Force "Z" from Moscow
People's movement or Russian troll farm?
Both. Though mostly Kremlin-controlled. Or at least “guided.” Either way, considering the nature of their work—posting pro-Russian/Putin (what they call “patriotic”) propaganda (both truth and lies) on various social media channels, often ironically using VPNs to bypass the Kremlin’s own ban on Facebook and Instagram, and trolling even the most innocuous of critics or dissidents, including native D-List pop stars who might otherwise remain obscure to the West—the current effort is almost exclusively dedicated to putting a positive spin on the war in Ukraine by tearing down its closer-to-home opponents and attacking NATO and the United States. (Oh, but Russian trolls do enjoy their petty political torments.)
The problem is that those Western intellectuals and commentators who might be issuing genuine concern or constructive criticism regarding NATO policies that may threaten to set off a nuclear powder keg, those that have for years warned about the dangers of disorganized, blind, clumsy, clunky NATO expansionism, for example—only to preserve, protect and defend the alliance and prevent the very war crimes we are now witnessing on the ground in Ukraine, and even more so World War III—risk getting lumped in with Putin’s troll army where there might be an overlap of legitimate arguments, or even questions.
Of greater note, however, as this Vice article observes right off the top, for a country that’s been running an information warfare campaign against the West for the last decade—one led by a former KGB colonel who made his bones at the height of the KGB’s Soviet-era “active measures” program that prioritized and promoted sophisticated propaganda operations against the West—Russia’s cyberwarfare efforts against Ukraine, both informationally and technologically, have failed miserably. Hands down, the Ukrainians are winning on this front—they own the cyberspace battlefield.
So, does this indicate some kind of abrupt dropoff in capability or performance on the part of the Russians? Or have Western analysts been overestimating, or perhaps even greatly exaggerating, the extent of Russian operations against the West, and particularly the United States, over the last decade? And if so, why? For domestic and international political gain perhaps? (Does asking this question make one a troll?)
Who is truly the greater threat when it comes to cyberwarfare operations against the West—Russia, China, Iran maybe? What about non-state actors?
If political expediency is the main factor guiding current security policy, are the signals intelligence agencies of the United States and its allies—NSA, GCHQ, etc—properly addressing the most insidious and dangerous threats to our cybersecurity, or chasing red herrings in service of flavor-of-the-day petty partisan agendas? If the latter, whose interest does that serve? That of our adversaries themselves perhaps?
Alex Holstein is the co-author of Warfighter: The Story of an American Fighting Man, due out May 15, 2022, from Lyons Press. He holds an MSc in Russian and Post-Soviet Studies from the London School of Economics, where he wrote his thesis on the Soviet KGB.