Valisluureamet report 2020 - fragmente


Russia sees psychological warfare as part of a comprehensive informational confrontation with the enemy (mainly Western countries). All three Russian special services – the FSB, SVR and GRU – are involved in covert influence operations, each with a different focus. According to the Russian Armed Forces’ doctrine, psychological warfare is one of the three main components of ‘informational confrontation’ – the other two being information-technical influencing of foreign countries (e.g. through cyberattacks) and protecting Russia against foreign information operations. For Russia, psychological warfare is the information-psychological influencing of foreign audiences to change their views and behaviour in Russia’s national interest, including achieving the Russian Armed Forces’ objectives. Russia sees psychological warfare as part of a comprehensive informational confrontation with the enemy (mainly Western countries), and it is ongoing both during conflict and in peacetime. According to Russian doctrine, the targets of psychological warfare include the political leadership, military personnel and their families, the civilian population, and certain specific target groups, such as ethnic and religious minorities, opposition groups and businesspeople – in friendly, neutral and hostile foreign countries alike. This means that the entire world population outside Russia is a potential target. Within the Russian Armed Forces, psychological operations are the responsibility of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU); the GRU develops the plan for psychological warfare, which is then approved by the Chief of the General Staff. The GRU’s chief psychological operations division is military unit 54777. Both unit 54777 and the regional GRU psy-ops units subordinated to it study, analyse and assess the military-political situation in foreign countries, and the morale and psychology of their military and civilian population. They prepare psychological influence materials and participate in the armed forces’ deception activities, or maskirovka, and counter-propaganda. Working undercover, they establish international contacts while concealing their connection with the GRU. They also study Russian and foreign experience in carrying out psychological operations. Psy-ops units monitor foreign media on a daily basis to keep abreast of the coverage of issues relevant to the GRU, current events and Russia’s role in them. Regular media monitoring reports identify, among other things, influential Western publications’ articles that are in line with Russian interests; these are boosted through fake social media accounts and GRU-controlled online portals. The choice of topics depends on the GRU’s priorities, which may change in time. In online propaganda, GRU focuses on popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and VK (VKontakte). The work is measured quantitatively: in addition to the number of items produced in each category (e.g. opinion pieces, news stories and comments), the spread of these materials (e.g. the number of likes or shares) is also monitored. In 2020, GRU-controlled English-language online portals (such as, and disseminated false information about the COVID-19 pandemic, undermining the Western countries’ efforts to curb the spread of the virus and praising Russia’s actions. For example, they spread the statement that the US is taking advantage of the pandemic to assert its worldview and the coronavirus is in fact an American bioweapon. The GRU uses these portals to plant disinformation in the public sphere of foreign countries,


in the hope that it will spread and the original source will go unnoticed. One of the avenues pursued by the GRU psy-ops units is to influence Russians living abroad. To carry out this task, the psy-ops units have set up organisations and media outlets to gather and provide Russians residing abroad solely with information that aligns with Russia’s interests (and is therefore often biased).


In October 2014, about six months after the occupation of Crimea, a conference entitled "The Security of Europe: A New Geopolitical Dimension" was held in Athens without much international attention. At the event, organised by the Institute of Geopolitical Studies, a local think tank, Greek and Russian presenters criticised the EU’s sanctions against Russia and expressed outrage that the Greek government, under pressure from the US and the EU, had behaved so badly towards its ‘traditional friend’. What has so far remained hidden from the public is the fact that the conference was organised by military unit 54777, the GRU’s chief psy-ops division. Alexander Shchedrin, then commander of the unit, publicly described the preparations for the event in the Russian state media outlet Parlamentskaya Gazeta in November 2014, using the title of Deputy Director of the Institute of the Russian Diaspora (Institut Russkogo Zarubezhya), a GRU front: ‘What is happening at this conference right now is breaking through the information blockade that has surrounded our country [since the occupation of Crimea]. We have no outlet to foreign information space. No one else in the world knows anything about the most significant conferences held in Russia. The task was to make sure that Europeans knew what was really threatening them. Member of the State Duma Franz Adamovich Klintsevich came to our organisation, and considering our experience, put forward an idea and a scheme that could be realised; he provided the necessary contacts. We identified a weak link in the West – Greece – which itself suffers from sanctions. We found an organisation [in Greece] that is friendly to Russia, and together we organised this conference.’ At the Athens event, politician Panos Kammenos, co-founder of the Institute of Geopolitical Studies, which co-organised the event with the GRU front, was seated just a few metres from Klintsevich in the front row. The Independent Greeks political party, led by Kammenos, made it to the Greek government three months later, and Kammenos served as defence minister until 2019. Just before the 2015 parliamentary election, Kammenos visited Moscow, where he participated in a round table on the Greek election, organised by the news agency InfoRos, another front for unit 54777. Alongside Kammenos, InfoRos director Denis Tyurin, an officer of unit 54777, gave comments to the media. This case shows how easy it was for the GRU to present its messages to receptive Western audiences and establish high-level contacts. It is noteworthy that the intelligence officers used the cover of an independent journalist or NGO representative.


Russia continues to be the primary security threat to Western democracies also in cyberspace. In addition to espionage, Russian special services are actively using cyberspace in their influence operations to create divisions in Western societies, transnational relations and NATO. The types of cyber attack described in our previous annual reports are still used by the Russian services to carry out their intelligence tasks, which threaten the security of Estonia and our allies. For example, malicious emails infected with malware are sent to targets; these are designed to lure the target, taking into account their field of work and interests (known as spear phishing). Cyber attacks abusing vulnerable websites also continue; in order to infect the target’s device, spyware is added to sites frequently visited by the target (known as watering hole attacks). However, the abuse of cyberspace for influence operations has increased. Russian services have adapted “active measures” from the Soviet period to new circumstances, taking into account the development of the internet and other technology. For example, hacking an information system to steal and leak sensitive information (known as hack-and-leak operations) is similar to an “active measure” familiar from the KGB’s arsenal: the KGB used to disseminate genuine or doctored documents to spark anti-government discussions among the public. The adaptation of such “active measures” is an ongoing process. In the future, the Russian services are likely to exploit deepfake technology, among other things. This threat will be particularly high once technological development reaches a level where deepfakes are convincing enough to be unrecognisable to the human eye. This would make it more difficult for the public to distinguish false information from the truth. As a countermeasure to Russian influence activities, we have put together a selection of Russian services’ methods in cyberspace based on real events (see figure). Cyber operations originating in Russia and the abuse of cyberspace for the purpose of influencing will very likely continue in 2021. These are effective, inexpensive and well-established measures for the Russian services. Moreover, influence operations can be a way to achieve long-term effects without always requiring intervention in the target country’s domestic politics.


To influence another country during a key political event (e.g. an election), the Russian services organise Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks against the media and government sector, impeding official information flow among other things. With such cyber attacks, Russia seeks to present itself as a force to be reckoned with, sowing fear and pressuring the target country to make more favourable decisions for Russia. On the day of the Montenegrin parliamentary election in 2016, DoS attacks were launched against the websites of the country’s government and media. The attacks were repeated the following year after Montenegro announced its accession to NATO. In order to disrupt the exchange of accurate information, create fear and deepen internal tensions in society, or damage the credibility of government agencies, Russian services have organised cyber attacks against websites and the information systems of internet service providers. Websites are hacked, planting images, text, video or audio with intimidating, threatening or otherwise disturbing content. Targeting an internet service provider makes it possible to attack a large number of websites simultaneously. In 2019, operatives of the GRU Main Centre for Special Technologies hacked a Georgian internet service provider’s system. Through it, the operatives defaced thousands of websites with an image of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili accompanied by the text “I’ll be back”.


see more:

source: Valisluureamet

Free Joomla! template by L.THEME