Russia's Information Warfare Operations Starts Fake News. Can Trudeau Stand Up to It?
Can Prime Minister Justin Trudeau straighten the spine of what is usually an invertebrate government in the likely face of Russian information warfare operations in response to the deployment of a Canadian battlegroup to Latvia in the coming days. The “fake news” stories about Canadians and their Baltic tour is likely to be legendary and infamous.
Russian Defense Minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, told the Russian Duma on Wednesday that the military had mobilized a special task force to wage information warfare. In Russian military parlance, Information Operations (IO) is defined as all forms of information, including propaganda and counter-propaganda, disinformation, psychological operations, and cyberwarfare. It is the disinformation warfare or “dezinformatsiya” that Canadian troops will encounter on their Baltic tour with their NATO allies. Disinformation is not new, as most concepts in information warfare are not knew, it is right out of the Soviet information warfare handbook. The goal of disinformation is "false information with the intention to deceive public opinion” or what Donald Trump might call “fake news.” It is the sort of news story being spread by Liberal parliamentarians in Canada right now, that Conservatives are responsible for the Quebec mosque massacre, so stay away from Tories.
NATO and the United States have been dealing with Russian disinformation for almost two years in Western, Central Europe, the Balkans and the Baltic, brought on with the Russian seizure of the Crimea and Ukraine. It is a dedicated part of what the Russians and NATO would call “Hybrid warfare” and what a Cold warrior would recognize as the Soviet concept of “active measures.” The Russians use disinformation to achieve “reflexive control” of an adversary, which causes the opponent to voluntarily act in the most advantageous way to Russian objectives. In former Warsaw Pact countries or former Soviet Republics, the disinformation is likely to be that the Red Army is ‘ten feet tall’ and we will destroy NATO with nuclear bombs, so come back home, or else. In Western Europe, the message will be that Americans are here to place nuclear weapons on European soil again, elect left wing pro-Russian governments and thwart Trump. Never mind the fact, that Russia is cheating on the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty and militarizing Kaliningrad like crazy, including with nuclear weapons. But with the Russians and information operations, all things are on the table. This goes back to the early days of the Soviet Union and is viewed as a strategic tool of intrinsic value.
By way of other examples, in Serbia, for instance, pro-Russian news media blasts out stories like, Russia will protect Serbia from NATO by deploying the S-400 air defense system. Fake news stories are played every day by mainstream Serbian, Montenegrin, and Bosnian Serb media that is extremely anti-NATO and anti-EU. This Russian disinformation has painted the Croatian purchase of OH-58 Kiowa helicopters as a direct military threat to Serbia. The Oh-58 Kiowa is an old single-engine, single-rotor, military helicopters used for observation, utility, and direct fire support, it is not a threat to Serbia. In Ukraine, pro-Russian Television and Radio broadcast extremely negative false stories in to occupied areas of the Ukraine so that they do not want to be liberated and fight to stay under Russian control. Ukrainian troops get reverse text messages calling on them to surrender. After Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 from Amsterdam was shot down over Ukraine in July 2014 by a Russian Buk missile, killing all on board, Russia spread stories saying the aircraft was shot down by the Ukraine. Recently in the Baltic, Russia planted and broadcast a false report that German soldiers had sexually assaulted an under-age girl in Jonava. The assault never occurred, and it has forced both the Lithuanians, Germans and NATO to deny the story and warn of more to come.
Russia has used reflexive control to keep Western governments from engaging directly in Ukraine. There is a fear that the Russians may use disinformation in upcoming elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany. After all, it looks like the Russians used disinformation in the United States Presidential election campaign to promote Donald Trump, and to dump Hillary Clinton in we are to believe the media. Canadians and their NATO allies can expect the Russians to unload with disinformation on the NATO build up in Poland and the Baltics so that when these deployments are over we do not come back. The goal is to make democratic governments craven by offending their sensitive populations at home.
At the end of the day, what will be the Russian disinformation with the Canadian deployment to Latvia? With the culture of sexual harassment in the Canadian Forces widely reported in the Canadian media, what are Canadian troops going to be accused of in fake news? Will the Russians reach back to Somalia and spread torture stories? Will the Trudeau government call the Russian government on fake news and disinformation during the deployment, or will they bring Canadian troops home under a cloud of scandal and use it as a justification not to go back to support our most at risk allies? Or will the Trudeau government simply roll over and cut defense spending to suit the objectives of Russian reflexive control?