NATO has been warning for some time that Russia has been conducting long-term information warfare operations in Europe1,2, on a scale and sophistication that dwarves anything that NATO or Europe is doing in response3. On account of the long-term damage such parties do to the UK and to other European countries, Russia has been quietly and effectively supporting right-wing parties4,5 in order to further its own interest in a fractured Europe. "Senior Russian political figures have long cultivated relationships with nationalist and often anti-EU parties in Europe"5 (e.g. in the UK, France, Germany)2. They will also fund and encourage mainstream parties (such as the UK's Conservatives6), if they are doing enough damage to the EU.7. On top of this, cyber-attacks and military operations have been used to subdue and intimidate several Baltic and Eastern-European countries (Estonia, Ukraine, Georgia)7,8,9.
In a time when the EU needs to adopt a co-ordinated economic and political response10, the western world's reactions have instead 'been nervy and sporadic'7, giving further advantage to Russia7,11. The UK's decision to leave the EU has made this worse12.
The most effective long-term political strategy to cool Russian fire is to encourage solidified EU foreign policy. Economically, to stop industrial dependence on Russian pipelines we need to (continue) to deploy distributed renewable energy sources, reduce car and travel use by funding wider and cheaper public transport and encourage electric vehicles. Individually, we need to reject hyper-nationalist political parties and those who are attempting to weaken European togetherness, and, check news sources before sharing divisive material on social media. In this war, information-hygiene, influence and economics is more important than military strength.
NATO has been warning for some time that Russia has been conducting long-term information warfare operations, on a scale and sophistication that dwarves anything that NATO or Europe is doing in response3. One such warning came from Mark Laity, the Chief Strategic Communications Officer at NATO's European headquarters in a formal statement to the UK government in 20163. The scale of Russia's programmes in Europe can only be met at an organized EU level. But, the EU does not have a proper, stable, joined-up approach on such topics - in fact, Foreign Affairs analysis in 2016 found that Europe's internal politics is moving further away from coherence, which works in Russia's favour11. "If the Russians detect what they believe is a weakness on our part, they will play upon it", warns Mr Laity3.
“[Russia] has also been trying to undermine ... Western solidarity and alliances. [... with] classic cold-war means: financing political parties that oppose their country's membership of the EU; pushing propaganda through its overseas broadcaster, Russia Today (now renamed RT), to sow doubt in the West about the versions of events conveyed by Western governments and media; and using cyber-attacks to intimidate vulnerable countries.”
“An aggressive disinformation effort by the Russian Federation and its allies has been very visible within EU member states since 2013 - the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis. The Kremlin uses this vehicle as part of its hybrid warfare to achieve its strategic objective to disrupt the internal cohesion of NATO, the EU and its willingness to react to aggressive policies of the Russian Federation. It also aims at a policy change in the case of sanctions, the Dutch referendum on EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, or the Brexit debate. The Chief of the Armed Staff of the Russian Federation, Valery Gerasimov, calls it:"Information confrontation aimed at the reduction of the fight potential of the enemy".”
“But perhaps the most insidious development is Russia´s renewed efforts to influence the West and Europe in particular through funding political parties across Europe, using social media, disseminating propaganda, and sponsoring corrupt leaders and organisations particularly in Eastern European states.”
"Britain: Leading, Not Leaving: The Patriotic Case for Remaining in Europe" by Gordon Brown (2016)1
On account of the long-term damage such parties do to the UK and to other European countries, Russia has been quietly and effectively supporting right-wing parties4,5 in order to further its own interest in a fractured Europe. "Senior Russian political figures have long cultivated relationships with nationalist and often anti-EU parties in Europe", including France's Front National, Germany's Alternative for Germany, Austria's Freedom Party (which signed a 'co-operation agreement with Mr Putin's United Russia party'5), Hungary's Jobbik and Slovakia's LSNS.2,5. Russia will also fund and encourage mainstream parties if they are doing enough damage to Europe:
“... the Tories [UK Conservative Party] have received more than £820,000 from Russia-linked donors since Mrs May became prime minister in July 2016. Mrs Litvinenko, whose husband was murdered in London with polonium in 2006 [said] 'These donations are not just from the heart and for charitable reasons. They are all calculated.' More than £3million has reportedly been donated to the Tory party by Russian billionaires and lobbyists since 2010.”
The EU has stood up a 14-person External Action Task Force focused on battling misinformation campaigns in Eastern Europe13, but, such schemes are tiny compared to Russia's effort, and need to be expanded and duplicated.
Revanchism is the desire to retake land. Under Putin, this (alongside political assassinations) has come to define the current era of Russian politics.
“High oil prices not only repaired Russia's finances but gave it the wherewithal and the confidence to ramp up its military spending and improve the training and morale of its forces, which it deployed in Georgia in 2008, then Ukraine in 2014 in support of pro-Russian rebels there and subsequently in Syria. [...] Russia's military bullying of Georgia and then Ukraine, its annexation of Crimea as a fait accompli, its cyber-attacks on the Baltic states, its cyber-based efforts to interfere in the US presidential election to weaken Hillary Clinton and boost Donald Trump, have all focused attention on the country and made President Putin look strong and aggressive.”
“Russian assertiveness is a direct threat to the security of Europe. Russian action in Georgia, the takeover of Crimea and the threat it poses to Ukraine has led the NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, to pronounce that, `what Russia has done in Ukraine is not defensive; to annex [Crimea] ... that is an act of aggression´.”
"Britain: Leading, Not Leaving: The Patriotic Case for Remaining in Europe" by Gordon Brown (2016)8
“Russia's military intervention in Syria, in support of President Bashar al-Assad, has sought thereby to preserve the country's military bases on the Mediterranean, to turn Assad into (or keep him) a Russian client more than an Iranian one. [...] The fact that Syria's civil war has sent millions of refugees heading across and around the Mediterranean to the EU, causing division within it, has no doubt counted for Russia as a bonus. It confirms how much Russia stands to gain from Western disunity.”
Sergei Skripal, now lays in hospital in the UK after being poisoned by a tightly-controlled Russian nerve agent. He is but one of a long-stream of victims, and the renewed interested has prompted some journalists to list some previous Russian political assassinations on UK soil. The list can only ever include those cases where the link was apparent (or implied), and if they are to be believed, it shows one successful assassination every year since 200314,15. However there are some cases listed that it is difficult to accept without clearer evidence. But if you were feeling skeptical and discounted half of the cases listed, that would still leave one assassination every two years. And this is just in the UK, not even an Eastern-European country where political conflict with Russia is hottest. At the time of writing, the UK's Prime Minister Theresa May is requesting a United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the latest event, but, with Russia as a veto-empowered member, it is hard to imagine that anything substantial can be done other than raising awareness. It seems that as politics continues to fail, it is up to citizens themselves to speak out.