Some analysts believe the Russian-run armed secession of the provinces of North Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia in 2008 was a dress rehearsal for the Russian military seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
One way in which the earlier land-theft in Georgia anticipated the later one in Southeastern Ukraine was in its use of media and social media to confuse Russia’s opponents. Six years later, the Russian propaganda campaign had increased hugely in size and sophistication, especially online.
And by 2014, the Russian television, news website, social media network was hard at work at much more than just covering-up Russia’s cross-border military adventures, it was messing with political attitudes held by citizens across Eastern Europe, with particular attention to Ukraine, The goals were to divide Ukraine and the 3 Baltic states along linguistic and geographic lines…to paralyze public discussion by burying legitimate comments on news stories with bot-driven lies and provocations, and to increase cynicism and dissociation from the Ukrainian and other governments.
Did it work? And how can that question be answered?
And, given what was happening in Ukraine in 2014 and 15, shouldn’t America been better prepared for the Russian propaganda operations of 2015 and 16?
Todd C. Helmus is a senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation. He specializes in terrorism, strategic communications and social media. Helmus’ work focuses on improving U.S. efforts to counter militant recruitment and decrease popular support for terrorism and insurgency. He has examined the networks of ISIS supporters and opponents on Twitter and identified ways to enlist key influencers in support of U.S. strategic communications. He also identified approaches to assess counter violent extremism campaigns. Helmus has worked closely with U.S. special operations forces (SOF) in Afghanistan where he served as an advisor to U.S. commanders and led studies on U.S. efforts to train Afghan Special Security Forces. In 2008, he also served in Baghdad as an advisor to Multi-National Forces Iraq.