Russian weaponized the techniques of disinformation it had used in the first war in Ukraine in 2014. in the Brexit campaign and in the 2016 US election campaign. No doubt those astounding successes, and the lack of resistance from the west led Putin to believe western democracy was weak and ready to have it feathers plucked
According to Carole Cadwalladr of the Guardian
“From 2014 to 2016 Putin had carte blanche across our entire information system. So in St. Petersburg he set up the Internet Research Agency and we know that thousands and thousands of trolls and fake accounts flooded out information system. And that is the thing that really confused people and distracted people. It wasn’t that Putin set out to support Trump, or had any political agenda, in 2014 it was simply about spreading confusion, making us more divided, increasing polarization. It was divide and rule if you think of it like that.”
He had learned what Hannah Arendt had said. It was enough to sow confusion. The Americans and English would do the rest. Putin must have been stunned at how easy it was and how successful that was it. Even after the FBI marvellously exposed his nefarious efforts, Americans were again deflected from the real issue. First, the Democrats smelled the blood of Donald Trump in the water and attacked him in a misguided frenzy. Not that I think he was innocent. They thought this would be enough to get him impeached. Then Trump hit back saying there was no collusion. When the Mueller report did not come out clearly that there had been collusion, the Republicans, were also distracted and began a similarly misguided frenzied attack on Democrats that deflected attention away from the real issue, the fact that a foreign power and the second most militarily powerful country in the world had interfered with a free election and then nobody seemed to care. He got away it completely! Both Democrats and Republicans failed to attack the real wolf at the democratic door in their unseemly haste to attack each other. Putin perhaps without knowing how he did it, found an open path to the heart of the democracy he wanted to attack and no one was concerned about what he was doing. Each side was only concerned about what the other side was doing. No one raised a finger to stop the Russians or even criticize them. Putin must have been thunderstruck at this luck or at the foolishness or the Americans or more likely, both. It was the same in England. The opposite parties hated each other they ignored the real danger—Putin.
Besides the astonishingly polarization of the country, Putin was aided and abetted by the fact that the international media giants were private closed black boxes that allowed Putin to operate in complete darkness without public objection. As Cadwalladr said,
“we had no idea what was going on inside them and it was only in 2016 that the FBI started telling us what was going on, and only after the election journalists and academics slowly picked out the truth of what was happening. It was through the social media platforms that Putin launched this information war against Ukraine and against us. And those social media companies can still be used in that way!”
This attack had huge societal impacts, it was discovered and yet it was largely ignored as Americans in America and the English in the UK concentrated on attacking each other rather than the much more vicious foreign enemy that was eating their vital innards.
Both sides used language to minimize what Russia had done. In the US and UK the referred to Russian “meddling” in the elections. It was really a declaration of war. As Cadwalladr said,
“this was a military strategy and it was carried out in many ways by military intelligence! The GRU which is Russian military intelligence, they are the ones who carried out the hack and leak on Hillary Clinton emails for example. Those intelligence GRU officers are there now playing a fundamental war in Ukraine now. It was those same GRU intelligence officers who helped to poison a former Russian military officer and double agent for the British intelligence agencies Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, in the city of Salisbury England. Again, the English resistance to this was minimal. Again, Putin must naturally have reached the conclusion that the West was weak and ready to be plucked.”
As Cadwalladr said, “this was Putin using an unconventional chemical weapon on British citizens in Britain and he got away with it.” We here in Canada are fairly familiar with how many Americans did not want to hear about Russian interference in the US because they saw this as an attack on the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s presidency and saw all such claims of election interference as Democrats looking out for their own interests. The same thing happened in the UK. People who supported Brexit did not want to hear any allegations that Russians interfered with that referendum because they did not want to see that vote as illegitimate either. In both cases the “winners” did not want the distraction of foreign interference. In both cases Putin learned a very valuable lesson, namely, to insert himself inside the widening polarized rifts between conservatives and liberals in both countries, was easy and very profitable. In each country, Putin was handed a golden opportunity to wreak mischief and havoc on account of the host countries polarized populous!
Carole Cadwalladr pointed out that,
“All the way through this reporting we see this really clear line Brexit, Trump, and Russia. And there is a triangulation there. There is a straight and clear line through multiple individuals and organizations and via the tech platforms…I America the Mueller report got bogged down in this question did Trump collude with Russia? And actually the big takeaway from the Mueller report should have been Russia successfully attacked America! This was a military attack and it got away with it. And that same attack was across the information systems which we all use and in that year 2016 they were completely unprotected! And in Britain we have been blind to waking up to that. The US had this massive investigation by the FBI and Congressional committees. In Britain we have had not one single investigation. There was one report and Boris Johnson personally tried to suppress that report.
In both countries the political parties think the issue is about politics. It is not about politics. It is about power and Putin. Of course this weak response from the UK and the US emboldened Putin and he is now using the same techniques in Ukraine but not with as much success.
Unfortunately, Cadwalladr has been attacked by a wealthy businessman in the UK for libel based as a result of her reporting. It has cost her 1 million pounds and 2 &1/2 years of her life. She was lucky she got crowd source funding. But such efforts have a chilling effect on the search for truth. And that is now common place around the world. It is really truth itself that is under attack. In the US CNN was targeted as a news organization as “fake news” by Trumpsters. The terminology of fake news has been weaponized. These are dark times. This is what happens when we acquiesce with attacks on truth.