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Perfection as a weapon of hybrid warfare

Perfection as a weapon of hybrid warfare
Article by: Kseniya Kirillova
Edited by: Inna Carboni

The explosive news broke in the US at the end of last week  – the CIA announced that Russian hackers interfered with the electoral system not just to undermine the credibility of American democracy, but to deliberately harm Hillary Clinton and to help Donald Trump win the election. In particular, US intelligence reports that in addition to the DNC servers, Russian operatives also hacked the computer systems of the Republican National Committee; however, that information was not leaked.

To all those who followed the Russian politics and propaganda in the course of the American election campaign, as well as paid attention to the Putin’s enthusiasm for Trump, Moscow’s support and lobbying for the Republican candidate was clear even without special investigation – it was as obvious as the mutual sympathy between Trump and Kremlin. But there is one problem:

Americans can’t find a constructive way out of this situation because no one can calculate the extent of the damage to America that was caused by the Russian intervention.

Indeed, Trump’s victory was influenced by several factors, and it’s virtually impossible to determine which of them was ultimately decisive. Moscow’s intervention couldn’t have failed to make an impact on public opinion. But what to do with those who were sincerely dissatisfied with the Democrats’ policies and were ready to vote for just about any Republican? Russia’s intervention does not eliminate corruption scandals involving the Clinton Foundation and the fact that it was Republicans, including those who are now greatly worried about Trump’s ties to Russia, who nominated Trump as their candidate.

Read more: Trump’s victory: how scandal gave way to conspiracy theories

It is precisely this mixing of real problems with artificially introduced ones that makes hybrid warfare so horrible.

Ukrainians understood this truth a long time ago (although not all of them came to the right conclusion), and most Americans are seemingly only now coming to realize that the civilized world has a common, dangerous enemy. An enemy that is deceitful, ruthless and cunning, schooled by many years in the KGB, not just specializing in special operations, but unable to do anything but them.

These are the KGB methods: use any incriminating evidence, any quarrel, any human weakness and passion, any “skeletons in the closet,” the slightest dishonesty or simple errors to discredit, destroy a reputation, mislead or even to recruit you.

The phrase “corruption is treason” became popular in Ukraine from the very beginning of Russian aggression against the country. In fact, anyone who is corrupt is a potential traitor, because even one corrupt scheme makes him vulnerable to the entrapment and recruitment by foreign intelligence.

Only by giving up their selfishness, corporate interests, and personal antipathies can we win this war.
But the trouble is that with an enemy like Russia, one can get trapped for not only overt crimes but any duplicity, any attempt to put their personal interests above the interests of the country and the people (of course, we are talking about politics).

For example, successful American businessman Rex Tillerson attended the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in 2008. The meeting was a success, the American met personally with Putin and Igor Sechin, signed a multi-billion dollar deal between his company Exxon Mobil and Rosneft, as a result of which the company gained access to the Russian Arctic shelf drilling. In result, in 2012, Putin personally awarded the Order of Friendship to Tillerson, and in 2014 the grateful American has admitted to reporters in Texas that he has been lobbying for the elimination of the anti-Russian sanctions. And now this person may become US Secretary of State.

Vladimir Putin salutes Tillerson at the Economic Forum in St.Petersburg in 2013. Photo: Sputnik
Vladimir Putin salutes Tillerson at the Economic Forum in St.Petersburg in 2013. Photo: Sputnik

However, even that is not enough. The Kremlin not only baits with the promises of a profitable business or attacks with scandalous revelations. It spreads propaganda, misleads, disseminates conspiracy theories, creates an illusion of a catastrophe, playing on fear, hatred, cowardly loyalty, and indifferent conformism.

How many times, for example, certain figures of the US Republican Party openly criticized Donald Trump for his misconduct – and still kept supporting him so their party could win the White House? What happened to those seemingly decent people who have always consistently opposed the Russian threat, but became so fanatically obsessed with hatred for the Democratic Party and personally Hillary Clinton, that they seem to be willing to betray their country rather than to admit that their opponents are right? Meanwhile, blind loyalty to the party, which goes against the interests of the country, is also easy for the enemy to use in their own interests.

An enemy like the KGB will take advantage of any of their victims’ weak spots, it plays to their hatred and prejudice, it manipulates their fears, it blackmails with collected evidence, uses their carelessness and negligence, truth and falsehood for its own purposes.

KGB knows that their victim only needs to make one wrong move and he will get into a vicious circle of dependency, in which the need to conceal another crime or misdemeanor will inevitably lead to a new one. Are there that many people who would go against their friends in order to stand up for the truth? Who would lose a profitable business or the prospect of a high position in the new government? Who would be prepared for the compromising material to become public or at least acknowledge their previous wrong? Almost a century of KGB operations shows that such people are few and far between – at all times.

The Kremlin knows human passions better than the demons of the classic The Screwtape Letters, it is aware of your sins better than any priest and metes out stiffer punishment than the toughest prosecutor
That’s why the only way out of this situation is perfection. It is impossible to win a hybrid war if you constantly give the aggressor a pretext for blackmail, manipulation, or revelations. Of course, one could argue that the Kremlin liars could easily defame any person and release a thousand fake stories, like the notorious “crucified boys” Kremlin propaganda said died at the hands of Ukrainian soldiers. However, it’s much harder to deal with slander. Outright lies can always be debunked, but it is much more difficult to convince someone that your enemy is much more dangerous than the dirt that he is spreading about you.

The Kremlin knows human passions better than the demons of the classic The Screwtape Letters, it is aware of your sins better than any priest and metes out stiffer punishment than the toughest prosecutor. You can counter it only with honesty, perfection and a willingness to sacrifice personal interests and sympathies for the good of the country. As corny as it sounds, nothing else will defeat the enemy.

Today’s Cold War – it really is a struggle between good and evil, but evil is not limited to the geographical boundaries of Russia.

Russian aggression, whether it’s “hot” or “cold”, should, above all, encourage us to fight evil in our countries, which are victims of this aggression. The best way to deal with the special services of all stripes is to not give them a reason to use you.

However, to deal with such an enemy requires not only integrity but also a willingness to sacrifice oneself. This may be demonstrated in rejecting the economic benefits or prestigious positions, or abandoning the cozy world of familiar black-and-white illusions and invented enemies, whom you and your friends had gleefully bashed for the last several years. A perfect example of a situation where the interests of the country are more important than personal or intra-party interests can be seen in the joint statement that the Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham had issued together with the Democrats. The statement says that the Russian intervention in the elections “should be a wake-up call for every American.”

Sometimes those who are willing to sacrifice must be prepared to be a target of revenge from the Kremlin, for example, publication of some stale compromising material. However, experience shows that people can rise to the occasion. For example, it’s not a secret for many people that the now-deceased Ukrainian journalist from Russia, Aleksandr Shchetinin, took part in Russian propaganda before the war, and had good connections in Moscow. Some episodes of his participation were leaked to the media, but some things we may never know.

Read more: How journalism died in Russia. A Russian journalist describes

Aleksandr himself did not like to advertise his past, but he never specifically hid it either, knowing that unpleasant details may be released at any time, against his will, especially in light of the work that he had been doing to benefit Ukraine. He understood that the Kremlin does not forgive such things, but he could not go against his conscience and worried only about how to make up for his past mistakes. “I did this so that no one could reproach me with my past, and I had a complicated past,” Schetinin once said in an interview. And indeed, after all that he had done for Ukraine, it is unlikely that someone would dare to accuse this man of his pre-war mistakes.

In short, only by giving up their selfishness, corporate interests, and personal antipathies can we win this war. Today it seems that the US and Ukraine are in the similar situation in which rejecting these principles leads to defeat.
Edited by: Inna Carboni
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