Academic journal article Parameters

Russia's Improved Information Operations: From Georgia to Crimea

Academic journal article Parameters

Russia's Improved Information Operations: From Georgia to Crimea

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: After a series of military reforms resulting from the 2008 conflict with Georgia, Russia used information warfare operations more effectively in Crimea. Russia's continued refinement of its information operations may keep it ahead of the United States.

Russia has a long history of propaganda and disinformation operations--techniques it continues to adapt to the online environment. As the information space is broader than the technologies facilitating its use, Russia utilizes broad information-based efforts classified by effects: information-technical and information-psychological. A major milestone for these efforts surfaced in 2008 when pro-Russian cyberattacks occurred concurrently with Russian military operations in Georgia. During that brief conflict, a resilient Georgia overtook Russia in the larger information war, forcing Russia to rethink how it conducts information-based operations.

Russia adjusted its information confrontation strategy six years later against Ukraine, quickly and bloodlessly reclaiming Crimea and keeping potentially intervening countries at bay. Clearly, Russia finds value in manipulating the information space, particularly in an age where news can be easily accessed on demand through official and nonofficial outlets. Based on its successes in Crimea, Russia is outpacing its main adversary, the United States, by leveraging the information space to bolster its propaganda, messaging, and disinformation capabilities in support of geopolitical objectives.

Russian Information Confrontation

Russia has been long credited with having formidable information warfare capabilities. (1) Russian information confrontation theory covers a wide range of these actions and the conceptual understanding of Russian information operations stemming from cultural, ideological, historical, scientific, and philosophical viewpoints. (2) The broad nature of these activities views offensive information campaigns more as influencing agents than as destructive actions, though the two are not mutually exclusive. Simply put, the information space lends information resources, including "weapons" or other informational means, to affect both internal and external audiences through tailored messaging, disinformation, and propaganda campaigns.

Igor Panarin, an influential scholar and a well-regarded Russian information warfare expert, outlined the basic instruments involved in the larger information struggle including propaganda (black, gray, and white); intelligence (specifically information collection); analysis (media monitoring and situation analysis); organization (coordinating and steering channels and influencing media to shape the opinion of politicians and mass media); and other combined channels. (3) In terms of influence operations, Panarin identified information warfare vehicles such as social control; social maneuvering; information manipulation; disinformation; purposeful fabrication of information; and lobbying, blackmail, and extortion. (4) Therefore, the essence of information confrontation focuses on this constant information struggle between adversaries.

Reviewing the application of these principles in two well-known instances of Russian geopolitical involvement helps illustrate if and how Russian understanding of information confrontation has evolved; it also provides insight into the outcomes of such practices in the context of on-demand media coverage.

2008 Georgia

Russia and Georgia competed to control the flow of information to the global community during their brief conflict in 2008. Both sides employed kinetic (conventional military strikes and troop movements) and nonkinetic (cyberattacks, propaganda, and denial and deception) offensives. As reported, Russia's postanalysis and criticism of its efforts in the conflict led to some serious military reforms in its larger defense apparatus. (5) Although experts observed alternating mission successes, Anatoliy Tsyganok, then deputy chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces believed Georgia won the information war at the preliminary stage of the conflict, but lost at the end of it. …

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