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Russian Information Operations Aim to Divide the Western Coalition on Ukraine

Posted: 7th July 2022
By: Insikt Group®

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Editor’s Note: The following post is an excerpt of a full report. To read the entire analysis, click here to download the report as a PDF.

The following report reviews ongoing Russian influence efforts almost certainly aimed at undermining and dividing the Western defensive coalition supporting Ukraine, as well as influencing public opinion of Russia’s war against Ukraine favorably toward Russia. This report will be of most interest to government groups, journalists, and industry professionals seeking an understanding of current Russian influence narratives and objectives regarding Russia’s war against Ukraine. This research was conducted using the Recorded Future® Platform and other open sources. Prior to the publication of this report, Recorded Future notified and/or made best efforts to notify all affected organizations of the identified activity to support incident response and remediation investigations. Where direct notification was impossible, we notified relevant third-party organizations with a national cyber security mandate.

Executive Summary

Since at least early May 2022, Russian influence networks, including state-controlled media, known covert intelligence outlets, and known propaganda and disinformation amplifiers, have almost certainly been conducting several multifaceted information operations to undermine and divide the Western coalition on Ukraine and influence public opinion of Russia’s war against Ukraine favorably toward Russia. These information operations almost certainly aim to undermine and divide the Western coalition on Ukraine both directly, by creating or exacerbating divisions between Western coalition countries, and indirectly, by influencing European populations to oppose their governments’ support of Ukraine and negative policies toward Russia.

Based on observations from Russian influence networks, we believe that the direct attempts to undermine and divide the Western coalition by creating or exacerbating divisions are primarily aimed at France, Germany, Poland, and Turkey. We have identified multiple influence narratives that attempt to indirectly undermine and divide the Western coalition, including: stirring domestic discontent toward Western political leaders; negatively portraying Ukrainian refugees and the impacts they have on their host countries; blaming economic, energy, and food security concerns on Western governments for their negative policies toward Russia; blaming Ukraine as the source of modern-day fascist movements; and inciting distrust of Western media.

Notably, many of the aforementioned narratives align with an unverified analytical note from the Fifth Service of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), reportedly intercepted and published by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) on June 5, 2022. The note discusses Russian information operations failures during Russia’s war against Ukraine thus far, and provides recommendations for influence efforts moving forward. The alignment of the analytical note’s messaging with influence narratives identified by Recorded Future supports the authenticity of the note. It advises targeting the “European Community” with information about the “deterioration of living standards” in the EU as a result of their support for Ukraine, proposing specific narratives such as “arming Ukraine at the expense of European taxpayers”, “emphasizing economic hardship”, “forecasts about the number of Ukrainian refugees and the created burden on the budget and socio-economic infrastructure”, and more. The analytical note states that the intention of the “massive” information operation is to “provoke internal public pressure on the governments and political elites of Western countries”.

The West’s response to Russia’s war against Ukraine, from unprecedented economic sanctions on the Russian economy to billions of dollars in military aid, resources, and equipment provided to Ukraine, has played an instrumental role in slowing Russia’s advance and likely contributed to the Russian military’s decision to recalculate and reconcentrate primarily on eastern Ukraine after the initial phase of the invasion failed. The Russian government very likely did not anticipate a military conflict in Ukraine beyond 100 days, further miscalculating the impact that a prolonged conflict would have on its economic and political affairs. As a result, the Kremlin is likely attempting to alleviate the impacts of international pressure on their economy and political affairs by attempting to divide and destabilize Western responses.

Key Judgments

  • Since at least May 2022, Russian influence networks have almost certainly been conducting several multifaceted information operations to undermine and divide the Western coalition supporting Ukraine in its defense against Russia, while shifting attitudes of European populations favorably toward Russia and Russia’s war against Ukraine.
  • It is almost certain that these Russian information operations are seeking to directly and indirectly undermine and divide the Western coalition through several influence narratives, such as blaming Western coalition governments for economic hardships their populations are enduring, in order to influence domestic populations to oppose their governments’ support of Ukraine and policies toward Russia.
  • Many of the influence narratives identified by Recorded Future align with an unverified analytical note (dubbed a “propaganda manual”) from the Fifth Service of the FSB that was intercepted by Ukraine’s SBU, supporting the note’s authenticity.
  • Attempts to undermine support for Ukraine will very likely continue through at least the end of the war, making future political elections, individual domestic policy issues, and other unforeseen events prime targets for influence and narrative manipulation.

Editor’s Note: This post is an excerpt of a full report. To read the entire analysis, click here to download the report as a PDF.

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