‘Vodka’ and ‘samovar’ apart, the Russians have contributed mostly unpleasant words to the English language.
‘Pogrom’, ‘nomenklatura’, ‘apparatchik’, ‘collectivisation’, ‘golodomor’, ‘gulag’ all fill the darker niches of lexicon, each denoting something for which there’s no indigenous equivalent.
Of these, ‘disinformation’ can take pride of place, and there too no indigenous equivalent exists. ‘Strategic deception’ is the best we can do, and it’s still two words, not one.
Like ‘nomenklatura’ and ‘apparatchik’, ‘disinformation’ adapts a Latin root to Russian needs, the prime of which is to subvert the West, the better to defeat it.
Since ancient times, the Russians have believed that they’re perpetually locked in mortal combat with the West. The battle has mostly been unilateral: the West has engaged it only occasionally, and then usually not so much to conquer Russia as not to be conquered by her.
This hostility reached maniacal heights after the 1917 advent of social justice, that is the Soviets first turning their own country into an abattoir cum concentration camp and then trying to spread this combination universally.
The Soviets correctly perceived that the nightmare they perpetrated upon Russia was so much at odds with Western civilisation that it could never be reconciled with it. One or the other would have to go.
No development in Soviet or post-Soviet policy is intelligible without realising that, one way or another, the Russians never cease to fight their battle against the West.
Like in any other war, the use of military force may be intermittent, but propaganda aimed at demoralising the enemy is continuous. Hence ‘disinformation’, a voluminous concept developed and practised by what in Soviet times was called the KGB’s First Chief Directorate. After perestroika, the same job is done by a quasi-autonomous foreign-intelligence service, the SVR (Sluzhba vneshney razvedki).
KGB disinformation has always pursued multiple objectives. Historically, its first task is to convince the outside world that the Russian nightmare is really a sweet dream.
An abbreviated list of variously successful disinformation operations would include Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP), which had nothing to do with liberalisation; Stalin’s ‘vertigo from success’ (ditto); Soviet ‘struggle for peace’ (while preparing for world conquest); Khrushchev’s ‘thaw’; Brezhnev’s ‘détente’; Gorbachev’s ‘perestoika’; Yeltsyn’s ‘collapse of the Soviet Union’; Putin’s ‘democracy’ and what not.
I’d describe such disinformation ops as metaphysical, designed to bring about a favourable shift in Western attitudes, rendering the West disinclined to resist Russia’s knavish plans.
However, just as important has been what could be called physical disinformation aimed at gaining military or strategic superiority over the West. A great part of it is something not unique to Russia: a large-scale operation to portray the country’s armed forces as weak when they are indeed strong, and strong when they are indeed weak.
Soviet disinformation in the run-up to the Second World War is a good example of the former: the country’s army was at the time stronger, in most categories, than those of the rest of the world combined, and it was deployed in an offensive setup. Yet the West was being fed the lie that the Soviet army was purely defensive in strength and deployment.
The opposite example is the Soviet aggressive posturing in the ‘60s, when they were severely outgunned by the USA, and yet managed to punch above their weight by spreading disinformation about the ‘missile gap’.
Such tactics have been known at least since the sixth century BC, when Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War. But the KGB can pride itself for having developed a disinformation technique all its own: energy blackmail in the nuclear age.
One part of it is straightforward. Europe never had in the past, nor especially has now, any conventional capability to stop the tens of thousands of Soviet tanks in their tracks. This can only be done by nuclear weapons.
Hence it hasn’t been the EU, as its fanatics have the gall to claim, but the US nuclear umbrella that has prevented a major European war in the last 70 years. Hence also a concerted Soviet effort to reduce the West’s nuclear arsenal or at least to prevent its wide deployment in Europe.
This is the strategic objective. The tactics include cultivating an army of ‘useful idiots’, influential Westerners who could be tricked, blackmailed or bribed into preaching the Soviet cause.
Some useful idiots are in fact witting agents of influence, but most are used ‘in the dark’, to use the KGB jargon. By a variety of subtle means they’re made to feel they’re fighting for a better world, whereas in fact they’re working to spread the most diabolical evil known in history.
Another important stratagem has been the financing of various front organisations, such as our own dear CND, the hatchery of so many prominent Labour politicians. Whether CND leadership worked for the Soviet cause wittingly or unwittingly is immaterial: one way or the other they did work for it.
An important corollary to the anti-nuke movement has been a lavishly financed campaign not just against nuclear weapons but also against nuclear energy, which effort gathered pace in parallel with the spread of nuclear power stations.
Courtesy of KGB disinformation transmitted through the CND and similar fronts, Western papers were filled with cartoons depicting nuclear power stations disintegrating into mushroom clouds.
Honest physicists screamed themselves hoarse explaining that, unlike weapon-grade Uranium-235, Uranium-238 used to produce electricity is a non-fissile isotope incapable of sustaining a chain reaction. All in vain: the safest form of energy has been hysterically portrayed as cataclysmically dangerous.
The Russians stand to gain from this in two ways. Their most immediate benefit is increasing Europe’s dependence on Russian hydrocarbons and thus keeping their price high. Since oil and gas provide most of the country’s wealth and, more important, Putin’s wealth, the benefit is crucial and immediate.
The other benefit is less obvious and more long-term. By increasing the West’s dependence on Russian and Middle Eastern hydrocarbons, the Russians strengthen their strategic position in their millennium-old war against the West.
They can easily interrupt their own hydrocarbon exports, and almost as easily disrupt those from the Middle East. This gives them a powerful blackmail weapon in peacetime and a decisive military advantage in any future shooting war.
Regarded in this light, their efforts to extend the anti-nuke campaign into one against hydraulic fracturing of shale hydrocarbons become both predictable and understandable.
Fracking can defang a great part of Russia’s offensive strategy by giving the West vast resources of domestic hydrocarbons. The example of the USA, where shale gas has already solved most energy problems, shows that fracking can hurt Russia economically, by reducing her exports and making them cheaper.
More important, making Russian hydrocarbon exports largely irrelevant can make Russia strategically impotent, no longer able to confront the West globally. This sort of thing was bound to focus the Russians’ minds and intensify their disinformation.
According to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, General Secretary of Nato, the Russians are secretly using various environmental groups to act as conduits for this campaign.
The techniques have passed the test of time: fracking is being demonised the same way nuclear energy has been. It’s supposed to present deadly dangers to the environment, while its economic effect would be negligible. Armageddon is upon us, and fracking is it.
Greenpeace and other such groups reacted to the comment by venting their inexhaustible reservoirs of venom. A Greenpeace spokesman, for example, called it ‘preposterous’, adding as a clinching argument that “Greenpeace had thirty of its people locked up in Russian prisons last year, threatened with fifteen years in jail.”
That’s supposed to prove that Greenpeace wouldn’t have anything to do with the Russians. The level of the argument is staggering, as is the ignorance behind it.
Back in the ‘30s Stalin didn’t just threaten Western communists with prison but culled them in their hundreds. He had practically the whole leadership of the Comintern shot or, more usually, tortured to death.
That, however, didn’t prevent other Western communists from toeing the Soviet line slavishly. The Greenpeace statement is therefore yet another larcenous non sequitur in which lefties specialise.
Yet again I don’t care whether the shrill opponents of fracking are fools or knaves – in other words, whether they act in Russia’s interests wittingly or otherwise. I suspect most of them are being used ‘in the dark’ but, even so, it would be naïve to think they aren’t being used at all.