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Actions Speak Louder than Words: The Problem of Russian Cyber Intervention

Russian foreign policy continues to be one of the most complex and pressing matters facing the West. Although President Vladimir Putin has maintained a stance of non-intervention in western matters, his actions over the last six years have repeatedly provoked the American government. Over the past decade, the Russian government has exhibited disconcerting patterns of aggressive foreign policy that has been met with global criticism and economic sanctions. Furthermore, their actions over the past two years, such as using the internet to manipulate public opinions during the 2016 election cycle, have fueled speculation of direct involvement with American and British politics as well. Although there is plenty of evidence that could lead one to believe the Russian government has attempted to subvert the American people, the lack of definitive proof enables President Putin to maintain his government’s innocence while continuing his aggressive foreign policy on a global scale. The United States and Russia share a tense history of the Cold War that dates back to 1945. The memories of the East vs. West conflict seem to carry their weight into our current government affairs. The sensitivity of the relationship between the two governments and the looming threat of nuclear war necesitate a resolution without provocation by the Americans. In the age of constant communication and globalization, information gathered from the internet plays an important role in shaping both public opinion and foreign policy. Russian intelligence agencies have been able to harness the power of social media and the internet to gather personal information about American citizens and use it to influence our beliefs and perceptions of what is and isn’t true. These Russian “trolls” were able to successfully execute this strategy throughout the 2016 election cycle and continue to use the same ideas today. The Wall Street Journal further explored the issue, reporting that Russian “trolls” would pose as social justice organizations, asking American citizens to get involved and send their information to “learn more about their cause.” Russian hackers would then use this information to create new identities in order to interact with other real users to promote their agenda, creating a pyramid scheme of deception.

Since this strategy worked the first time, there is every reason to believe the Russian government is employing a similar strategy for the 2018 midterm elections and 2020 general elections. Despite the clear threat to the democratic process, CNBC reports that there is an alarming lack of clarity from American intelligence agencies on how to counteract the Russian “trolls.” U.S. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said, "Because of today's capabilities and information, where they can use multiple platforms and generate great volume, it can really undermine a nation.” This shows the scope of the issue that the intelligence agencies are dealing with and highlights the need for cooperation among all security agencies and other nations to solve this issue.  

With the success of Russian interference, combined with the lack of a definitive link back to the government itself, it appears as if President Putin has gained the upper hand on the U.S. simply through its subversion of the American people. The question is: should we view this subversion as an act of war during a time of relative peace? We live in a time where most defense-based foreign policy is rhetorical. Although theoretically this means there is no global war to be fought, it also means that threats and pushbacks from world leaders tends to be ignored in the long run. Although the Trump administration has vehemently condemned the interference of President Putin’s regime, we can expect Russia to continue this rhetoric to pursue their policy without a second thought.

Ultimately, if the U.S. truly wants to counter the Russians, they must work with other Western powers to formulate a strategy against cyber intervention. The Russian government does not seem to be bothered by the sweeping rhetoric against their policies. Therefore, nations like Germany, France, and the U.K. must continue to work with the U.S. to stand their ground against Russian aggression for the sake of maintaining global peace and stability. In order to implement a long-term strategy for peace, actions must speak louder than words.

 

Sources:

Szary, Wiktor. “U.K. Condemns 'Brazen' Attempted Murder of Russian Double Agent.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 8 Mar. 2018, www.wsj.com/articles/u-k-condemns-brazen-act-of-attempted-murder-of-ex-russian-spy-1520518108?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=2.

Macias, Amanda. “It Is Becoming Increasingly Unclear How the US Is Countering Russian Cyberattacks.” CNBC, CNBC, 9 Mar. 2018, www.cnbc.com/2018/03/08/unclear-who-is-leading-the-us-response-to-russian-cyber-attacks.html.

Barry, Rob. “Russian Influence Campaign Extracted Americans' Personal Data.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 7 Mar. 2018, www.wsj.com/articles/russian-influence-campaign-extracted-americans-personal-data-1520418600?mod=searchresults&page=2&pos=13.

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