Fears of Russian meddling are not only reshaping the media, but also geopolitical alliances, warfare and the future of Europe. Where will they lead?
While the extent of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election continues to drive a hyperpartisan debate in America, it has clouded the larger picture of how the Kremlin has, for more than a decade, been using very modern approaches to expand its influence throughout Europe.
Rolling back the history of Europe
In relation to Europe, “Russia was often a threat,” notes historian Victor Davis Hanson, “given its large population and territory and rich natural resources—and it was also more autocratic and more volatile than many of its vulnerable European neighbors.”
Since the days of the czars, Russians have attempted to extend their influence westward. And, since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Kremlin has been on the defensive. In Moscow’s eyes, the West gained the upper hand in the 1990s due to Russia’s economic weakness, the growth of the democratic movements and a gradual military encirclement of Russia.
To counter the preeminence of the West, Moscow shifted to guerrilla tactics with at least a veneer of deniability, in order to achieve its overarching aims of fracturing the American-European partnership, collapsing the European Union and restoring Russian global influence.
Putin’s master plan
Russian President Vladimir Putin “remains fixated on his ultimate goal,” according to Douglas Schoen, author of Putin’s Master Plan. That goal is “Russian hegemony in Europe, but not in the old Cold War sense. He doesn’t seek a Soviet-style, Moscow-centered megastate on the European continent, or even a Warsaw Pact–like formalization of Russian supremacy. Rather, Putin aims to neuter Europe politically, to make it concerned only with commerce and comfort, so that muscularly enforced Russian interests will dominate the political fate of the continent” (2016, p. xiii).
The result of this new Russian interference is that “nearly a quarter-century after the collapse of the Soviet Union,” according to an editorial in the Economist, “the West faces a greater threat from the East than at any point during the cold war.”
Modern warfare hits the West
War is being redefined as more than a contest of steel and gunpowder. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, who envisioned cyberwarfare as a central tenet of a military doctrine called “hybrid war” or “new generation warfare,” noted that “distinctions between war and peace are becoming blurred in the 21st century.”
“Wars are no longer declared,” explained Gerasimov, “but are simply begun and then no longer follow familiar models.” (Spiegel Online).
Gerasimov added in a now famous 2013 article, “A previously stable country could become the arena of a bitter armed conflict and the victim of foreign intervention. The state is plunged into chaos, a humanitarian catastrophe and civil war, by means of political, economic, informational, humanitarian, and other non-military measures.”
The Kremlin playbook for war without war
Governments in Europe are not blind to the situation, but fearing swift repercussions, the political response has been anemic. “Russia has used proxy soldiers, unmarked Special Forces, intimidation and propaganda,” acknowledged NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a NATO seminar in March 2015, “all to lay a thick fog of confusion; to obscure its true purpose … and to attempt deniability.”
“What Putin is waging can be thought of as war without war—with all the means and goals of warfare but none of the costs and the traditional forms of battle. So long as the West remains acquiescent, confused and timid, he will continue to notch victory after victory. … Armed with the knowledge that the West will shrink from open confrontation, the Russian leader doesn’t need a war to achieve his objectives—all he needs is the consistent application of pressure, confrontation, and high-stakes moves that will intimidate Washington and Europe into backing down” (Putin’s Master Plan, pp. 45, 57).
This modern brand of hybrid warfare combines the elements of destabilizing cyberattacks, designed to delay strategic responses, and waves of propaganda to sway or just confuse public opinion. Russia’s hybrid war also includes coercive pipeline politics.
Energy and economic strangulation
Europe, the largest energy importer in the world, is addicted to Russian energy. The European Union gets one third of its natural gas and crude oil from Russia, and its dependence is growing.
Putin clearly understands the power of being at the right end of a pipeline. He uses the “petrocarrots” and “petrosticks,” as some analysts call them, of the world’s second-largest oil and gas exporter to provide sweetheart financial deals or to threaten adversaries into submission.
Putin has shut off energy supplies to entire countries before, most notably to Ukraine in the mid-2000s. Few doubt that he would use the “weaponization” of energy again, highlighting Russia’s ability to dramatically disrupt the continent’s economy.
The arsenal of cyberwarfare
Putin, a former Soviet KGB agent who rarely uses a computer and once called the Internet a “CIA project,” has shrewdly deployed cyberwarfare alongside conventional warfare with devastating effectiveness. Recently retired supreme NATO commander Philip Breedlove stated emphatically that Russia is waging “the most amazing information warfare blitzkrieg we have ever seen.”
Russia is waging “the most amazing information warfare
blitzkrieg we have ever seen.”The 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine first introduced a conventional ground attack married to a sustained cyberassault. More than 6,500 devastating intrusions in just two months immobilized troops, bewildered citizens and systematically degraded virtually every public, private and economic sector of Ukraine. “‘You can’t really find a space in Ukraine where there hasn’t been an attack,’ says Kenneth Geers, a NATO ambassador who focuses on cybersecurity” (Wired).
Even more concerning, many global cybersecurity experts believe Russia is using Ukraine as a cyberwar testing ground.
“This is an entirely new way of waging war,” says a former KGB general. “It is like the invention of planes or submarines. Suddenly you can attack the enemy from a completely new and unexpected direction. … This is the essence of warfare: constant surprise” (Newsweek).
Former Russian commander in chief General Yuri Baluyevsky proudly stated that a victory in information warfare “can be much more important than victory in a classical military conflict, because it is bloodless, yet the impact is overwhelming and can paralyse all of the enemy state’s power structures” (BBC).
The most dramatic warning of the danger was made in a 2012 speech in Manhattan by then U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. He said that “a cyber attack perpetrated by nation states or violent extremists could be as destructive as the terrorist attack of 9/11.” Broad-based infrastructure attacks, Panetta continued, “would cause physical destruction and loss of life, paralyze and shock the nation, and create a profound new sense of vulnerability.”
Sowing chaos and confusion
Moscow “aims to sow confusion and defeatism in the West,” according to James Kirchick, author of The End of Europe, “by poking holes in its narratives and upending the very notion of objective truth” (2017, p. 216). The Internet and social media allow Russian political interference to spread rapidly and cheaply.
The Kremlin’s message is multiplied through online “troll factories,” where hundreds of young people work around the clock.
European security agencies have warned for some time that Moscow is targeting public opinion in European Union countries through the creation of RT, formerly known as Russia Today, which disseminates Moscow’s worldview in multilingual online news and videos.
When Putin founded RT, he said its mission was quite clear: to “break the Anglo-Saxon monopoly on global information streams” (The Atlantic).
The Kremlin-funded news outlet is substantially expanding its programming and, according to Adweek, became the first YouTube news channel with a billion lifetime views. In addition, Russia recently launched Sputnik as a new communications effort focusing on radio and the Internet, “telling the untold” and lobbing an information barrage of conspiracy theories and anti-Western hysteria.
A prime Russian geopolitical objective, according to Douglas Schoen, is to “set up a choice whereby Germany pursues its economic relationship with Russia over its political relationship with America” (Putin’s Master Plan, p. 22).
The ongoing refugee crisis, terrorist activities and perceived American economic retrenchment all provide Moscow with issues ideally suited to stir up resentment and divide German society.
The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, Hans-Georg Maassen, clearly said that cyberattacks on the German Bundestag were directed from Russia to “generate information that can be used for disinformation or for influencing operations” and may be used to try to influence or delegitimize the country’s election where Chancellor Angela Merkel is standing for reelection as a stalwart supporter of NATO and the EU (Reuters).
How will Europe respond?
Western Europe has been lulled into complacency by decades of peace. It has shown timidity in failing to break its addiction to Russian energy and a reluctance to confront the mounting Russian threat.
Even some NATO members that were hostile to the Soviet Union act differently toward Putin’s Russia, and indeed some have friendlier relationships with Moscow than Washington, London or Brussels.
“Putin is a master manipulator,” says Guy Verhofstadt, the former prime minister of Belgium and author of Europe’s Last Chance. “Compared to him the leaders of our twenty-eight member states are dwarves” (2017, p. 72).
But Europe’s leadership role will not always fall to political dwarves. European fears of Russian meddling, security threats and the weaponization of energy is coinciding with an increasingly contentious relationship with a United States inclined to shrink back from overseas commitments. These trends will lead to the rise of a revival of a European-centered superpower, described as “the beast” and led by a charismatic figure that will control the world’s economic and military might (Revelation 13:1-8.
The Bible foretells a time, right before the return of Christ, of “wars and rumors of wars” (Matthew 24:6) that certainly seems to echo the hybrid wars, cyberwarfare, proxy soldiers, economic blackmail, media manipulation, information blitzkriegs and “wars without war” we have started to see in our modern age.
After that, the good news is that Jesus Christ will return to establish a foundation of peace during a 1,000-year peaceful reign (Revelation 20:4-6). Read more about this wonderful promise in our free booklet The Mystery of the Kingdom.