The Information War Between the US and Russia

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By CHENG HONGGANG*

US and Western public opinion and information warfare against Russia will be repeated in the strategic competition against China

In his 1968 book, The political order in a changing society, Samuel Huntington, one of America's leading political scientists, wrote: "It is not the aggression of foreign armies that poses the main threat to the stability of a traditional society, but the invasion of foreign ideas, where print and speech increasingly advance. than armies and tanks.” Huntington already had such insights about the role of disseminating opinions at a time when the press and radio dominated communication. The late 1990s showed a revolutionary change in the dissemination of information with the rapid development of technology. online.

 

US and Russia vie for public domain and morals

In order to control Europe, weaken Russia and stimulate the expansion of its energy exports and military industry, the US is encouraging military conflict between Russia and Ukraine, using public opinion propaganda. The US government and mainstream public opinion have cooperated to demonize Russia, and “Russophobia” has swept the western world as the US presents itself as the “representative of justice” and the “defender of order”. Before the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian military conflict, the US government was ambiguous on the issue of NATO membership, and expressed “firm support” for Ukraine to fight Russia, and Western media were encouraging Ukraine to join NATO.

The US ignored Russia's proposal to sign a security guarantee treaty. The US government and media ignored Russia's proposal to sign a security pact, and everyone from the government to the media promoted Russia's “invasion” of Ukraine. Encouragement from the US and the West spurred the situation to deteriorate, which eventually led Russia and Ukraine to embark on the road to war.

Russia used a mixture of public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, intelligence warfare and other ways to support the “special military operation” against Ukraine. Before the military operation, Russia exaggeratedly announced the withdrawal of exercise troops from the Russian-Ukrainian border, releasing a smokescreen to create the illusion that the situation was de-escalating; after the military offensive began, Russia exaggerated how powerful its military forces were, and a large number of Online Water Army[I] spread the “invincible” myth of the Russian army on social media.

After the start of the military offensive, Russia exaggerated how strong its military forces and a large number of structures were. online spread the “myth” of the “invincibility” of the Russian army in its own media and on social media, with the intention of demoralizing the Ukrainian side and influencing international public opinion. In order to raise the moral level, Russia carried out an organized and planned international communication campaign. Vladimir Putin made several televised speeches, including one on February 21 that involved a grand historical narrative, seeking theoretical and historical justification for the upcoming "special military operation".

Russia's global outreach efforts, primarily through Russian Today TV e Rosatom, have been effective. In its international communications, Russia has been able to get to the heart of the matter, defending and making its case. For example, it exposed the US arms supply to Ukraine, which led to deaths and a humanitarian catastrophe in the eastern part of the country; propagated the threat to peace posed by the US government's denial of World War II history and its support of the resurgence of Nazism; explained the direct threat to Russia's security posed by NATO's long-term policy of eastward expansion; and exposed US misbehavior in meddling in other countries' internal affairs, waging wars and vying for hegemony.

In particular, Russia's propaganda campaign under the banner of “denazification” has become a powerful weapon for seeking support from the international community, and many countries have not taken sides in the Russia-Ukraine military conflict. According to a survey by the Russian research center Levada, support for Vladimir Putin in Russia recently increased to 83%.

 

US and Russia block each other's online media

In the Russian-Ukrainian military conflict, the US tore off its hypocritical mask of “media neutrality and objectivity” and its media became a tool for naked political manipulation serving interest groups. Under pressure from the US government, US companies, led by several international Internet operators, launched a disconnection campaign against Russia, imposing sanctions and blocking Russian media abroad. Apple, Intel, META, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Sony, TSMC and other tech giants have issued advisories to cut supplies and suspend business to Russia.

Prior to that, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a ban on Russian media, including Russian Today TV and Rosatom and its subsidiaries, from operating in European Union countries. Western blocking measures against Russian media include stopping the issuance of SSL certificates to Russia and stopping the leasing of ports and IP addresses to Russia, i.e. stopping the maintenance of Russian domain names. Official Russian accounts are mostly “restricted” by platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, YouTube video sites and Apple have banned Russian use of their products, and Google has banned Russian media from conducting revenue activities through its apps.

On March 2, Russia announced that it was “ready to launch a sovereign Internet”. Indeed, Russia has been responding to the West's internet blockade for a long time: in May 2019, Vladimir Putin signed the internet sovereignty law, which proposes to establish an internet system with a Russian national domain name, allowing Internet traffic is routed through government-controlled infrastructure. Russia has also conducted several disconnect tests to ensure the uninterrupted operation of the internet in Russia under all circumstances.

At the same time, Russia has responded firmly to the Western blockade of Russian media by imposing appropriate restrictions on CNN, ABC, CBC and Bloomberg. In response to hostile media coverage of Russia in various countries, Russia has also taken corresponding measures. According to official agencies in Azerbaijan, the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technologies and Mass Media has banned the activities of several well-known Arab media sites, including baku.ws, on the territory of Russia.

 

War attacks on the internet

Cyberattacks have reached an unprecedented scale and have played an important role in the Russian-Ukrainian military rivalry and the information war of public opinion. The type of cyber-attack was primarily a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, and both sides have completed the deployment of malware each other before the conflict.

The international group of hackers Anonymous declared a “cyber war” against Russia, and 30 Rosatom all over the world were attacked by the Anonymous, resulting in slow traffic speeds. O Anonymous attacked thousands of Russian websites and systems, causing massive amounts of sensitive information to be leaked; according to the Russian cybersecurity department, since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, cyber attacks by US and EU countries account for 28% and 46% of cyber attacks on Russia, which has a serious impact on centers of Russia's space control, defense, energy, finance, telecommunications and other key sectors. With the help of the US, the US government formed an information network “IT Corps”, investing a lot of money to hire foreign cyber talent, and carried out a series of cyber attacks in Russia.

Russia carried out three cyberattacks against Ukraine ahead of the “special military operation”. Starting in January 2022, Russia carried out large-scale cyberattacks on government websites related to the diplomatic, education, domestic, energy and other sectors. In the week before the start of the “special military operation”, Russia carried out cyberattacks on key sectors of Ukraine's defense, armed forces and banks, resulting in widespread shutdowns and paralysis of these sectors. Since the start of the operation, Russia has focused on data wiping attacks on hundreds of computers on the Ugandan side. Russia is currently deploying a defensive technical measure called “geo fencing"[ii] to prevent virus intrusion.

 

Social media as a battleground

Social media has shown great power in the Russian-Ukrainian military conflict. A fake story about Ukrainian troops dying en masse on an island in the Black Sea and a fictional scene of a little girl sending her father off to war “moved” many people and fueled international hatred of the Russian “invasion”. Recently, reports of the deaths of hundreds of people in the small town of Buccha, Kiev region, have been widely circulated on social media, causing an uproar in the international community and will seriously affect the ongoing negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.

According to various foreign media, since the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the US Central Intelligence Agency has been planning and organizing anti-Russian social groups, self-media bloggers and well-known personalities around the world to disseminate a large amount of information and commentary that is indistinguishable from the truth and smears Russia's international image. In turn, “public opinion” reflected on social media had a significant impact on government decisions. For example, the US government's decision to ban Russian oil imports was largely influenced by public opinion in the United States. The German government, under pressure from public opinion, increased its arms aid to Ukraine.

Russia has for many years attached great importance to developing the power of social media, investing heavily in digital media and armies online. The contest for public opinion on social media is not limited to the country, it also extends to many countries, cultivating pro-Russian public opinion in various ways, such as Russian language education, cultural centers, free media and art salons. Despite the obvious disadvantage of Russia's international communication compared to the West, in the midst of the Russian-Ukrainian military conflict, a large number of armies online pro-Russians have emerged in many countries around the world, forming an international public opinion force that is linked at home and abroad in solidarity with Russia and condemning the US and NATO for interfering in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, achieving an impact favorably on Russia's international image.

 

Insights from the information war on US-Russia public opinion

US and Western public opinion and information warfare against Russia will likely be repeated in the strategic competition against China. The Russian-Ukrainian military conflict has become yet another tool for anti-China politicians in the US and the West to exploit the issue and attack China. US and Western public opinion speculates that “China is Russia's accomplice”; that China and Russia form a so-called “axis of evil”; that the Russia-Ukraine conflict has been used to publicize the Taiwan issue; and that China's “threat of force” to the South China Sea was exaggerated. This is an example of how the US government organized a Online Water Army to attack and vilify China, which we must not underestimate.

First, this Russian-Ukrainian military conflict has exposed Russia's deficiencies and inadequacies in internet technology. Russia still needs to import 90% of its civilian chips, and use of the chips in military electronic equipment is obviously struggling. The development of three major Russian Internet companies, Yandex, Vkontat and Mail.ru, has long stalled at the domestic level and has limited international influence. The healthy growth of strategic Internet-based companies is of critical and significant strategic importance.

The most important thing at present is to establish a healthy and effective market development mechanism for Internet high-tech enterprises, promote the coordinated and integrated development of private and government enterprises; strengthen systematization and legal rules for high-tech Internet companies and improve the level of Internet use and management; and encourage Internet companies to participate more in international cooperation and competition and expand overseas markets. The core objective is to improve the independent and autonomous capability of China's internet science and technology as soon as possible, and master the core technology into our own hands, in order to deal with the large-scale siege and attacks carried out by the US and the US. West in China's high-tech field.

Second, in a time of sudden changes in the international situation and headwinds, it is crucial to maintain the internal cohesion and centripetal force of a society. It must be recognized that confusing US and Western propaganda still has a market in China, and voices that blindly pander to the US, praise Western values, and single out the West as “representing justice” frequently appear in the media. We must vigorously strengthen the promotion of socialist core values ​​from the perspective of public opinion propaganda and governance, promote traditional culture, fully understand China's great construction achievements, and enhance self-confidence.

Fully understand the true nature of US hegemony and improve the ability to distinguish right from wrong, so that in the complex international environment, public opinion can play a better role in supporting China's major diplomatic strategic actions, safeguarding core national interests and upholding the principles of international equity and justice.

In the complex international environment, public opinion must play its due role in supporting China's key diplomatic strategic actions, safeguarding core national interests, and upholding the principles of international fairness and justice. At the same time, it is necessary to strengthen the legalization and scientific management of public opinion, both to create a relaxed environment for public opinion and to actively guide public opinion and resolutely suppress the dissemination of undesirable information that is harmful to the country and society. .

Once again, the Russian-Ukrainian military conflict has made us more acutely aware of the importance of strengthening international communication capabilities and mastering international discourse. China has the world's largest group of internet users, a large number of media professionals and well-developed communication platforms for various types of public opinion. Currently, it must have a broader vision and focus on building globalized communication platforms.

First, efforts should be made to build a series of new media communication groups with global influence, form a modern communication system with diversified and integrated development, and improve the communication power, credibility and influence of Chinese media in the world.

Second, it should seriously study the characteristics and rules of international public opinion communication, improve communication methods and approaches, work on accuracy and effectiveness for different regions, countries and audiences, and tell China's story well.

Third, we must pay special attention to the cultivation and use of social media. Social media, with its unique advantages of breadth, timeliness and transnationality, are playing an increasingly important role in international communication, and must be fully utilized on national and international fronts. Fourth, although international communication is being suppressed by the encirclement of the US and the West, we cannot give up the market in Western countries and must continue to seek breakthroughs and strive to have greater relevance in the positions of Western public opinion.

At the same time, international communication should focus more attention on the vast number of China-friendly developing countries, and adopt various means to expand the media market in developing countries: media exchange and cooperation at the government level, investment in the media industry media from relevant countries; participate in media market competition, deepening relationships with China's friendly NGOs and social groups; work in-depth with celebrities and overseas Chinese to build a broad and stable base of public opinion in China, and expand the atmosphere of international public opinion favorable to China.

*Cheng Honggang is professor of information technology at Sichuan University (China).

Translation: Arthur Scavone.

Originally published in Taihe Think Tank

 

Notes


[I] The term “Online Water Army” refers to groups of people who are paid to post comments on the Internet. These part-time or full-time workers make use of social media sites, forums and blogs to influence public opinion. They make positive posts about the companies that employ them and lash out at competitors. They often create multiple accounts to spread the same message, giving the impression that there is general consensus on an issue.

[ii] GEO-FENCING involves the use of technology and geolocation that allows knowing the location and time determined from data from cell phones connected to the internet.

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