Russian cyber warfare was underestimated by many countries for a long time. Every time a cyber-attack happens, the victim state is unprepared and shocked. The perception of Russia’s use of the new tactic should be changed and the world should be ready for counter attack.
Unfortunately, Western democracies often cannot see beyond their culture; they cannot understand that some countries lack Western ethics and can apply methods of influence in international politics unacceptable in the West. According to Robert Cooper, the EU should become more assertive and use democratic methods when dealing with democratic world, but when in the jungle, act according to the jungle rules. There are still countries who use force and aggression in international relations, as if it were the eighteenth century. Western countries were surprised when Russia annexed Crimea and started military aggression against Ukraine. Later, new Russian tactics shocked Europe and the USA once again. Unacceptable in the West, cyber-attacks have become part of Russia’s new warfare. The world should therefore get used to it, and be prepared to respond properly.
Liberalism, which is the leading political philosophy in the West, could reveal this issue. To take of the Ukraine crisis as an example: realism can explain Russia’s position quite well. Twenty years ago, John Mearsheimer predicted Russian aggression against Ukraine, because Ukraine had given up its stockpile of nuclear weapons. Neorealist theories characterize the conflict in Ukraine as a zero-sum game, where Russia had to make some actions to avoid losing part of its influence and economic security because of the Ukraine’s economic integration with the EU. The West was threatening Russian core strategic interests. John Mearsheimer states, that Western politicians have a tendency to believe that the logic of realism is not relevant in the 21st century, and that Europe can be kept whole and free on the basis of liberal principles (the rule of law, economic interdependence and democracy), but the Ukrainian crisis showed that realpolitik with all its methods remains important.
Russian cyber war is composed of hacker attacks, spreading of disinformation and propaganda activities, state-financed bloggers in Internet, participation of state-sponsored teams in political blogs and other similar actions. Russian intelligence net combined with media tools (such as worldwide TV network Russia Today, Sputnik and other) form powerful propaganda machine to change the Western perceptions. 
Russian cyber-attacks have recently threatened the security of a lot of countries, however, many still do not take the issue seriously. It is surprisingly, that when even Russian Defence Minister admitted strong effort of his country for “intelligent, effective propaganda”, doubts remain about the existence of cyber attacks. A number of competing American investigative agencies confirmed Russian involvement in the US presidential elections in 2016. The US Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report that proves Russian cyber actions to influence the elections.
The Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy and Czech Republic are concerned of Russian influence into their coming elections. Russian hacker attacks and fake news play on people’s national feeling and make them against European unity, but for cooperation with Russia.
While Western governments are starting to invent strategies to combat Russia’s information war, citizens are not widely informed of the threat – but they are Russia’s target. The European Union recently passed a resolution to combat Russian propaganda. Russia itself called such a step undemocratic. While Russia is not a full democracy, the country could diminish Western actions in eyes of its citizens by calling them undemocratic.
To put it clearly, Russia is not the only state that uses cyber warfare in present relations between nations. There are many governments (like China) that break into other country’s databases. However, there is an opinion, that no one other connect different tools together in a complicated wide-ranging system like Russia, targeting not just individual actors or countries, but the democratic system as a whole. Russia recruit the best IT specialists, shrewd journalists and professionals of any kind to serve the information warriors of the new warfare.
What the world can do to fight cyber threats?
First of all, creating awareness of the threat of cyberattacks is a necessary step. Governments should be informed and aware of Russia’s possible actions, so as citizens, as they can become unaware actors in enemy’s hidden game.
Secondly, the West should recruit experts to work on analyzing Russia’s actions, to prevent similar threats in the future. They also need to identify the possible goals of cyber-attack and protect such institutions and assets much more.
Thirdly, the West should resurrect the tools of the Cold War that combatted Soviet propaganda. Western countries should cooperate through the EU or NATO framework. The private sector should be involved as well. The activities by Russian troll factories and bot campaigns, which accelerate misinformation and propaganda, actually violate terms of service and should bring to reforms in social media.
The success of Russian cyber-attacks in 2016 could invent the same precedent as annexation of Crimea and encourage other countries to check the durability of the West. According to Estonia’s former president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a new organization should be created with to the goal of protecting democracy in the world without geographical restrictions. The politician stresses that authoritarian states try to diminish democratic ones by all means. Like during the Cold War, the world faces a huge challenge that has to be managed and fought.
- Gratz Jonas, Russia as a challenger of the West, ETH Zurich: Strategic trends 2014.
- Mearsheimer John, The case for a Ukrainian nuclear deterrent, Foreign Affairs, 1993.
- Mearsheimer John, Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault, Foreign Affairs, Sep/Oct 2014, Vol. 93, Issue 5.
The article was edited by Nathan Stormont.