Information is as much a weapon of war as it is a vital resource. It can be wielded like a gun or a missile, and access to it is as crucial as food and water. Information has been a critical part of warfare for thousands of years, but in the 21st century, the strategies we are beginning to see emerge around information are evolving and far more sinister. Modern nation-states are becoming increasingly adept at manipulating information. Advances in technology and a world increasingly connected through the internet mean it is easier than ever to spread disinformation to global populations, and no nation does it better than the Russian Federation.

Understanding Information Warfare

Before we explain how Russia uses information warfare to its advantage in modern geopolitics, we first have to understand exactly what it is. Information warfare is a form of conflict based on the manipulation, influence, and use of information to further one’s own political outcomes. Crucially, information warfare can be conducted without a shot ever being fired. It can be used to gain an informational advantage over your opponent, influence government actions in your favor, or manipulate citizens into believing false truths. In the world of realpolitik, that’s real power, and nobody understands this better than Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

Lest we forget, he was an agent for Russia’s clandestine intelligence service, the FSB, before his terms as president. Information warfare is as frightening as it is wide-ranging. The Russian Federation has increasingly used a wealth of tactics throughout Putin’s premiership to control and manipulate global geopolitical narratives, including using real or invented news media, stats by leaders or celebrities, online troll campaigns, text messages, botnets, and YouTube videos, just to name a few.

Russia’s Disinformation Campaigns: Objectives and Tactics

But why is Russia doing this? What’s the end game of Russia’s disinformation campaigns? We must recognize this strategy in the context of Vladimir Putin and his perspective of reality, warped as it may be. Putin sees his illegal war in Ukraine as just one front of an ongoing global conflict against the West, particularly the US and its NATO allies. Putin’s ultimate goal is to reshape the international order away from one that is dominated by the West and towards one that benefits Russia and those who fall under her sphere of influence.

If Russia were to try and make this change by force, the ensuing conflict would be overwhelmingly bad for Putin when facing the full military might of NATO—that is if the world wasn’t immediately ended by nuclear war in such a conflict. Therefore, Putin knows he must fight against the West asymmetrically rather than through conventional means. He has to use cloak and dagger rather than shells and bullets. Putin himself stated as much in a speech to the Russian Federal Assembly back in 2006, saying, “We must take into account the plans and directions of development of the armed forces of other countries. Our responses must be based on intellectual superiority. They will be asymmetric and less expensive.”

Through necessity, Russia must wage war in the shadows to undermine Western institutions, spread panic among people, and engender distrust in liberal democracies. Information warfare is used as a critically important tool for driving these objectives. Many today believe that we’re living in a post-truth era, where truth itself is seen as malleable and dominant narratives rule the day, whether they are true or not. Russia has played a large part in this evolution. Because of Vladimir Putin, the murkier reality becomes, the easier it is to manipulate populations, politicians, and policymakers towards outcomes that benefit Russia.

The Methods of Russian Information Warfare

How is Russia able to manipulate the informational environment and control narratives that reach Western eyes and ears? It’s important to note the exhaustively broad range of strategies that Russia uses to gain an informational edge. It’s not just troll farms and TikTok bots. Whilst information warfare can be used without violence, it is often used in tandem with conventional warfare to create battlefront and homefront advantages.

According to the NATO Handbook on Russian Disinformation, Russia’s information warfare strategies differ significantly in peacetime and wartime. Peacetime is characterized by more covert measures—think a bit like the USSR during the Cold War—with a focus on espionage, reconnaissance, and maneuvering secretly to gain an advantage in the information space. Wartime is where things get a whole lot more aggressive and direct. Discrediting the leadership, intimidating military personnel and civilians, falsification of events, and cyber-attacks are just some of the tactics that Russia uses, and most, if not all, of these we’ve seen during Putin’s “special military operation.”

Just recently, it was reported by the BBC that in occupied areas of Ukraine, Ukrainian children are taught that their country doesn’t exist, showing the levels that the Kremlin will go to control what people are told to aid their political objectives. Now, increasingly, we are beginning to see these more aggressive tactics used on Western targets. It is the world’s worst-kept secret that if Russia can successfully undermine the West’s support in Ukraine while stifling Kyiv’s progress on the battlefield, Russia will be able to grind Ukraine’s fighting forces down through attrition, leading to ultimate victory. These are narratives we are already starting to see emerge across the West, with even Pope Francis recently weighing in that Ukrainians should have the courage to surrender and stop the bloodshed.

Identifying Disinformation

But how do these tactics portray themselves in our own societies? How do we know what to look for when deciding whether something is disinformation or not? Well, by design, it’s often not clear. Putin aims to attack from both outside Western society and from within to spread disinformation. The outside approach is characterized through the use of mainstream and social media. Social media, at the best of times, is often a fight to distinguish reality from fiction due to the anonymity provided by the internet alongside people generally having not enough time in their lives to fact-check every social media post they read or headline that they scan.

This is used to Russia’s advantage, spreading, identifying, and amplifying narratives that gain traction to help Russia’s cause. A good example is Anastasia Steinhouse and her father, Alexei Reznikov, Ukraine’s former defense minister, both of whom were targeted with false claims on TikTok that went viral at the end of 2023. In one fell swoop, such a campaign undermined the Western populace’s faith in Ukraine’s ongoing fight against corruption and discredited a high-profile Ukrainian political figure. Not everyone who saw those claims will see a video like this one telling you that they were false. Over time, this saturation of the informational environment worms its way into the minds of Western people and eventually into the national narrative. By breaking into the mainstream media, this lends a level of credibility to these claims that they don’t deserve, and from there, they find their way into political circles where they can become truly damaging.

A good example from March 2024 alone is the recent campaign that has taken off among French populists that the sanctions against Russia are harming Europe more than Russia, which is demonstrably false. Mainstream media also plays its part directly. Tucker Carlson’s interview with President Putin has been viewed millions of times, whilst prime viewing time is afforded to Russian propagandists like Alexander Dugin. While his influence in Russia itself is minimal, the benefits to the strategy for Russia are significant. Vladimir Putin doesn’t have to lift a finger. Once a false narrative reaches critical mass through social or mainstream media, the West does all the work for him.

Inside the Institutions

So that’s the outside approach. The inside approach, however, might be the most sinister of them all. How does Russia control the narrative from inside the very institutions that it’s trying to undermine? Putin’s goal of destabilizing and undermining Western institutions has gone on long before Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Since that time, an infiltration campaign of pro-Russian actors across the world has sought to do just that. Western charities, academia, political parties, legal professionals, and more are now majorly influenced by Russian infiltration campaigns.

We are all aware of the 2016 US presidential election and the interference Russia was purported to have had. The reality is, Moscow’s manipulation and infiltration have spread globally, having sought to influence other nations through payment, threats, and spying. One example is Jan Marsalek, the Austrian former COO of the now-defunct payment processing company Wirecard, who at one stage was interested in purchasing Deutsche Bank. He was revealed to be a Russian spy and is now an international fugitive. He was reportedly recruited by the FSB in 2014.

Evgeny Lebedev, who sits in the British House of Lords, has a father who is a former KGB agent. Lebedev met then-Foreign Secretary and eventual Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2018. Lebedev has a 1% attendance record in the Lords and spends his time rubbing shoulders with high society Britain as the owner of the Evening Standard and an investor in The Independent, two of the biggest publications in the UK. After his peerage, he stated, “Is it not remarkable that the son of a KGB agent and a first-generation immigrant of this country has become such an assimilated and contributing member of British society? What a success for our system, don’t you think?” It makes you wonder whose system he was really referring to. Lebedev vehemently denies any links to the Putin regime.

In 2022, a Czech diplomat with top security clearance had been caught handing classified information over to the Russians. David Ballantine Smith, a Russian spy working in the British Embassy in Berlin, was jailed for at least 13 years in February 2023 for giving information to Moscow. In November 2023, it was revealed that the Russian Embassy in Rome had taken out 4 million euros worth of cash since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.

Russia is also accused by US officials of an international ring of election interference, including the threatening of election workers in Eastern Europe, spreading false claims of voter fraud in the Middle East, and social media manipulation in the Americas. These are just a fraction of the examples of known Russian attempts to influence the informational environment in their favor, and it paints a stark picture of the concerted global campaign Putin is waging against the West. So, while the troll farms play their part, the strategy is far more widespread and ominous than it initially appears.

Western Responses and the Need for Action

Moscow itself has a vice-like grip on the information environment within its borders. Foreign ownership of media outlets is limited, rebroadcasting licenses have been withdrawn, and independent sources of news have been closed. Russian television paints an alternate picture of reality, school textbooks are censored, and even the relatively free internet is slowly being brought under control. Vladimir Putin has just secured his fifth term as president in an entirely unfree and unfair election, in an inevitable landslide where his biggest opponent, Alexei Navalny, recently lost his life while imprisoned in Siberia. Winning an election, even with a guaranteed outcome, helps in lending legitimacy to the Kremlin regime. This tells you all you need to know about how important the Kremlin sees controlling the narrative as. They know how damaging it could be to their own regime if it was used against them.

What Can Be Done?

The fallout over Russia’s purported influence during the 2016 US presidential election has not been sufficiently addressed. Facebook admitted that between 30 and 126 million Americans may have seen some 80,000 posts written by Russian-backed pages but tried to downplay the level of Russian influence overall by stating this is a small minority of total posts on the platform. The West’s bans of Russian state news networks, Russia Today and Sputnik, have proved ineffective as both remain easily accessible across the internet. In the US, the Department of Homeland Security’s disinformation governance board was shuttered in August 2022 following political infighting. A 2020 report from the UK’s intelligence services stated that Russian interference in the country is “the new normal.” Money and resources are actually being scaled back as Russia ramps up its campaigns.

The United States has recently passed the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversaries-Controlled Applications Act, which may have a positive effect. However, we know that Kremlin-backed disinformation campaigns are far more exhaustive than the lone use of social media. When it comes to information warfare, the West and the Kremlin are scarcely playing the same game, let alone by the same rules. Therein lies a concerted and joined-up effort across the Western world to combat Russian disinformation campaigns. Many Western nations share military information or intelligence relating to the operation of Russian spies but have yet to formulate a working strategy to stop Russia from exploiting the weaknesses in their institutions through their own people.

Russia is deliberately using the West’s greatest self-proclaimed asset—its freedom of speech and its freedom of the press—against itself while Western liberal democracies continue to sleepwalk into the same crisis again and again. The future is potentially even more menacing. With the recent explosion in artificial intelligence technology, there’s the potential for Russian disinformation campaigns to become supercharged. Many in the West are clear they do not want outright war against Russia, but it could be argued that Russia and the West are already at war. Western weapons are being used in Ukraine while Russian information warfare ravages its enemies at home and abroad. The West just has to act before it is too late.


Q1: What is information warfare? Information warfare is a form of conflict based on the manipulation, influence, and use of information to further one’s own political outcomes. It can be used to gain an informational advantage, influence government actions, or manipulate citizens into believing false truths without ever firing a shot.

Q2: Why is Russia engaging in information warfare? Russia uses information warfare to undermine Western institutions, spread panic, and engender distrust in liberal democracies. Putin’s goal is to reshape the international order to benefit Russia and its allies, fighting asymmetrically to avoid direct military confrontation with NATO.

Q3: How does Russia conduct information warfare? Russia uses a broad range of tactics, including online troll campaigns, fake news, social media manipulation, cyber-attacks, and infiltration of Western institutions. These strategies are employed both during peacetime and wartime to gain an informational edge and support Russia’s geopolitical objectives.

Q4: What are some examples of Russian disinformation campaigns? Examples include false claims against Ukrainian officials on TikTok, disinformation campaigns targeting Western populists, and the infiltration of political and social institutions. High-profile instances involve the manipulation of narratives during the 2016 US presidential election and the infiltration of British and other European political circles.

Q5: How can individuals identify disinformation? Identifying disinformation requires critical thinking and skepticism. Cross-referencing information from multiple reputable sources, fact-checking claims, and being wary of sensationalist or emotionally charged content can help individuals discern truth from falsehood.

Q6: What is the West doing to combat Russian information warfare? The West’s response has been limited and fragmented. While some measures, like banning Russian state news networks and passing new legislation, have been taken, there is a lack of a concerted and comprehensive strategy to counter Russian disinformation effectively.

Q7: What are the potential future threats in information warfare? The future of information warfare may become even more complex with advances in artificial intelligence, which could enhance the spread and impact of disinformation. The West needs to develop robust strategies to counter these evolving threats to protect democratic institutions and societal stability.

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By Ryan Hite

Ryan Hite is an American author, content creator, podcaster, and media personality. He was born on February 3, 1993, in Colorado and spent his childhood in Conifer, Colorado. He moved to Littleton in 2000 and spent the remainder of his schooling years in the city. Upon graduation from Chatfield Senior High School in 2011, he attended the University of Colorado at Boulder. He graduated from the university in 2015 after studying Urban Planning, Business Administration, and Religious Studies. He spent more time in Colorado in the insurance, real estate, and healthcare industries. In 2019, he moved to Las Vegas, NV, where he continued to work in healthcare, insurance, and took his foray into media full time in 2021. His first exposure to the media industry came as a result of the experiences he had in his mid to late teens and early twenties. In 2013, he was compelled to collect a set of stories from his personal experiences and various other writings that he has had. His first book, a 365,000-word epic, Through Minds Eyes, was published in collaboration with Balboa Press. That initial book launched a media explosion. He learned all that he could about creating websites, marketing his published works, and would even contemplate the publication of other works as well. This book also inspired him to create his philosophy, his life work, that still influences the values that he holds in his life. Upon graduating college, he had many books published, blogs and other informative websites uploaded, and would embark on his continued exploration of the world of marketing, sales, and becoming an influencer. Of course, that did not come without challenges that would come his way. His trial-and-error approach of marketing himself and making himself known guided him through his years as a real estate agent, an insurance agent, and would eventually create a marketing plan from scratch with a healthcare startup. The pandemic did not initially create too many challenges to the status quo. Working from home did not affect the quality of his life. However, a series of circumstances such as continued website problems, social media shutdowns, and unemployment, caused him to pause everything between late 2020 and mid-2021. It was another period of loss of momentum and purpose for his life as he tried to navigate the world, as many people may have felt at that time. He attempted to find purpose in insurance again, resulting in failure. There was one thing that sparked his curiosity and would propel him to rediscover the thing that was gone from his life for so long. In 2021, he started his journey by taking on a full-time job in the digital media industry, an industry that he is still a part of today. It was at this point that he would also shut down the rest of the media that he had going at the time. In 2023, he announced that he would be embarking on what has become known as PROJECT30. This initiative will result in the reformation of websites, the reinvigoration of social media accounts, the creation of a Youtube channel and associated podcast, the creation of music, and the continued rediscovery of his creative potential. Unlike past projects, the purpose of this would not expound on the musings of a philosophy, the dissemination of useless news and articles, or the numerous attempts to be someone that he was not. This project is going to be about his authentic self. There are many ways to follow him as he embarks on this journey. Most of all, he wants everyone to be entertained, informed, and, in some ways, maybe a little inspired about the flourishing of the creativity that lies within the mind and soul of Ryan.

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