Russia’s intelligence and security community significantly expanded the scale and scope of their misinformation and disinformation campaigns in recent years. These efforts, sometimes coordinated with more traditional hard-power strategies, occupy a broad spectrum of activities. Though methods vary, they have one critical characteristic in common; they seek to paralyze Western political processes that might otherwise act to thwart Russia’s efforts, either by advancing false narratives about the nature of geopolitical disputes, or by magnifying already extant political divisions in target countries through the manipulation of public opinion.
Russia pursued these objectives in a number of ways. The first, and perhaps most conspicuous to Western observers, was the aggressive dissemination of propaganda through state-controlled media outlets and the cultivation of networks of sympathetic surrogates in the media ecosystems of the West and Russia’s “Near Abroad." Russia also uses social media aggressively in conjunction with these approaches, creating “troll farms” in order to manipulate public opinion on specific issues, as well as to generally undermine the perceived legitimacy of Western institutions hostile to their goals.
This paper described the evolution of techniques Russia used to achieve the above-described ends with attention to recent innovations. Using a number of case studies, the paper investigated both successes and failures of a range of countermeasures in targeted regions. Finally, the analysis provided recommendations on a number of policy responses for US policymakers that will most effectively inure targeted institutions against the destabilizing influence of Russian information warfare.