Many in the West have “the wrong idea about how the Russian manipulation machine works,” Igor Eidman says, failing to understand that Vladimir Putin’s hybrid war is based on the model of a real military campaign and that if his hybrid effort doesn’t work, the Kremlin leader is quite ready to use an all-too-real military one.
In a Kasparov.ru commentary, Eidman points out that [quote]for several years now, Putin has been engaged in “a hybrid war against the West, one in which the methods of military, information, and political pressure are combined” to defeat his opponents by manipulating public opinion and suborning elites.[/quote]
The suborning of members of Western elites by offering them positions in Russian companies as is the case with former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, by paying them exorbitant fees for little work as in the case of former US National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, or giving them loans as with French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen have attracted much attention.
But the scope of this Russian effort is far larger than even these cases suggest, the Russian commentator says, and can involve simple bribery and other forms of corrupt behavior between Russian off-shore companies and their Western partners by means of “fictional contracts.”
In general, Eidman continues, [quote]“the Western public has the wrong impression about how the Russian manipulation machine works. In its consciousness, there is just the single terrible Kremlin which guides everything. In reality, in the hybrid war [Putin is conducting against the West] there are a multitude of structures.”[/quote]
Putin is at the top of this pyramid and makes the strategic decisions on whom to support and whom to suborn. His decisions are then implemented by “the command points of this hybrid war: the Presidential Administration (above all the directorates for cultural ties with foreign countries and for foreign policy), and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
They in turn, Eidman continues, “act through major corporations like Gazprom and also the structures of the Russian Orthodox Church and individual oligarchs like Vladimir Yakunin and Konstantin Malofeyev.” These are “the unique heavy artillery of hybrid war which played a major role for example in the seizure of Crimea and the Donbas.”
“Propaganda,” he says, “is ‘the military aviation’ of hybrid war.” Like military planes, it is intended to intimidate the population of the enemy. It is directed by Alexey Gromov in the Presidential Administration and includes most prominently the television channel Russia Today and the Sputnik agency.
“but this is only the visible part of its work. Propaganda is conducted through a network of ‘friends of the Kremlin,’” networks created by the Russian special services “under the cover of various cultural, diplomatic, business structures and media” to ensure that there will always be local “experts, politicians and bloggers” ready and able to promote the Kremlin line.
Another important branch of Putin’s hybrid war consists of the troll factories which play the role of “’diversionary detachments,’” spreading fake news and panic. Some of their headquarters in Russia have now been identified, but the scope of this effort is far larger than almost anyone imagines.
Hackers, Eidman says, “are ‘the rocket forces’ of hybrid war, capable to hit the headquarters of the enemy at any distance.” In addition, “there are ‘the guerrillas’ of hybrid war, the extreme right parties of ‘the Putinintern,’ which have become the main promoters of the Kremlin’s political influence in the West.”
At the same time, the Kremlin also maintains ties with certain extreme left parties and groups, who support Putin only because of their anti-Americanism and Euroscepticism in Western Europe. In Eastern Europe, Moscow relies on the fact that in such parties are many people “connected with the Russian special services from the time of the Soviet bloc.”
In addition to these groups, Eidman argues, the Kremlin is directing particular attention at Russian speakers living in the West, a group it “would like to convert into its own ‘fifth column’ and to make them loyal not to the countries in which they live but to Putin in order that they can be used in a big Russian game in Europe.”
They are being signed up through “‘the recruitment centers’ of his hybrid war, including RosSotrudnichestvo, the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian World Foundation, “and also major corporations like Gazprom which finance a multitude of measures for Russians in various countries of the world.”
[quote]There is also another aspect of this hybrid war: the direct blackmail of important political figures “and even chiefs of state” by the Russian security services. There is information that among these are Prince Albert of Monaco, Hungarian Prime Minister Orban, and even US President Trump.”[/quote]
The armies of this hybrid war even have “a military wing,” nominally private armed units like the Wagner group that can be dispatched to any place in the world as they have been already in Ukraine and Syria.
According to Eidman, “the situation in the former Soviet republics is especially dangerous” because Putin considers them to be rightfully his and places over which Russia has “lost control temporarily.” Achieving their return is a paramount objective of Putin’s worldwide hybrid war.
But what the Kremlin leader has done in them is a reminder of just how dangerous his hybrid operations can be: if they don’t work, he is quite prepared to shift to “real military actions with rivers of blood.”
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