Vladimir Putin’s Russia is famously known for its use of disinformation as a weapon for creating malicious and malignant mischief.
For the purposes of definition, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, a part of Homeland Security, defines disinformation as: “Deliberately created to mislead, harm or manipulate a person, social group, organization or country.” They also address another information circumstance described as “malinformation,” which they define as “based on fact, but used out of context to mislead, harm or manipulate.”
Events unfolding in Ukraine have the potential to turn into the biggest land war in Europe since World War II, catastrophic for humanity in so many socio-political, strategic, security and economic ways. I’m writing this column when it’s entirely possible that war may have already ignited, but what strikes me as particularly interesting about the Ukraine standoff — if that’s the right word for it — is the way the U.S. and NATO countries have used information as their primary tactic to forestall the possibility of war.
The absurdity of the Russian disinformation premise that the situation of Ukraine is the result of NATO aggression, when Russia mobilized an invasion force of over 134,000 troops to surround Ukraine on three sides, is laughable, unless you understand that such disinformation has been deliberately created to mislead or manipulate the Russian people.
Count the times that the Russian president, his spokesperson or his foreign affairs minister have insisted that Russia has no intention of invading Ukraine. But false-flag invasions are a Russian specialty and, according to U.S. and NATO intelligence, there have already been more than a dozen documented false-flag incidents in Ukraine, deliberate attempts to tripwire a start to the war on false pretenses.
What is innovative and different is that the U.S. and NATO are using real-time intelligence, releasing declassified intel to stay ahead of Russian disinformation, taking away Russian moves by exposing them in advance. Russia’s fiction narrative of non-aggressive intentions are contradicted by intelligence photos showing the extent of Russian troop deployments along the Ukrainian border and now into Belarus. The use of this declassified information to disrupt Russian planning is finally, if belatedly, an assertive military tactic of the U.S. and NATO to diplomatically weaponize information.
According to Emily Horne, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, in a report in the New York Times, “We have learned a lot, especially since 2014 (when Russia last invaded Ukraine), about how Russia uses the information space as a part of its overall security and military apparatus, and we have learned a lot about how to deny them some impact in that space.” In that same report, it was alleged that “according to some strategists, (it is) a full-fledged information battle.”
In the same article, Beth Sanner, an intelligence officer who frequently briefed Donald Trump, said, “My guess is that these disclosures are freaking the Kremlin and their security services out, and more important, it can narrow Putin’s options and make him think twice.”
Some say that Putin has no real interest in a war, that he is bluffing, that his country would be so economically damaged if it invaded that he wouldn’t dare; or, others speculate that his intentions are only to seize another small piece of Ukraine’s eastern flank. Vladimir Putin has always been the bully looking for the weak spot, loving the negative attention he gets in the world for being the smug rogue. But the western allies seem to be getting better at the game of information chess.
It’s encouraging to see U.S. and NATO allies finally learning to use real and indisputable information as a foil against Russia’s deceitful manipulation of disinformation and deploying these forward tactics to stay ahead of Russia’s chess moves of disinformation.
As a tactic, using emergent and accurate information intel to try to forestall the possibilities of war may not at the end of a day prevent the outbreak of war in Ukraine, but it starkly illuminates Russia’s disingenuous narrative, closeting Putin’s regime in the liar’s den in the eyes of the world.
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.