Kremlin Watch Briefing: Post-COVID world & Russia

NEW PUBLICATION

Handbook on Cyber, Information, Intelligence and Personal Security Threats from Foreign Authoritarian Regimes, Domestic Oppression, and Harassment in Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova

This report follows a year of cooperation between civil society organizations (CSO) and think-tanks from Central Europe and the Eastern Neighborhood (EN). It evaluates the capability of the civil society in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine on operational security and exposing illegitimate methods of influence. The second part of the handbook provides the reader with step by step security manual involving areas of Cyber, Information, Intelligence and Personal Security which CSOs and civic activists should follow. This report could not exist without the financial support from European Commission and contributions from our partners from Media Development Foundation (Georgia), IPIS – Institute for Strategic Initiatives (Moldova), Ukraine Crisis Media Center (Ukraine).

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Topics of the Week

International open letter against the CCP’s rule by fear: The Chinese Chernobyl turned into global tragedy

Kremlin’s Current Narratives: Coronavirus emergency and separatism in Ukraine

The EU and conflict prevention in cyber-space

Good Old Soviet Joke

Young Czechoslovak newlyweds are now offered an interest-free loan for the construction of a family house up to 500,000 CZK. The only condition is that at least one SS-20 missile must fit in the chimney.

Policy & Research News

COVID-19, the Chinese Chоrnobyl turned into global tragedy

The traditional tendency of closed dictatorship to cover-up major disasters occurring within their boundaries has now had its worst global spillover ever, with the whole globe affected by the virus originated in Wuhan.

That is why Kremlin Watch issued an open letter to the Chinese people, signed by more than 100 experts and senior political figures, calling for their conscience to stop allowing the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) to ruthlessly dominate at home, with reckless conduct undermining not only the Chinese people but the whole humanity.

In fact, while Beijing’s intellectual yes-men keep nodding to the oppressive regime diktat, and consider any inquiry “politicized” and “unimportant” to detail the origins of the lethal virus, critical minds in China are sacrificing their lives for the truth to emerge.

This is the case of several doctors – silenced when undertaking their duty to inform colleagues on the nature of the virus, and of civil society members, who questioned the official CCP narrative and tried and broadcast unbiased information. All of them faced punishments ranging from house detention to simple “disappearance”.

The open letter international signatories express “solidarity with courageous and conscientious Chinese citizens” who spoke up “including Xu Zhangrun, Ai Fen, Li Wenliang, Ren Zhiqiang, Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin, Li Zehua, Xu Zhiyong, and Zhang Wenbin, just to name a few of the real heroes and martyrs who risk their life and liberty for a free and open China.” They now know they are not alone.

Cyber threats spike in the pandemic work set

Working from home unleashes an unprecedented cyber-security vulnerability for privates and companies, experts warn. In the middle of the pandemic crises, more than 500000 Zoom credentials were sold on the darknet, and the re-use of leaked data gave access to personal meeting URLs, emails and passwords, enabling a massive privacy breach, and the now frequent practice of “Zoombombing”.

Clearly, cyber vulnerability endangers companies whose employees do not use a corporate device to work remotely, in that these facilities are not equipped with proper firewalls, or blacklisted IP addresses. The need to share data in the virtual space gave room to an increase of 600% in phishing attempts, intended to leak sensitive information or to infect the users’ devices with malicious attaches containing key-loggers.

The current pandemic thus clarifies how the IT infrastructure is in need of a revised security policy, in the scenario of increase remote working will persist as a usual custom also after the pandemic. This remote working policy shall encompass practices of storing devices securely, creating secure passwords, increasing two-factors authentication and a safe use policy for visiting non-work related websites, IT experts warn.

Kremlin’s Current Narrative

Coronavirus emergency and separatism in Ukraine

In Ukraine – the preferred target of the Kremlin’s propaganda – the views expressed by pro-Russian figures are being magnified by Russian state channels in order to reinforce the idea that the current emergency is inexorably pushing Ukraine to the verge of collapse. The latest example was the words that Hanna Herman, press secretary of former president Viktor Yanukovych, released to “112 Ukraine”, the TV channel owned by Vladimir Putin’s close friend and prominent pro-Russian voice in Ukraine, Viktor Medvedchuk. Herman’s negative assessment of the Ukrainian government’s response to the epidemic resonated well with the Kremlin’s sponsored outlets, that were quick to emphasise in their headlines how, as hinted by Herman, the emergency might endanger the very existence of Ukraine as a state.

Earlier this month, Russian state channels collected the opinion of another pro-Russian former deputy to reiterate the idea that the coronavirus could strike a fatal blow to Ukraine. In all these instances, the measures adopted by president Zelensky to counter the epidemic would allegedly further jeopardise the country’s territorial integrity. For illustration, it is maintained that the regime of a quarantine imposed on Ukraine’s regions could prove “dangerous [given the] separatist sentiments that exist in the country”, or that in the current situation “local elites are strengthening and pursuing an increasingly independent policy from Kyiv”, or again that soon “Western Ukraine will also break-up” as a result of the emergency.

According to Russian outlets, Ukraine’s problems are not confined to the issue of separatism. Izvestia reports that the country’s financial troubles would be so serious that by June Zelensky will be forced to declare a default, while Sputnik’s “experts” suggest that the president would already be planning on fleeing the country in case he was not able to contain the consequences of the epidemic. Meanwhile, the situation would be aggravated by the “new type” of coronavirus that was found to infect Ukrainian medical workers, while according to the Kremlin’s outlets in the Ukrainian army the number of positive cases would exceed 1,300, of whom 30 already passed away. In fact, according to the Medical Force Command of the Ukrainian MOD, as of April 21, the recorded cases in the army were in total 39 – only 2 were lethal.

Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion

Cyber Conflict Uncoded: The EU and conflict prevention in cyberspace

By Patryk Pawlak, Eneken Tikk and Mika Kerttunen

The proliferation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) has ushered in a new era of power projection, where a conflict between states now frequently involves targeted cyber-attacks. This report by the Institute for Security Studies highlights the increasing use of cyber tools in pre-existing politico-military disputes and the lack of preventive diplomacy in place to address conflict in cyberspace.

Cyber-attacks offer new methods for targeting internet infrastructure, telecommunications networks, information systems and computer systems – power projection does not have to involve tanks or missiles, nor does it have to result in direct death and destruction. However, the hostile use of ICTs rarely occurs outside of an existing politico-military dispute and can lead to an escalation in pre-existing adversarial relations.

Current preventative measures against cyber conflicts have brought little change in behaviour, and it is difficult to design effective targeted conflict prevention instruments. The narrative around ‘peaceful use of cyberspace’ from the early 2000s has been replaced by ‘responsible behaviour in cyberspace’, and UN-proposed norms and confidence-building measures have had little success in de-escalating conflicts. The report suggests exploring conventional methods of preventive diplomacy, which are currently absent from discussions. These are by default non-coercive and non-escalatory but require political will. Additionally, strengthening regional structures such as the EU could be a key avenue. Making use of its Cyber Diplomacy Toolbox, the EU could identify actors ready to use cyber capabilities by monitoring the movement of software and technologies across the world, especially to conflict-prone areas. Finally, strengthening state resilience by developing national computer emergency response teams, legal and administrative best practices, national plan and budgets or forensics lowers the chances of overreaction and escalation of a conflict. By merging conventional conflict prevention instruments with the Cyber Diplomacy Toolbox, the EU could make progress in preventing future cyber-conflicts from escalating or breaking out.

Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Center for Security Policy, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against the liberal-democratic system.