Opinion

Protests, a pandemic and evidence of a hybrid war

The unrest and riots that erupted in the wake of George Floyd protests are evidence that a full-scale hybrid war is being waged against the United States, aimed at undermining their geopolitical leadership. The war, which has a clear plan and intent, but which continues to remain unnoticed in the United States. While experts point out that Russia and China, through their official and covert tools on social media, are actively supporting the protests in the United States, only a few American politicians are timidly claiming the hypothetical possibility of Russia’s involvement in the riots. The majority of observers remain silent.

This amnesia is impressive, as the involvement of Russian intelligence in provoking racial tensions in the United States and radicalization of both the African-American community and the American far-right has been well researched and proven since 2016. As a result of its investigation, the Senate Intelligence Committee has released material showing that during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, the main target of Russian influence operations were representatives of the African-American community.

According to these reports, Russians also recruited African-Americans through social media to participate in a variety of street protests and demonstrations. To carry out their propaganda Russia created a large number of websites and used Youtube, where much of the manipulative content was devoted to coverage of the movement of Black Lives Matters, as well as police violence.

The organization that carried out these operations of influence is located in St. Petersburg and is called the Internet Research Agency. It is also known as the Kremlin troll factory, which is responsible for misinformation both inside and outside Russia, and whose representatives have been found guilty of crimes against US national security. It is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman close to Vladimir Putin, who is also under personal US sanctions. The same Prigozhin, who is linked to the funding of the so-called Wagner Group, a Russian alleged private military unit involved in military conflicts on the side of Russia's allies around the world, including Ukraine's Donbass, Syria, Libya and Sudan.

Experts on the Russian hybrid war rightly believe that Wagner's Group is not a private military company, but only a cover for the operations of Russian special services, including Russian special operations forces. From this point of view, the combination of special forces in the form of a Wagner Group and psychological operations in the form of an Internet Research Agency under one roof looks extremely natural. This is a typical set of means of unconventional warfare, for which special operations forces are responsible. And the use of internal contradictions in the enemy country to set some social groups against others is a typical method of unconventional warfare.

It seemed that Russian active measures taken in the United States with the participation of such foreign agencies should be a signal of the highest national danger, proof of hybrid aggression against the country and unite all patriotic forces to protect the nation.

However, the reaction of the political establishment was different. Both political camps fell victim to Russia's strategic disinformation, believing that the purpose of Russia's influence was not to weaken American democratic institutions, not to destabilize American society, but simply to support one of the candidates. Democrats and Republicans willingly used against each other the compromising material prepared in advance by Russian intelligence services, continuing to divide the American nation.

At this time, Russia's activities to radicalize American society did not stop. Since 2017 (after the presidential election), Russia has established a network of free combat training centers for African Americans in the United States. An example of such a network is the Black Fist self-defense program, the centers of which have been discovered in New York, Florida, California and Michigan.

At the same time, the Russian secret services were actively recruiting and radicalizing representatives of American far-right organizations. These facts are also well known, and the Russian Imperial Movement, one of the Russian groups involved in the military training of the American far-right, was recognized by the US government as a terrorist organization.

Thus, the Russian secret services systematically worked to create the preconditions in the United States for social conflict on racial grounds, radicalization and control over the course of such a conflict. It is worth noting that similar attempts to resolve the racial war in the United States were already made by the Soviet and Chinese intelligence services during the Cold War and even before.

Russia's hybrid aggression against Ukraine also began in a similar way. Long before the appearance of Russian little green men in the Crimea and Donbas, Russian special services systematically worked to divide Ukrainian society, radicalize both pro-Russian and anti-Russian groups, and used fighting and military clubs to recruit and train future rioters and militants.

At that time, the Ukrainian government was controlled by pro-Russian politicians who either ignored these anti-state processes or took a direct part in them. This made it impossible to neutralize these processes in the early stages by Ukrainian special services.

What is happening now in the United States is no longer an early stage of hybrid aggression.

At the same time, power in the United States is in the hands of pro-American, not pro-Russian, politicians, so we want to believe that they will be able to overcome their own political contradictions for the sake of national security and national interests.

Oleksandr Danylyuk, chairman of the Ukrainian Center for Defense reforms, is a senior fellow at the Potomac Foundation, a former chief adviser to Ukraine’s Minister of Defense, a member of Ukrainian government inter-agency platform for countering hybrid threats and one of the leaders of Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity.

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