Russia’s Strategy For Information Warfare

Russia recently released its new National Security Strategy, or NSS, a significant official document in which the word “cyber” is conspicuously absent. The omission is not a matter of translation, it’s strategic and this offers a clear signal for Western policymakers about what Russia’s curious word choice reveals about its cyber strategy .

Russia’s goals for digital conflict are much broader than shutting down pipelines and stealing data. Kremlin officials also want to influence the minds and ultimately the behaviour of their adversaries. Indeed, Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu recently said that “information has become a weapon” while accusing the West of establishing propaganda centers in Eastern Europe.

Instead of the term “cyber security,” (кибербезопасность) the NSS speaks of “information security.” (информационная безопасность) This may seem like a semantic difference, but it is intentional and consequential in the language used by the Kremlin. With a full section in the 2021 NSS devoted to information security, unlike its  2015 predecessor, there is no doubt that the Kremlin is taking the topic very seriously. 

According to Russian military doctrine, information security falls into two complementary categories: 

  • One component is on the technical side. These activities involve operations like shutting down pipelines, stealing data, and surveilling personal devices. Most Americans know this as “cyber security.” 
  • The other element of information security is the much more subtle and downright stealthy. Rather than infrastructure and networks, this psychological side of Russian operations targets the cognitive processes of the adversary’s leaders and population. It focuses on psychological manipulation. 

Russian military strategists Chekinov and Bogdanov said, “In the ongoing revolution in information technologies, information and psychological warfare will largely lay the groundwork for victory.” The chief of staff of the Russian military, Valery Gerasimov, values nonmilitary to military measures as 4 to 1.

Western policymakers need to recognise that one of the Kremlin’s goals include being a cyber superpower. The failure to credibly deter Russia’s information operations will also have detrimental effects on the ability of the US and the West to deter Chinese information operations. 

Its not just about hacking computer systems, Russia  also wants to  disrupt democracy, polarise society and spread doubt and confusion. 

As the Biden administration continues to negotiate with Russia on ending cyber attacks, it is imperative that the US also adopt a holistic approach to information security in which both the Russian technical and cognitive components need to be addressed. Now is the time for a realistic and comprehensive approach to Russian information tactics and capabilities. 

DefenseOne:        AEI:             Industry-Update:       Daily Advent:      Albitross:      Image: Unsplash

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