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RSC Report
May 25, 2016

Putin’s Cyberwarfare: Russia’s Statecraft in the Fifth Domain

by
Henry Jackson Society

LONDON – 24th May 2016 

A report published today by The Henry Jackson Society reveals the increasing threat to the West from Russia of cyber-attacks.

The paper, entitled “Putin’s Cyberwarfare: Russia’s Statecraft in the Fifth Domain”, highlights that, over recent years, hackers working for the Kremlin have attacked a number of Western targets, including: a French television network; a German steelmaker; the Polish stock market; and the US State Department.

The paper is released on the same day that Rt Hon Michael Fallon MP, Secretary of State for Defence, is warning of an increasing threat from Russia against the UK. Speaking before the House of Commons’ Defence Committee, Mr Fallon answered questions on the nature of Russia’s cyberwarfare.

One aspect of the threat from Russia that is especially concerning is that Russia is the only country to date to have combined cyberwarfare with conventional warfare. In its wars with Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine since 2014, Russia’s ground offensives were accompanied by widespread cyber-attacks targeting government and media websites and energy infrastructure.

Amongst the paper’s key findings are:

  • Russia is pursuing an aggressive foreign policy, and events over the past two years, not least the annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Syria, demonstrate this. The capabilities that Russia has displayed over this period have caught the West off guard.
  • Russia’s distinctive approach to war in Ukraine has highlighted the Kremlin’s capacity for information warfare. There is nothing fundamentally new about the techniques and methods employed by Russia, even if the technologies that enable them are. This is the case with cyberwarfare, where the development of the Internet has facilitated broader and much longer-term information warfare aims.
  • Over the past decade, Russia has demonstrated both a greater capacity of its cyberwarfare capabilities and an increasing willingness to use them. Russia has employed cyberwarfare for a variety of purposes, and hackers working with the Kremlin have attacked nation-states, industrial plants, financial institutions, government departments, media outlets, and other Western targets.
  • This trend with Russia’s cyberwarfare, as with its conventional warfare, is only likely to continue – the more Russia develops its capabilities, the more aggressive and confident it will become. In contrast to Russia’s neighbours, who must consider and plan for the threat of military attack and invasion by Russia, Western countries must plan for the threat of Moscow’s ongoing subversion and destabilisation.

Dr Andrew Foxall, Director of the Russia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society and author of the policy paper released today, commented:

“Over recent years, cyberwarfare has emerged as a key part of Russia’s aggressive foreign policy. This foreign policy seeks to challenge the West, and it is essential that Western governments fully understand the nature of this challenge if they are to put in place sufficient policies to counter it. A useful starting point would be to recognise that the West’s interests and values are incompatible with those of Russia.”

Read the full report here.