Cover: Understanding and Defending Against Russia's Malign and Subversive Information Efforts in Europe

Understanding and Defending Against Russia's Malign and Subversive Information Efforts in Europe

Published Aug 16, 2021

by Miriam Matthews, Alyssa Demus, Elina Treyger, Marek N. Posard, Hilary Reininger, Christopher Paul

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Research Questions

  1. What content is produced and disseminated by Russia and its agents?
  2. How do Russia and its agents manipulate information?
  3. What is the persuasive impact of Russia's malign or subversive information efforts?
  4. What are the potential avenues for defending against Russia's malign or subversive information efforts?

The increasing frequency and intensity of information aggression targeting the United States and its European allies demands more thorough consideration of concepts and practices for protecting against, resisting, and mitigating the effects of psychological manipulation and influence.

Russia in particular appears to use messaging and intimidation as part of its efforts to influence multiple actors and countries, including the United States and its European allies. Unfortunately, concepts and practices for understanding and resisting the potential effects of efforts conducted by Russia and its agents are few. To address this, United States European Command (USEUCOM) asked the RAND Corporation to identify strategies for defending against the effects of Russia's efforts to manipulate and inappropriately influence troops, government decisionmaking, and civilians.

The authors describe apparent efforts conducted by Russia and its agents involving the use of information to shape Russia's operating environment, focusing on the European context; review and apply existing research on influence and manipulation to these efforts; and draw from existing practice to describe possible defensive approaches for USEUCOM and its various partners to consider using when defending against these actions. The framework the authors apply offers a way to conceptualize the objectives, tactics, and tools of Russian information efforts in Europe.

Key Findings

Russia's information activities appear to be deployed in service of diverse political objectives

  • Although Russia appears to have abandoned Soviet-era efforts to spread an ideology, it is still interested in popularizing its worldview and raising its esteem in the eyes of international audiences.

Russia and its agents may manipulate or completely falsify information as part of efforts to disseminate messages that align with Russian interests

  • The information manipulation techniques that Russia and its agents appear to use range from completely manufacturing content to the misuse or misapplication of factual information.

The characteristics of Russian information efforts have the potential to influence audiences

  • The targeted content that appears to be disseminated by Russia and its agents can affect selected audiences. Diverse audiences might have difficulty deliberately processing the deluge of fabricated and misleading information to which they are exposed, thereby increasing the potential that they will be affected by these efforts.

Possible defense efforts can be conceptualized as addressing three parts of Russian malign or subversive information efforts: production, distribution, and consumption of content

  • Current defensive practices that could be used to address Russia's malign or subversive information efforts would seek to reduce the volume of new false and misleading content, prevent the spread of existing false or misleading content, and promote consumer awareness of the information space.

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