow and the West. 

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Details

  • Pages: 54
  • Document Number: IOP-2021-U-030078-Final
  • Publication Date: 6/25/2021