What to expect when you’re expecting bears

Some thoughts on the long term effects of influence ops

My main premise is that the success of Donal Trump is a disaster for Russian influence operations elsewhere. The geopolitical goals for Russia have been fairly obvious for a while, and using cyber augmented information operations seems like their tool of choice. The early surprise victory has put them in a bad position for continuing advantage — an info war Pyrrhic victory. Trump’s win has attracted too much attention and made their techniques less effective; that is, they’re strategically weaker for having won against the US.

You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war – Napoleon

Shadow wars should stay in the dark

The spotlight on Russian disinformation operations, and the exposure of their techniques and effectiveness has seriously damaged their ability to operate in future. They have had to reduce their operational tempo, they have had to alter their modus operandi, and their opposition is now scared, prepared, and ready for them. Like a stage magician who fumbles, they’ve exposed and broken the illusion necessary for the trick to work.

Russia’s geopolitical goals

These are no secret, having been made public decades ago, and indeed are transparently obvious.

  • Weakened US
  • Weakened EU
  • Weakened U.K.
  • Expanded territory
  • High oil prices (their economy is almost exclusively petrochemicals)

Step one: weaken the U.K.

Brexit is the mechanism for keeping the UK from having time or resources to function effectively on the world stage. The time it’ll take to perform the exit, the internal fracturing with Scotland and Northern Ireland rumbling again, will keep the UK busy internally for a while. It will also be outside of Europe, diminishing the capabilities of both the EU and Britain.

With an election coming up, there is a lot of speculation that the Russians will meddle just like they did in the US elections. Firstly, they don’t need to. The election is irrelevant since Brexit has already accomplished the primary strategic goal of the Kremlin. However, what I would expect is perhaps a push to increase the internal divides within the U.K., so support for EDL, SNP, maybe stirring up the dissident republicans if possible. Increasing divides in civil society will further sap the ability of the UK to operate as a world player.

Speculation: the “Bears” won’t make much of an election appearance, if at all (they might help to get Corbyn a bump up since he’s perceived as weak and pacifist, a bit of a pushover.) More likely will be efforts to fracture civil society by promoting internal divisions, so more SNP independence, more EDL anti-immigration, etc.

NOTE: support or encouragement from the Russians doesn’t necessarily mean anything about that movement. After all, the KGB loved funding nuclear disarmament groups. It simply means that the Russians are using an existing issue of contention to further divide their opposition.

French election fizzle

The attempt to disrupt the French elections and get Fillon elected were thwarted by a combination of various factors which I covered in earlier posts.

All of these factors reduced the effectiveness of Russian tactics. They were unprepared for Macron, but he was prepared for them. They lost their best candidate early, and the entire political establishment rallied against their remaining candidate in the second round election. The French are inherently more resilient to cyber augmented influence operations as they don’t rely on internet channels as heavily as the US. Finally, they are alert to bad French, which far fewer Russians speak than English, which reduced the potential size of the troll armies that could be deployed.

It ain’t over

The French still have more elections coming. These are the parliamentary elections to build the government. The Russians can still hamper Macron by limiting the success of his party in these elections, forcing him to make a fractured government with other parties. This wouldn’t be a huge success for Russia, but it would help to mitigate the loss to Macron.

Speculation: the Bears will be involved in the next elections. The preparation work that they did last year will be useful as there aren’t going to be many last minute surprise candidates now. Just as the Russians interfered with congressional elections (less widely reported than the presidential election, but it happened and they were prepared to do more), they will meddle with the French elections. Expect some mail spool leaks to preferred candidates, as well as some public leaks, in the run up.

German election game plan

The Russians have been preparing to attack the German elections for a long time, and a recent interview with Putin confirms that they will do so. He suggests that “patriotic hackers” “might” get involved in the German elections. I guess this is like the “vacationing Russians” who took their tanks to Crimea.

Getting the Germans to turn nationalistic and anti EU is an important goal. If Germany and France turn against the EU, then the EU ceases to be a coherent effective adversarial bloc. The French still have another set of elections, so there’s some hope for the Russians yet. Germany remains the big prize, and they’ll probably go after Merkel heavily.

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Seems that it is definitely hurting other right wing parties.