Russia Is Winning the War Before the War

Russia Is Winning the War Before the War
Russia Is Winning the War Before the War
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Most Americans don’t know we’re at war; we are, and Russia is winning.  Americans think war starts with a formal declaration of war, though this hasn’t happened since December 1941.  In other places, “peace” is only the less violent phase between armed contests.  One of those places is Vladimir Putin’s Russia which has been regrouping and preparing for the next war since his 2007 speech in Munich.  

Wars aren’t always won by artillery barrages, rapid attack, and surprise troop maneuvers.  Wars are often won in “Phase Zero” also known as “shaping the battlespace.”  Shaping has been defined as “influencing the state of affairs in peacetime” as a prelude to conflict, though this definition falls short by assuming a clear line between peace and war.

Putin’s war is grinding on in Europe - in Crimea, Ukraine, and Georgia - and now he is bringing it to America. The putative Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, possibly Hillary Clinton’s private email server, and the strategically timed leak of those sensitive communications, are only the tip of the iceberg.  There is also the relentless flood of Russian propaganda that is befouling the media of Europe and even America, no longer arguing about ideology but questioning the very existence of objective truth.  

This is the new “always war” - the hybrid warfare that President Putin is waging using what the Soviet Union called “active measures.”  In addition to hacking and disinformation, hybrid warfare includes bribery, blackmail, and covert activities aimed at undermining the political stability of Western countries by funding fringe or “protest” political parties; leveraging oligarchs with KGB backgrounds to buy media, politicians or political office; paying agents provocateurs in migrant communities to encourage outrageous behavior that inflames anger at incumbent leaders; and using committed agents of influence to promulgate the party line.

Victory in this war is measured not by casualty counts, but by weakening any institution that stands in the way of Putin’s goals.  Those institutions include the U.S., the EU, and most of all, NATO.  There is one measure of success, however: changing NATO from a deterrent against Russian aggression to anything else.

A look at Russian propaganda themes about NATO and Europe offers a good example: NATO is not necessary because Russia will not invade NATO; therefore, why should any country spend money to meet NATO commitments?  In fact, NATO should be repurposed as an alliance against ISIS, or to control the southern borders of the EU, if it is going to exist at all.  If that fails, a threat is usually enough to change a government's policies to Putin’s liking, as was the case of the mooted NATO flotilla in the Black Sea.  That’s the “NATO is irrelevant” track. The second track is “Europe is weak,” which European governments have unwittingly abetted by their eager cover-ups of the wave of attacks and sexual assaults committed by newly-arrived migrants.

Putin-aligned politicians are soldiering on despite massing of Russian offensive capacity on NATO’s borders, and have been quick to downplay any Russian threat: In the Czech Republic, President Milos Zeman, opined: “Politicians differ in their views whether Russia or Islamic State is a bigger menace, and I personally think that Islamic State is the bigger threat.  Russia can become a strategic partner in a fight against international terrorism.” In a comparison that sounds like it came from Russia Today, Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babis suggested there was no difference between Russia’s invasion and annexation of Ukrainian territory to British participation in the Iraq war and French intervention in Libya; and said that NATO “should be transformed into an attack pact against terrorism.”  Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Foreign Minister issued a statement that "I don't think it is a realistic assumption today that Russia would attack any NATO member state," less than a month after NATO’s Warsaw Summit focused on the renewed Russian threat of invasion.

European democracy activists are exposing Putin’s strategic activities, and fighting back against his message, his media outlets, and his surrogates.  Edward Lucas and Russia media veteran, Peter Pomeranzev, at the for the Center for European Policy Analysis/Legatum Institute have meticulously picked apart Putin’s information warfare campaign in Europe and made useful recommendations - develop media literacy, support anti-corruption networks - to educate mass media and social media consumers about Russian attempts at manipulation. The U.S. and EU should heed the warnings of knowledgeable observers of Russia’s strategy and tactics; it is time to start winning the war.

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