Academic journal article Connections : The Quarterly Journal

Beyond Propaganda: Soviet Active Measures in Putin's Russia

Academic journal article Connections : The Quarterly Journal

Beyond Propaganda: Soviet Active Measures in Putin's Russia

Article excerpt

Preface: An Awakening

The neatest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.

- Charles Baudelaire, 1869 1

They began to appear in late February 2014. Equipped with the latest military weapons and gear, stripped of identification and riding unmarked military vehicles, they rapidly seized ground.2 While the world looked on in confusion, in a few weeks it was over; Crimea belonged to the Little Green Men.

Several months later, on a beautiful July afternoon, a shower of composite and aluminum aircraft parts suddenly darkened the blue skies of Eastern Ukraine, raining down upon the sunflower fields near Hrabove. The 298 passengers and crew of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 were all killed when their Boeing 777 was struck by a Russian-made 9M38 missile, launched by a Buk-Ml anti-aircraft system.* 3 At over 18 feet long, the missile was nearly the size of a telephone pole, and traveling three times the speed of sound.

Screened by a schizophrenic torrent of state-sponsored propaganda, the Kremlin maintained innocence, distancing Russia from the controversial events and vehemently denying involvement - despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

For many Western audiences, their first introduction to modern Russian propaganda was the frenetic spin cycle surrounding these dramatic events. Described as "darkly, nastily brilliant" and "so much more sophisticated than Soviet propaganda," in the year and a half since Crimea's illegal referendum on independence, journalistic observation and scholarly analysis of the RT television network (formerly Russia Today) and others have helped raise awareness of the Kremlin's coordinated manipulation of Russian mass media.4

Unfortunately, RT and other state-controlled media outlets represent only one facet of a much larger influence campaign - a single tool in a range of understudied activities that constitute a concerning gap in the West's broader "soft-containment" of Putin's Russia.

An Introduction to "Active Measures"

In short, the Soviet approach to international relations can perhaps best be described as a form of "political warfare," with the manipulative and deceptive techniques of active measures playing an essential and important role.

- USIA Report, Soviet Active Measures in the "Post-Cold War" Era, 1988-19915 6

The Russian Federation is currently waging "the most amazing information warfare blitzkrieg ... in the history of information warfare," pursuing a revanchist foreign policy considered by senior diplomatic and military leaders to be a tremendous security threat for both Europe and America.7 While many in the West are by now familiar with Russia's infamous RT network, its state-sponsored media outlets are only the tip of the iceberg - the "white propaganda" component of a much broader system of influence activities designed to shape the global information space.

With roots in Leninist thinking, over generations the Soviets mastered a range of techniques known as oktivnyye meropriyotiyo, or "active measures," ranging from simple propaganda and forgery to assassination, terrorism and everything in between. In the West, these politics by other means were simply referred to as "dirty tricks."8

Described by Major General Oleg Kalugin, the KGB's highest ranking defector, as "the heart and soul of Soviet intelligence," these "active measures were well integrated into Soviet policy and involved virtually every element of the Soviet party and state structure, not only the KGB."9 As a major component of Soviet foreign policy, these tactics were incredibly well resourced. According to experts, the "Soviet active measures apparatus dwarfed, by a factor of perhaps 20 or 30 to one, the US governmental apparatus set up to analyze and counter its activities."10 At their peak, it is estimated that the Soviet active measures campaign employed up to 15,000 people - more than the number of diplomats serving in the post-9/11 US Department of State. …

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