A red spider wasp paralyzes a spider by injecting poison and lays an egg inside of it. The spider’s vital organs are still working. It is alive but can’t move. The egg hatches and the larva eats the spider from the inside out. This is how a mind war works.
No blood is shed. The adversary corrupts the minds slowly and inconspicuously by injecting myths and narratives into the public information space and contaminating individual and collective minds. The attacked country is paralyzed. The adversary takes over. Read on to find out why Russia is waging a strange war against the West.
Since 1999, a criminal government, headed by Putin, runs Russia as a mafia state. By 2018, a conglomerate of officials, security forces and organized crime has consolidated power and took under control all aspects of political and social life. Its wealth generates from appropriating the national natural resources, mainly oil, gas and diamonds, as well as the major assets. Each year, the Kremlin siphons out of Russia, launders and stores in the Western banks and offshores an estimated 40–50 billion dollars, according to Anders Åslund, a senior fellow at the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. Åslund estimated Putin’s circle wealth at 250 billion dollars.
Since 2014, motivated by the need to protect these assets, the Kremlin has been waging a hybrid war against the Western democracies, openly speaking about establishing “a new, Post-West world order.”
The West needs to acknowledge the threat, run research and training programs to understand the Kremlin’s strategy and take an immediate action by developing and implementing a united response to the attack.
This is an introductory article for a series of articles on the strategies and methods of the Russian information warfare; the origin and nature of Putin’s mafia state and the connection between them.
1. Hybrid War
The long-term goal of the Kremlin’s hybrid war is the expansion of the Russian economic and geopolitical interests as a guarantee of the personal wealth and power of Putin and his allies.
“It’s not a shooting war, but it is a war of geopolitics and trying to undermine our systems,” said Dr. Galeotti, the senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague in an interview in 2016.
The Kremlin’s short-term goals include:
1. Weakening and dissolution of the EU and NATO
2. Removal of the economic sanctions against Russia
3. Destabilization of the US
4. Normalization of the military intervention in Ukraine and Syria
By 2018, the Kremlin has built a strong network of agents of influence and weaponized all aspects of the political, economic and cultural life in the US:
→political system (In 2018, special counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities with an illegal “information warfare” scheme to disrupt the 2016 presidential election and assist the candidacy of Donald Trump. Other means of undermining the political system include bribing, recruiting, blackmailing and manipulating Senators, Congressmen and local politicians; donations to parties, using “Manchurian candidate” model; lobbying; sending “phishing” emails to officials; hacking election system; supporting political parties, leaders, social movements, including separatists, nationalists; supporting “independence” referendums around the world, etc.)
→financial system (funding Western startups and companies through the Kremlin-funded venture funds, money-laundering, corporate raiding, etc.)
→arts (funding exhibitions, shows and films normalizing the Kremlin policy; recruiting Western celebrities, political leaders and public figures by offering free publicity, financial incentives, career opportunities, etc.)
The traditional warfare is also used (in Ukraine, Syria, African Republic.) Despite a financial crisis, in 2017, Russia spent 4.3% of its GDP on military expenditures, as opposed to the US (3.1%) and UK (1.8%.)
One of the most successful operations of this hybrid war is the mind war (also called cyberwar, information warfare, hybrid war, brain war, non-linear war, psychological war, etc). This column will be focusing on this aspect of the hybrid war.
2. Mind War
1. Main Goals:
→Demoralizing the population of the US and EU by planting discord, mutual hatred and distrust by means of disinformation, confusion and manipulation of the consciousness.
→Corrupting democratic values and morals.
→Dehumanizing other demographic groups perceived as enemies.
→Creating a new collective mentality, identity and self-image in the West.
The adversary plants powerful narratives into the collective mind. Narratives vary and may change depending on the political situation. Similar types and models of myths are created in Russia and the West. Below are a few myth models with examples from the US current political discourse. These narratives are supported by the Kremlin associated trolls and bots:
→Divine nature of the ruler, cult of personality, “savior” (e.g. “Trump is God’s Messenger, Messiah,” etc.)
→Union through religion (e.g. “War on Christmas,” “They want to remove Confederate monuments–soon they will burn crosses,” “Religious Liberty Task Force,” “Christian Nation,” etc.)
→The external enemy (e.g. “Muslim ban,” “Mexican Wall,” immigrants phobia, “the war on the white people,” etc.)
→The internal enemy(e.g. “deep state,” “Jews will not replace us,” “communist/socialist threat,” “traitors,” “Reality Winner’s case,” etc.)
→Besieged fortress, perpetual war (e.g. “weak borders,” “unfair trade systems,” etc.)
→Chosen people, imperial ambitions (e.g. America First, etc.)
→Nostalgia for the past (e.g. MAGA, Make Our Farmers Great Again, coal mining come back, Confederate myth, etc.)
The propaganda machine uses brainwashing techniques based on physiological factors. This technique has been used by cults and religious recruiters since the beginning of times. Combined with the modern technology and the Nazi, Communist and Cold War brainwashing methods, it alters minds and emotional patterns.
To convert, “political technologists” first create the atmosphere of danger and crisis through the continual flow of mass media fabrications:
Propagandists use images (natural disasters, graphic violence, crime) and language (neuro-linguistic programming) that create a visceral reaction. Reports of disturbing events instill catastrophic/apocalyptic thinking, panic and form the atmosphere of danger and crisis. Falsification and distortion of the past and present further instill fear, paranoia and confusion.
The stories are inserted through the information space: mass media (TV, radio, newspapers, magazines), social media and the Internet (FB, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, blogs, online publications, forums.)
Paid trolls on social media generate fake news, conspiracy theories and photoshopped visuals (peaceful protests are depicted as violence, Antifa protesters presented as fascists, etc.) Since 2015, the trolls, sponsored by the Russian government, get high rankings on search engines and promote disinformation. An average Internet user pays attention to the content and not to the source.
Skillfully engineered information is then shared by social media users and bots and gets quoted or echoed by other, often reliable and respectful, news sources and social media. The Kremlin-generated narrative is transmitted through the Kremlin-created echo chambers to the mainstream press and international audience.
Repeated 24/7, this method causes stress.
Next, people under stress are offered “salvation”–solutions that promote militarism and the cult of personality. Marketing and sales techniques are used. (e.g. appeal to all senses, neuro-linguistically engineered calls for action and psychological manipulation on a subconscious level.)
The information offered relieves emotional stress. Trust to the source of information offering the solution is formed. Based on this trust, the new information is accepted easily. The cult-like attitude to the leader is formed. (Trump’s statement that he can shoot a person and keep his base.)
This method creates physiological changes in the brain. Recovery takes special treatment. The thinking patterns are altered and conventional logical arguments fail to deliver facts. On the contrary, the victims of brainwashing develop acute negative emotions to opponents, evidence or facts. Their behavior becomes aggressive and can lead to violence.
3. What to Do
One of the solutions might be winning back the cyberspace/information space. It the Kremlin agents lose access to the social media platforms they will be cut off their main weapon.
→ Think before acting.
→Analyze the information source. Check references. Check the title and affiliation of the media, the date or publication, the author’s bio.
→Educate yourself on the basics of propaganda, brainwashing and mass psychology. The material is challenging as the material lies outside of the conventional moral and ethical norms and deals with subjects as resistant to human study as mass and individual psychology. Making this effort is not just rewarding–it is necessary for the survival of the Western liberal democracy model.
→Educate others by forewarning and delivering the information about RT, Sputnik, and other agents of the Kremlin influence in order to prevent the US audience from being brainwashed. First impressions matter.
→ Focus on positive to prevent demoralization.
→ Protect the Western values of freedom of speech and will, the importance of human life vs. collective goals and ideas of “Fatherland,” “nation,” “state,” “justice.
→ Maintain the standards of civility and politeness to push back against dehumanization.
The following concrete and practical steps for securing liberal democracy in the West were offered by the world-leading experts at PutinCon in March 2018:
→ Freeze Putin’s accomplices’ assets and bank accounts.
→Stop accepting anonymous money from anonymous corporations.
→Ban anonymous shell corporations from buying property.
→Prohibit the Western real estate and law companies from acting as banks.
→Ban the Western countries entry visas for Putin’s accomplices, officials, managers and producers of the state-owned Russian media.
→Establish strict control for entry visas to the Western countries for the Russian citizens.
→Ban the oligarchs, Putin’s accomplices, officials, managers and producers of the state-owned Russian media, from owning property in the West.
→Ban the Russian officials’ families from studying at the Western educational institutions.
→Impose sanctions on the officials, managers, and producers of the state-owned Russian media.
→Establish better transparency by monitoring and covering the repression of journalists in Russia.
→Organize a cyber league of democracies to address asymmetric threat models.
As individual citizens, we can demand that our elected politicians implement these measures and make this list a public knowledge by sharing the information in the public space.
The following steps are also necessary and require the joint effort of educators, academia and scholars:
→Reach full public awareness of the hybrid war.
→Recognize the seriousness of the situation and defining it in clear terms.
→Reassess the freedom of speech under the conditions of the hybrid war
→Promote history education, including the modern history and the criminal nature of the current Russian government.
→Promote psychology education, including the understanding of political manipulation, collective trauma, brainwashing techniques.
Brains win mind wars.
Check in for the next installment… coming soon.