Topics of the Week
British Prime Minister accused of ignoring evidence of Russian interference.
The US Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director warned Russia against interfering in the 2020 elections in a joint statement.
Kremlin’s current narratives: Russian stooge blame game returns.
Nuclear energy as a strategic tool of hybrid warfare: Case studies from Hungary, Finland and Belarus.
Good Old Soviet Joke
A new building of the Central Committee of the Communist Party was built. During the first meeting, the building falls and kills all the comrades. Experts from the Soviet Union come to investigate. They identify the suppliers and come to the warehouse to interrogate. They start with the brick.
“Brick, was it you?”
“How could it be me, a red brick, burnt in Russia?”
Then they come to the sand and threaten it:
“Sand, we are sure you did it!”
“How could I do it, the yellow sand, sifted by the communist hand?”
Finally, the investigators go to the cement.
Cement yells at them from the distance: “Don’t even bother coming to me, I wasn’t there at all!”
Policy & Research News
British Prime Minister accused of ignoring evidence of Russian interference
In the last week, two major stories on disinformation in the UK have come to light. Firstly, a report on Kremlin covert actions in British politics has been produced by the UK’s parliament’s intelligence and security committee. It includes evidence from British intelligence agencies on alleged Russian interference in British elections and other potential threats.
However, as the Guardian reports, Boris Johnson has chosen not to provide clearance for the dossier to be released as the British Prime Minister aims to delay the 50-page document being published until after the upcoming general election in December. Johnson’s decision to postpone the special report from being made available to the public has received widespread criticism. The chairman of the intelligence committee, Dominic Greave, has described Downing Street’s decision as “jaw-dropping”, while Bill Browder, an activist against Russian influence who had provided evidence to the committee as part of the report, has expressed his concerns on the delay, labelling it as “disturbing”. Moreover, former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has called the stalling of the release of the report as “damaging, inexplicable and shaming”.
It is understood the committee’s analysis followed on from previous work on Russian interference, focusing on the Kremlin’s attempts to influence social media discourse as part of an 18-month long investigation. As detailed in the article from the Guardian, Dominic Greave states the report analysed a wide range of issues associated with Kremlin-backed interference in the UK. In addition to the analysis of Russian attempts to use social media to infiltrate British politics, there were also concerns raised to the committee regarding donations made by individuals from Russia to the Conservative party.
The second notable development on disinformation involves major tech companies, including Facebook, Twitter and Google, as they have all pledged to do more on fighting misinformation in the build to the UK’s upcoming general election, as was reported in the New York Times. Due to the lack of significant changes to UK law regarding online ads and digital disinformation on social media the tech giants have had to decide themselves on how to approach the problem.
Twitter has introduced a policy, taking effect on the 22nd November, which prohibits paid political advertisements. This has seen an increase in the demand for Facebook and YouTube to adopt the same approach. However, despite its leaders insisting they have learnt from the US 2016 election, Facebook has so far failed to implement a ban on paid political ads. Furthermore, the company’s policy that permits politicians to run fake adverts on Facebook will extend to the UK after the policy was implemented in the US.
Finland and Sweden exercise responding to information influence activities
Authorities from Finland and Sweden will come together in Helsinki this month as part of an exercise to enhance both the cooperation and the coordination between the two Nordic countries when responding to attempts of influence through the use of information. An estimated 40 public officials from Finland and Sweden will participate in the exercise at the Finnish capital and will be trained to identify, analyse and respond to threats of information influence. This is the third time the joint exercise has taken place and will be led by Secretary-General of the Security Committee Vesa Valtonen. In addition to representatives from both Finland and Sweden, the other attendees include experts from NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence.
The United States warned Russia against interfering in 2020 elections
Last week, the United States held off-year elections in five different states across the country. On election day, Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Christopher Krebs released a joint statement to warn Russia against interfering in the 2020 elections. A rare joint statement was made together with other government agencies such as Department of Justice, Department of Defence, Department of Homeland Security, FBI and NSA. CISA itself was created after the 2016 elections to enhance the government´s cybersecurity protections against private and nation-state actors.
Director Krebs also spoke with CBS News, where he noted that “They [Russians] are going to be back. They are trying to get into our heads. They are trying to hack our brains, so to speak, and ultimately have us — lose faith in our processes.” According to Krebs, the nightmare scenario would be to have a ransomware attack against the election offices, which could mean difficulties such as losing access to the voter registration database. In the 2020 elections, about 92 per cent of the votes will be backed up with a paper ballot, which still leaves millions of votes without a physical backup, making the electoral system vulnerable to malign cyber actors.
Russian culture program at American University raises worries
Potential Russian influence in American University´s “The Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History” program has raised worries in the United States. The program, which has connections to Russia´s former U.S. ambassador Sergey Kislyak, was named after real estate investor Susan Carmel. The program was founded in 2011 during President Obama´s Russian reset period to promote dialogue and cultural appreciation between Russia and the United States. Carmel program has focused on topics such as the Russian-American cooperation during World War II and the joint space exploration efforts.
The program is under critique due to heightened tensions in the U.S.-Russian relations and the potential influence of Russian political actors. Ambassador Kislyak was known for promoting various efforts to increase Russian cultural power in the U.S. through initiatives such as Russian classical concerts or the rescue of the California state park, which is located on the site of a 19th-century Russian settlement. According to the NY Times article, Kislyak told Russian foreign agent Maria Butina that the Carmel cultural program was invented in cooperation by Kislyak and Carmel, which is why Ms. Carmel was later given a medal of appreciation by President Putin.
Kremlin’s Current Narratives
The return of the “Russian stooge blame game”
Following the recent extension of the deadline for Brexit and the call for snap elections in the United Kingdom, the Kremlin has once again come under the spotlight with allegations for meddling in UK politics. Needless to say, Russian media has consistently dismissed such claims as groundless in the past. This, too, has been the case with the news for Boris Johnson’s suppression of a recent report on Moscow’s infiltration in domestic politics in the UK at the beginning of November. According to coverage on the issue in Russian media outlets, allegations for interference like this one are “lobbed like confetti” in both Washington and London for no reason, and it is mockingly suggested that anyone with a copy of Anna Karenina can be labelled a spy in this fashion.
In addition to the denial of any accusations, Moscow’s interpretation of the so-called Russia Report has increasingly revolved around the old and tested narrative of “victimization.” More specifically, this refers to a scenario where other countries, and especially the West, demonize the Kremlin and use it as a scapegoat for their own domestic problems. According to Russian news outlets, the upcoming snap elections are a good reason to recycle some of the old Russian stoogery conspiracies in order to win votes. For example, the same sources intently report that during a public speech, Boris Johnson has accused Jeremy Corbyn of “siding with Putin” and thus “subjecting the country to a horror show.” Similarly, this narrative also suggests the Russia Report is nothing more than an expression of this “anti-Russia hysteria has seemed to kick into high gear in Britain in recent days.”
Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion
Nuclear Energy and the Current Security Environment
inn the Era of Hybrid Threats
The European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, along with the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence and NATO StratCom, have published a report analysing the role that nuclear energy may play as a strategic tool in the deployment of hybrid attacks.
Russia is known for leveraging its role as the world’s largest hydrocarbon supplier according to its geopolitical interests, and this became clear during the Ukrainian crises. Aware of its vulnerability, Europe has since then directed efforts to improve energy diversification. Expanding hydrocarbon providers is the key part of this strategy, but other energy sources also affect the stability of the European mix. With regards to nuclear energy, Russia is also in a well-established position in the European markets. However, the way this role can be played as leverage for hybrid influence has been so far understudied.
This research report targets nuclear energy from the strategic perspective, analysing the role of nuclear in the energy mix and markets inside and outside Europe. Three case studies of nuclear power plants (NPPs) that use Russian-designed reactors are put forth, one in Hungary, one in Belarus and one in Finland. Even though the three energy markets and strategies are considerably different, the conclusions are similar: nuclear power plants need to receive more attention from an international strategy perspective; ordinary-looking business deals may have a potentially destabilising threat underneath, and investments in NPPs using non-EU technology should be under close inspection to guarantee that they will not create a dependency on Russia for the supply of the nuclear fuel.
Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Think-Tank, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against liberal-democratic system.