Why is Russia becoming an increasingly frequent feature in British news? In a rapidly advancing digital age, could it be that the Russian government is ahead of the game; weaponising information for a war not fought through guns, but in cyberspace?
In the wake of the US Presidential election last year, the Russian-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab was accused of being a platform for hackers to infiltrate the US National Security Agency; with the Wall Street Journal reporting that the software was altered into an espionage tool by the Russian government.
This week, the Internet Research Agency in St Petersburg is said to have also been an extension of the Kremlin’s campaign to secure a win for Donald Trump. This has become apparent from interviews with former employees of the company, one of which stated how their “goal was to set Americans against their own government”.
Pro-Russian militia in Donetsk – 2014.
Trolls impersonated Americans through hundreds of fake profiles, which they used to post protests aiming to sway voters. According to company documents, these accounts reached 20-30 million people per week in September 2016. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, with media within Russia reporting that such accounts were behind posts criticising Barack Obama since 2013.
Facebook has shut down at least 470 fake accounts and pages linked to Russian companies and has admitted to selling the Research Agency advertising space which reached approximately 10 million voters. US intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russian government did try to influence the presidential election in favour of Donald Trump, and have released a statement saying that did hack the Democratic National Committee.
This begs the question of what the Kremlin’s true intentions are, and why there is such a sudden interest in western data and information? Hillary Clinton, whom was on the receiving end of much of the social media troll attacks, has shown her belief that Russia is conducting an aggressive foreign policy. At the Cheltenham Literature Festival this October, she claimed that the Kremlin was utilising the internet to encourage nationalism and populism, and to break up the European Union and NATO. She too referenced Russia’s involvement in the US elections, asserting Wikileaks as the tool used to hack Democratic emails. “We need to get serious when it comes to cyberspace and get tough on Putin”, she stated, suggesting that a war is indeed descending.
Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan points in the direction of a looming war, especially now that Russia is funding Taliban’s military against NATO. According to Taliban officials, this is in order to stop the rise of the Islamic state, but more so to counter its defeat by the western allies three decades ago. NATO currently has up to 500 British soldiers in Afghanistan in an ongoing operation to support the Afghan government.
It is also necessary to highlight the horrific violation of human rights committed by Russia in Crimea. Back in September, the United Nations emphasised the need for accountability of torture, at least one execution and dictatorial arrests. Russia has also launched a threatening large-scale military exercise, called Zapad-2017, in the Belarus area. President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine has expressed his fears that this exercise could be a preamble to an invasion of Ukraine.
This apparent anti-western stance is complicated further by the apparent cordiality between the Trump administration and the Kremlin. Trump praised Putin’s silent response to President Barack Obama’s introduction of new Russian sanctions last year, notably via a tweet. Donald Trump Jr also admitted to meeting with a Russian Lawyer last June after learning she had informational that was harmful to the Clinton campaign.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Michael Flynn, who served briefly as Trump’s National Security Adviser, reportedly discussed the dissolution of Obama’s sanctions with the Russian Ambassador once Trump was president-elect. This is illegal. Yet Director of the FBI James Comey, who has since been dismissed by Trump, stated that Trump asked him to drop the investigation into Flynn. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also met with the Ambassador, despite denying doing so at his confirmation.
Russia’s engagement in the west has been entirely paradoxical. On the one hand, the Kremlin seems a loyal ally to the recently elected president. But on the other hand, through its involvement in the election last year, has succeeded in vexing the American population, whilst continuing to conduct threatening policies in the middle east against NATO and western-organisations.
The Russian government has proven its ability to penetrate the security of the strongest nation in the world, and the apparent relations between the Kremlin and Trump should be no means obscure the policies that the Kremlin has been pursing. It is about time, before it is too late, that we begin considering their involvement in the US election as an attack on the democratic foundations of America, and ultimately, a declaration of cyberwar.
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