A recently held talk given in The Hague gives insight in the way Russian media, press statements and other forms of information, are perceived in the west. Among the speakers part of the conference was Mark Laity, Chief Strategic Communications (1) at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). His talk gives insight in how Russian’s press statements and media strategy are perceived in NATO.
‘Disinformation is launched for a reason, it has a goal’, says Marc Laity, Chief Strategic Communications at SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) at NATO. ‘Hence, publishing of a certain piece of information is linked to a certain event and made to influence certain players.’
To explain the Russian view of information warfare, Mister Laity refers to a well-known article written by General of the (Russian) army, Valery Gerasimov. Laity places stress on the fact that ‘Information Conflict’ is placed in between the non-military and military measures and stretches from the beginning of a conflict to its end. Hence the ‘information conflict’ is being fought if only a potential military threat is present. “We needs to stop thinking that there is war and there is peace.”, Laity concludes from this. “Informational confrontation does not a ‘pre’ to an invasion, but is a permanent state.”
As an example of the working of Russian disinformation Laity uses the recent publishing of radar data by the Russian government. While the Dutch Joint Investigation Team (JIT) just published its report claiming the responsibility of a separatist operated BUK-system. The Russian released radar images allegedly shows that the missile could not have been fired from the site indicated by the JIT. The result is that anyone viewing the events at home is puzzled what account to believe.
A similar example is giving about Crimea. Initially president Putin said that the soldiers appearing from nowhere all over Crimea were not Russian. However, at a later moment in time he would admit that, indeed these men were Russian soldiers. The result of initial denial is that western powers, not knowing who these soldiers are. Because western countries do not possess a picture of what exactly is happening, they are to postpone their reaction until it is too late.
The above cases are used by Laity to demonstrate that parties are paralyzed by the multitude of information. For example, governments do not know what is going on and therefore incapable of taking serious measures. While at home, using the mistrust in governments, one might lead to discredit the fact in total, not being able to know what is true and what is not. Resulting in a reaction, as Laity put it, “God, I do not know! Stuff it!”
‘So what is NATO doing?’ was a reaction from the audience. ‘Does NATO have a counter strategy?’ Laity responds by saying that there are insufficient resources at a tactical level. To demonstrate this Laity refers to supposedly Russian ‘troll farms’, organizations in Russia solely dedicated to making comments on forums and spreading pro-Russian information. ‘Russia has a clear idea what to do, but in the West we do not’. Laity adds that before NATO formulates any strategy, NATO should have a clear idea what the Russian strategy actually is.
The moderator of the conference adds an interesting remark to Laity’s strategy. He states that Russia’s attempt to influence public opinion is a 24h industry and that the West is insufficient in combatting this. Adding that ‘We in the west only come up with propaganda on a project basis like in Iraq.’ This last remark put into perspective some of Laity’s words. Indeed, the west also makes use of propaganda and while discussing Russia’s attempt of ‘disinformation’ this is often forgotten. When certain information of Russian origin is referred to as disinformation does not automatically make it as such. Indeed the Chief of Strategic Communications at SHAPE, might well have his own reason to spin certain information in a certain way. While discussing Russia’s information strategy, Laity suggested that much Russian information is incorrect. While in fact (if not the vast majority), a significant part of information of Russian origin is different information (but true), and from a different perspective.