Russian aggression is back on the front page.
The Russians have got tens of thousands of troops moving toward the Baltic as these words are placed on paper, under the legal pretext of “strategic command exercises”. They’re calling them the Zapad War Games. They shot some people with a rocket today, and inflicted three casualties, at these “games”.
The whole project was totally unexpected, and done with no transparency. This met with worldwide condemnation, but as always, Putin just ignored it.
This is all closely connected to what’s been going on over here since 2016. Donald Trump and his campaign connections with Russia have been carefully examined from the beginning of his presidency. From the Steele dossier to the confession of Donald Jr, evidence of collusion is ample between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.
Wikileaks managed to make a deal with a mole (most likely then-junior chairperson in the Democratic Party last year, Tulsi Gabbard) to attain leaked emails that caused the resignation of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz days before the convention. Then they used fake identities to disseminate propaganda to U.S. voters over social media sites like Facebook, which turned over all its advertising records on Russia to Robert Mueller’s team last week.
The problems we’ve been having with Russian hackers are not as new to other areas as they are to us. In fact, they’ve been going on for more than ten years. The trouble got started over an old war soldier, just like in Charlottesville. The Bronze Soldier attacks may be the first suspected state-backed cyber-assault on another nation, in this case Estonia.
The Bronze Soldier of Tallinn was a statue of a Red Army soldier in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn. It was viewed by Russians as a symbol of Soviet deliverance from Nazism. To many Estonians, however, it was an eyesore of Communist oppression, a miserable period that lasted more than fifty years. They decided to remove it from the center of town, and move it to a military cemetary on the outskirts. The Kremlin threatened trouble immediately, and they meant it.
Little Estonia, for all it lacks in acreage, is a world leader in the field of internet freedoms. They are one of the most heavily wired nations in the world. For this reason, one can only imagine how disruptive and traumatic it was, when the website of Estonia’s largest newspaper was brought crashing to its knees, with unprecedented speed, under the weight of a wave of Internet traffic it couldn’t support. As with America’s 2016 election, there was no way to legally prove Russia was responsible, but everybody knew.
One Estonian government official told the BBC that evidence suggested the attack “was orchestrated by the Kremlin, and malicious gangs then seized the opportunity to join in and do their own bit to attack Estonia”.
2007 marked the beginning of a new and troublesome tactic. For the hostility of nations to find its mode of expression virtually is new. It is a developing situation worldwide, but the bulk of it until last year had always taken place in Eastern Europe. In order to understand the context of this struggle, it is necessary first to examine Russia’s strained relationships with most of its satellite states, particularly Ukraine.
The Kremlin has always considered Ukraine to be both a rightful part of Russia’s empire, and an important territorial asset. It presents a strategic buffer zone between Russia and the powers of NATO. It allows them a highly profitable pipeline route to Europe, and it is home to one of Russia’s few warm-water ports. For all those reasons, Moscow has worked for generations to keep Ukraine in the position of a submissive smaller sibling. It was the largest of their satellite states, and the one it took most effort to control. A great deal of bad blood on both sides remains.
Oleksii Yasinsky is the head of a company called Information Systems Security Partners, the occupant of an unassuming building in Kiev. Under his leadership, they have been able to chronicle a timeline of intrusions by a whole galaxy of hacker groups, with names like Guccifer 2.0, Petya, and the most feared of all, Sandworm.
This organization, which uses the nomenclature of Frank Herbert’s Dune as code names, has been the focus of Yasinsky’s interest since the first cyber- attack on Ukraine, a country that has been used as a test lab for new types of ways to wreak virtual havoc. In December of 2016, Yasinsky was watching the movie Snowden when his building lost power- along with the rest of town.
The lights went out in areas all over Ukraine that night. The Russians managed to shut off huge sections of their power grids, using the Stuxnet virus- the world’s first cyber weapon. It was announced in early September that more than a hundred United States power grids have been infected in exactly the same way.
Ukraine, however, is not alone. Numerous cyber attacks in Europe, particularly among former Soviet satellites, have been blamed on Russian-linked groups, many of an extremely astonishing nature. The lines between physical and virtual reality have blurred. Our own United States Cyber Command must be equal to the task of managing this. The consequences of their failure would be catastrophic.
The Syrian Civil War is another place where we have had to fight the Russians time and again. Contrary to the party line, we were not all over there to fight ISIS together. But everyone thought we were, for years, because of Russian disinformation. Most Americans just didn’t seem to care enough.
Russia has proven its ability to use automated systems to inflict real harm in the world, as in their attacks on the Estonian and Ukrainian power grids. They could hurt us very badly if they wanted to.
In 2008, Georgia too found itself at war with Russia, and suffered similar abuse.
In 2015 France’s TV5Monde broadcaster was taken off air in the middle of a broadcast. Its systems were all but annihilated.
Later the same year, another Russian hacking group calling itself APT28 perpetuated a massive data hack, in Germany’s lower house of Parliament. 16 gigabytes of data were stolen. After that, Germany’s head of domestic intelligence began speaking of a “hybrid” Russian threat” to the September 2017 elections in which Angela Merkel is seeking a fourth term in office.
The list just kept on growing.
Nigel Farage, the United Kingdom Independence Party leader responsible for the Brexit agitation, was intimitely connected to both Putin and Julian Assange, the driving force of the Russian propaganda outlet Wikileaks. Brexit represented the greatest coup ever scored on the United States by Russia, until Donald Trump’s victory in November later that same year.
And shortly after Trump’s inauguration, the French presidential election between now-President Emmanuel Macron was hacked and tampered with as well, on behalf of the virulently anti- Semitic Marine Le Pen, whose entire campaign was financed openly by Putin.
Cyber operations constitute a new situation for the nature and future of war. It is reflective of a growing worldwide trend among military strategists to consider cyberspace through the lens of the Clausewitzian spectrum of war, which is to consider it “the continuation of politics by other means.”
That newness is also why cyberspace constitutes so many new strategic difficulties, particularly as it is being deliberately used as a weapon of war by aggressive and imperialistic powers such as Russia. This state of affairs exerts a destabilizing effect on international security, and complicates attempts to work together.
Cyberspace has become a new sphere for great powers to carry out conflicts directly among each other (and any other power for that matter). Previously, their behavior was frozen at a certain level due to the strategic nuclear stalemate. There was a clear limit to how far great powers could go. Great care was always taken, to remain below the threshold of an armed attack and use of force. Instead, conflicts were carried out indirectly, through proxy wars in distant lands.
However, virtual reality and the revival of the Cold War has given us a new type of proxy, one that brings us much closer to direct conflict with one another. Moscow believes there is a constant and unending struggle within “information space”.
The manner in which they keep on pushing our buttons and getting away with is has empowered Putin tremendously. One is reminded of the way Hitler was ignored at first. In any case all this suggests that the Kremlin will continue to employ cyber in ways that U.S. decision makers are likely to view as offensive and escalatory in nature.
Moving forward, it’s likely this will have to get worse before it gets better. Our chance to catch it early passed us quietly by long ago.
2017 is almost over, but we’re not out of the water yet. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is up for reelection on the 24 of this month. In the age of Trump and his slovenly brand of incompetence, Merkel is the de facto leader of NATO, and therefore the most powerful leader in the world. Her reelection is all but guaranteed on a level field of play. It is the opinion of Millennial Democrats that we can expect to see a great disruption next week, as Russia tries knocking her off her perch.
Moving forward, it is necessary for millennial and all voters to understand that trying to make meaningful changes with Donald Trump in office and the Russians eroding our base all they can, will require fifty times the effort before we can even begin to hope they might succeed. We’re vulnerable right now.
Therefore, the first step is for us, the tech-savvy information generation, to start applying our skills toward finding ways to defend ourselves from these invasive and violating virtual infiltration techniques. We have got to protect ourselves, and we have got to learn to fight back. We need all the help we can get. Our futures depend on it.