Dr. Andrew Liaropoulos
(RIEAS Senior Analyst)
The Russian military perceives information as an important factor that can be used to achieve political goals and affect current military operations. Information Operations can be accomplished not only by information-technological means (attacks on the critical national infrastructure, cyber-attaches etc), but also by information-perceptual techniques (propaganda, perception management, disinformation, psychological operations and deception). (1)
Regarding the military-technological elements of Information Operations, there is the belief that Russia is unable to compete in certain areas with the U.S and should look to asymmetric options. In particular, some theorists call for a combination of evolutionary and revolutionary tools. The emphasis should be on reconnaissance and command and control systems, specifically at the operational and tactical levels. The main priority in the field of prospective weapons should be on guided and electromagnetic energy weapons, cyberwarfare and stealth unmanned combat platforms. (2)
In addition, the Strategic Rocket Forces remain an active component of Russian’s defence structure and space is becoming a strategic priority, in order to provide communications for the armed forces. (3)
Although Russia values the military-technical component of the current military transformation as a way to catch up with the West and increase its combat capabilities, Moscow also seems to put emphasis on the soft dimension of information, on psychological and propaganda aspects. The soft dimension of information has gained the attention of Russian military and security specialists for obvious reasons.
The free-flowing, border-crossing exchange of information has offered people and organization in Russia unlimited access to ideological and political information, which was never before available. This revolutionary change could have profound socio-political implications, in terms of shaping the public opinion and preserving domestic security. (4)
The fact that Russia has banned several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from operating within Russia, with the excuse that some NGOs are being used by foreign governments for political purposes, is indicative of the above. (5)
Russian military scientists have long been studying not only the ability of Information Operations to affect the values, emotions and beliefs of target audiences (traditional psychological warfare), but also methods to affect the objective reasoning process of decision makers and combatants. Thus, Russia is interested in affecting not only the data-processing capability of hardware and software, but also the data-processing capability of the human mind. (6)
Timothy Thomas, who has written widely on the topic, argues that this choice has both practical and cultural reasons. (7) A number of Russian defence analysts are quite suspicious of the U.S-inspired Information Warfare concept. They believe that as was the case with the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), where the U.S forced the Soviet Union to keep pace with America’s achievements in the SDI arena and eventually exhausted economically the Soviet Union, the same will happen with Information Warfare. The latter is another U.S-developed concept to force Russia to invest vast sums of money in a realm that is simply beyond Moscow’s technological reach in the near future. (8)
According to this view, Russia due to its budgetary, technological and infrastructure restraints is not able, at least in the present, to develop a high-tech military revolution, equivalent to that of the U.S and therefore should also invest on the soft dimension of Information Operations. This option is also related to its military past. The Soviet Armed Forces had a long tradition in studying the art of perception management at the tactical and operational level for both deception (maskirovka) and disinformation purposes.
(1) For a synopsis on the Russian views on Information Warfare see selectively Timothy L. Thomas, ‘Russian Views on Information-based Warfare’, Airpower Journal (Special Edition 1996), pp.25-35, and Timothy L. Thomas, ‘The Russian Understanding of Information Operations and Information Warfare’ in Alberts, David S. and David S. Papp (eds), Volume III of Information Age Anthology: The Information Age Military (Washington DC: DoD, C4ISR Cooperative Research Program, 2001), pp.777-815.
(2) Leigh Armistead (ed.), Information Operations. Warfare and the Hard Reality of Soft Power (Washington DC: Brassey’s INC, 2004), p.199.
(3) The Military Balance 2004/2005 (London: IISS, Oxford University Press, 2004), p.99.
(4) Armistead, Information Operations, p.191.
(5) NGOs face suspension in Russia, BBC News, Published: 2006/10/18 10:40:12 GMT, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6061702.stm
(6) Armistead, Information Operations, p.196.
(7) Timothy L. Thomas, ‘Russian Information-Psychological Actions: Implications for U.S PSYOP’, Special Warfare, 10, 1 (1997), pp.12-19 and Timothy L. Thomas, ‘Russia’s Reflexive Control Theory and the Military’, Journal of Slavic Military Studies, 17, 2 (2004), pp.237-256.
(8) Timothy L. Thomas, Dialectical versus Empirical Thinking: Ten Key Elements of the Russian Understanding of Information Operations (Fort Leavenworth: Foreign Military Studies Office, Center for Army Lessons Learned, September 1998), p.1.