How Russia is shaping a new world of non-linear war and post-modern geopolitics

“Chaos is a ladder.”
- Lord Petyr Baelish

In a world fundamentally shaped and held together by digital networks, programmable media is a very potent weapon.

Vladislav Surkov is a fascinating figure credited with staffing and directing Ukraine’s separatists and architecting the annexation of Crimea. As a former cabinet member and current adviser to President Putin he represents a new generation of postmodern geopolitics (for lack of a better term) that skewers pretty much everything that the 20th century was built upon.

Wars aren’t fought to win but rather to confuse. There are reasons to back both dissident political parties and ultra-nationalist Nazis. Information is more powerful than weapons. Everything is PR, even science fiction. (Surkov is also a huge fan of Tupac and Allen Ginsberg.)

Not only is it extremely important to interpret Putin’s Russia within this context, it’s also critical to understand these methods as the new emerging playbook for geopolitics.

Russia’s method of non-linear warfare — coined by Surkov but sometimes referred to as hybrid warfare, as demonstrated in Russia’s actions against Ukraine — is a different model for projecting state power, one that wields disruption and information warfare more than conventional munitions.

Surkov’s Russia sees value in oppositional factions and is known to back both dissident political parties and homegrown nationalists — not to specifically reinforce Putin’s rhetoric, but to sow chaos and disharmony amongst the subjects.

These tactics are being used to destabilize Russia’s perceived adversaries. This is essentially the story of Russia’s interference in Brexit and in the 2016 US presidential election; of the Macedonian fake news farms used to shift American and British voters; and very possibly the current outburst of extremism on both sides of the US political spectrum.

In Surkov’s model, it would be consistent to agitate and support both the Alt-Right and the American ANTIFA/Black Bloc. The power lies in how these factions can shape and drive media (itself now quite non-linear and distributed), how they whip up emotions and fear, and how click-hungry media can be readily played and subverted towards destabilization and disruption.

“The Russians aren’t just pumping up the right wing in America,” says John Kelly, who worked with the State Department to map how political information flows through online social networks. “They’re also pumping up left-wing stuff — they’re basically trying to pump up the fringe at the expense of the middle.”

“To be sure, Russia doesn’t just back far-right fringe voices in the United States: RT even hosted the U.S. Green Party’s 2016 debate — and went above and beyond any other media outlet in pushing the candidacy of Jill Stein, catering equally to far-left cohorts.”
Washington Post, August 2017

This method appears to be instructive for other western rulers in Putin’s orbit, so we should expect this will become the norm for warfare that proceeds much more quickly (and cheaply) across media networks, finance, and information flows than it does armor columns and infantry units.

And this is an important point: the present chaos of the United States is very likely intentional, led by foreign powers, oligarchs, plutocrats, and seemingly the US President himself.

The Trump administration has used his inherent bombast to rile up the press over some sensational tweet or remark while reconfiguring the government in the background. In this context, everything Mr. Trump shares with the world should be considered as a deliberate effort to divide or as a smoke screen for something else.

“By hijacking headlines and warping the news cycle through sheer gravitational force, Trump is rupturing the journalism landscape, one land-mine tweet at a time.”
Vanity Fair, April 2017

This same Vanity Fair article paints numerous similarities and suggests that Steve Bannon might be studying the Surkov playbook. Note that upon his unceremonious exit from the White House Bannon declared a glorious return to Right Wing media powerhouse, Breitbart. “Now I’m free. I’ve got my hands back on my weapons.

Because this is a key insight of non-linear warfare: in a world fundamentally shaped and held together by digital networks, programmable media is a very potent weapon.

(Breitbart is backed by hedge fund wunderkind billionaire Robert Mercer, known to have an interest in using data analytics to swing voters on social networks.)

Given the ongoing revelations about Mr. Trump and his party’s Russian affinities and relationships, we should wonder just who’s brand of disruption he represents.

Perhaps more importantly to the security and stability of our homeland, when we see highly-emotional and highly-politicized chaos sweeping across the West it’s critical that we look behind the division and the anger to spot the puppet masters.