Russia’s Info-War: the Home Front

Grafitti of Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Image: Esther Dyson/Flickr

This article was originally published as Issue Alert No. 18 by the European Union Institute for Security Studies

The use and misuse of information is as important to today’s Kremlin as it was to the Soviet Politburo. But if the ultimate goal is the same – to control the people from above – the techniques used to achieve it are strikingly different. Whereas
Soviet leaders imposed strict censorship in an attempt to isolate the people from the ‘heresies’ of the West, Putin’s government bombards them with fantastical stories designed to paralyse their critical faculties. And if Soviet propaganda was
meant to contribute to the construction of a new society, modern Russian propaganda is wholly destructive. Rather than try, in vain, to persuade the people of the virtues of its rule, today’s Kremlin disseminates lies and half-truths designed less to convince than to disorientate. In so doing, the regime cuts away the ground from beneath the people’s feet, propelling them into a world where, in Peter Pomerantsev’s words, ‘nothing is true and everything is possible’.

On the home front of the information war, President Putin has scored a decisive victory. He has succeeded in persuading his people that the Kiev authorities are fascists and the Americans aggressors, while he himself is all that stands between
Russia and total chaos. » More

Is Russia Really a Threat to NATO?

A Russian officer guarding the Kaliningrad border. Image: Igor Zarembo/Flickr

Russia’s ongoing military modernization program continues to alarm NATO’s eastern flank. Over the next five years, Moscow aims to have revitalized between 70 – 100 percent of the country’s armed forces. To assist, the Russian military budget was increased by 33% this year, to approximately 3.3 trillion Rubles ($81 billion), or 4.2 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with an estimated $700 billion to be spent between now and 2020.

Yet, can Moscow really afford its current defense spending spree? And why has Russian President Vladimir Putin decided that the time to revitalize the country’s armed forces is now? Part of the answer to these questions lies in a concurrent development in Russian defense policy – the recent adoption of the country’s new military doctrine. » More

Everyday Life after Annexation: The Autonomous Republic of Crimea

Signing of the treaty on the adoption of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol to Russia. Left to right: S. Aksyonov, V. Konstantinov, V. Putin and A. Chalyi. Image: Kremlin.ru/Wikimedia

This article was originally published as part of the ‘Ukraine and Russia’ Collection by E-International Relations on 20 March, 2015.

Imagine for a moment that tanks roll into your state. Armed and masked men without military insignia occupy your city streets. The airport is closed. Then, after a hasty vote, a new leader, someone you understood was part of the criminal underworld, is promoted to the top executive position. Suddenly, you must turn your clocks back two full hours to correspond with the new capital, some 1,400 kilometres away. Your ATM card stops working, and then your bank closes. Familiar foods, foods you have been eating your entire life, are banned and disappear from grocery store shelves to be replaced with foreign ones. Your medication becomes six times more expensive than before. Then your cell phone stops working, and you must find a new carrier to regain service. The television station you relied on for nightly news closes. You are told you have three months to turn in your passport for a new one, or you may not be able to renew your driver’s license or return to your home after travel. This chaotic and liminal situation is not, of course, hypothetical. It is what happened to residents of Crimea following annexation by the Russian Federation. » More

Debacle at Debaltsevo Calls For a New Approach to Ukraine

Anti-Putin grafitti in Debaltsevo. Image: Pryshutova Viktoria/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by the Centre for International Policy Studies (CIPS) on 18 February, 2015.

Before coming up with solutions it is first advisable to determine the nature of the problem. Right now the United States is considering sending arms to Ukraine, while here in Canada the Defence Minister, Jason Kenney, has been mulling the deployment of Canadian soldiers to train the Ukrainian Army. But is a lack of arms or training the real reason for the Ukrainian Army’s defeats?

To answer that question, it is worth looking at what has been happening in the town of Debaltsevo, where a large Ukrainian contingent, possibly several thousand strong, was encircled by rebel forces. The government in Kiev has repeatedly denied that its troops were surrounded, but even Ukrainian military journalists acknowledge that the main road out of Debaltsevo is in rebel hands and that troops of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics have captured most of the town, as well as a substantial number of prisoners. On the night of February 17-18, a large part of the garrison escaped through gaps in rebel lines, but Ukrainian sources report heavy casualties in the process. Substantial quantities of equipment have been destroyed or have fallen into rebel hands. Ukraine has suffered a serious defeat. » More

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From 1989 to 2014: Young Vladimir Putin and the Irony of Helsinki

Mikhail Gorbachev & George H.W Bush signing an agreement on chemical weapons in Washington , D.C, 1990. Image: Executive Office of the President of the United States/Wikimedia

A quarter of a century has passed since the end of the Cold War. In the West, a new generation of leaders is in power, most of whom had little personal involvement in the East-West standoff that defined international politics for most of the post-1945 era.  By contrast, Russia has been under the stewardship of a leader who came of age politically with the fall of the Iron Curtain. Mikhail Gorbachev recently warned that a new Cold War is emerging. But what, if any, are the links between the events of 1989 and Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014? Can we make sense of Europe’s renewed confrontation with its eastern neighbour by peering into the past? Reflection on the events of 1989 sheds light on those of 2014 in two ways: by illustrating how Vladimir Putin’s personal experiences of the end of the Cold War have shaped his foreign policy priorities, and by highlighting the importance of Mikhail Gorbachev’s acceptance of the Helsinki principle in shaping the post-Cold War European order. » More

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