Russian Hybrid Warfare Against the United States of America – Goals, Methods and Narratives

From the late 2000s, political scientists began using the term “Hybrid Warfare” more frequently. This is a consequence of the Kremlin’s intensified attempts to undermine existing global security and economic order. In the first presidential term, Vladimir Putin was trying to preserve positive relations with the West. By the end of his second term, Putin’s anti-western rhetoric significantly toughened. The unambiguous demonstration of Russia’s changing attitudes toward the West was the Munich security conference in 2007. At the forum, Putin made quite harsh statements against the West, “exposing” the sins of the United States of America, which was directly responsible for rejecting international law and order by unilateral actions in international relations. From that point, it was apparent that the relations between Russia and the West would become more tense and confrontational. To undermine the existing global order, Russia developed the “Hybrid Doctrine”, which implies “the integrated use of military, economic, political, diplomatic, informational and other instruments of power tailored to specific vulnerabilities across the full spectrum of societal functions to achieve synergistic effects”. To achieve this particular goal, Russia should increase its global influence and simultaneously, weaken American positions across the globe. Instead of direct confrontation, Kremlin preferred to use cyberattacks, propaganda, and disinformation as powerful foreign policy tools. 

According to the Global Engagement Center (GEC), “information confrontation” is the term used in Russian strategic and military circles to describe their approach to the use of information in both peacetime and conflict. There is also a rich public record on the use of “Active Measuring” to describe long-standing Russian political warfare methods that utilize disinformation and propaganda as a core tools of foreign policy. According to the GEC report, there are 5 basic pillars of Russian propaganda and disinformation system: 1. Official government communications, which consists of Kremlin or ministry statements, quotes by Russian officials;2. State-funded global messaging, including state-funded foreign and domestic media and Russian socio-cultural institutions;3. Cultivation of proxy sources, including Russian-aligned outlets with global reach, witting and unwitting proliferation of Russian narratives;4. Weaponization of social media, which means social media infiltration, standing campaigns to undermine faith in state institutions, amplification of civil discord;5. Cyber-enabled disinformation, that implies hack & release operations, site capture, cloned websites, and disruption of official sources or objective media. 

There were considerable doubts in political circles that Russia interfered in the USA presidential elections of 2016 by manipulating the political preferences of American citizens. The main aim of this operation was helping Republican candidate – Donald Trump and on the contrary, undermining Democratic candidate – Hilary Clinton. FBI began an investigation regarding supposed Russian interference in the U.S. election. The inquiry was undergoing for two and half years. In 2019, Mueller’s report examined that the Internet Research Agency (IRA) was responsible for Russian interference. The IRA was based in St. Petersburg and received funding from Russianoligarch – Yevgeniy Prigozhin, which is widely reported to have close ties with the president of Russia. At the same time, the IRA operation began to support Trump, whose campaign showed keen interest in damaging Clinton’s public figure. Trump hoped that Russia would release the missing emails of Clinton, when she was the secretary of state. Then, unexpectedly Wikileaks began releasing the aforementioned stolen emails on 7th October, when there was only one month left before the election. The ministry of Justice later confirmed that six GRU (Military Intelligence) officers were behind the cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee. According to Mueller’sreport, the IRA (Which is created and puppeteered by GRU)used social media accounts and interest groups to amplify civil discord in the U.S. political system through “information warfare”. 

Russian propaganda has three fundamental aims toward the United States of America: 1. To diminish American dominance around the world and damage the global prestige of the USA; 2. To obtain political influence on the domestic affairs of the United States by manipulating beliefs of American citizens; 3. To undermine democratic institutions and strengthen Autocratic regimes across the globe. To achieve these goals, Russian propaganda tries to foster radical right and left political organizations with explicit anti-western and antiliberal attitudes. Kremlin strives to spread the following Antiamerican narratives: 1. The West and particularly the United States of America is the driving force behind the globalization process, that weakens nation-states and therefore reinforce the concept of sole sovereignty; 2. USA hinders global peace and stability by pursuing only its national interests. The cases of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria strengthens that opinion;3. USA wants to rule the world unilaterally, which resists basic principles of international law. On the contrary, Kremlin promotes to establish multipolar world order;4. The United States of America is responsible for spreading LGBTQ propaganda, which opposes core national values; 5. The United States of America is directly helping terrorists. American government itself set up an attack on the World Trade Centre (9/11) to justify military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq;6. American government is pushing the NATO enlargement process, which aims to 1. besiege Russian federation with NATO members and then 2. destroy Russian resistance. Russia is trying to demonstrate itself as the defender of its sovereignty and territorial integrity, not as an aggressor; 7. The United States of America is trying to conduct a “global democracy project” and coerce every state to become democratic, frequently without their political will and permission;8. The United States of America is not a democratic country itself, because the American electoral system is not based on the majority rule principle. To win the presidential election, each candidate needs to collect 270 electoral college votes (The “weight” of each state differs, for example, California has 55 electoral college votes whereas Maine has only 1 vote, which is noticeably undemocraticaccording to Russian propaganda);9. The United States is not a Liberal country itself, because minority rights were not protected until almost the end of the 20th century; The United States is the successor of Western imperialism and colonialism. Russian propaganda often emphasize that US political elites supported slavery until the end of the 19th century;10. American government and state institutions are eliminating religion from public life;

To encapsulate the summary into a few lines, the main direction of Russian hybrid warfare is the United States of America. Kremlin tries to weaken American global leadership, dishonor its prestige, undermine its democratic institutions, sow civil discord and manipulate the thoughts of American citizens. To achieve these political goals, Russia uses various kinds of methods, including cyberattacks, spreading propaganda, and disinformation. The clear evidence of Russia’s hybrid warfare was the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections, when Moscow hacked DNC emails and promoted the candidacy of Donald Trump. To preserve its global dominance and geopolitical imperatives, the United States of America must confront and contain Russian revisionism in every corner of the world.

Giga Jokhadze

Research Fellow

The opinions and conclusions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Tbilisi or The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.

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