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World Putin's botched war in Ukraine could supercharge his efforts to meddle in future US elections

13:55  20 march  2022
13:55  20 march  2022 Source:   businessinsider.com

Ukraine War Day 20: Carnage Continues Into Third Week of Battle With Russia

  Ukraine War Day 20: Carnage Continues Into Third Week of Battle With Russia Sirens blasted throughout the night once again as the Russia-Ukraine war approaches another milestone.Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal estimates that $565 billion will be needed to rebuild Ukraine after the war with Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022. Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP Images © Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP Images Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022. Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP Images
  • Russian leader Vladimir Putin has botched his invasion of Ukraine by almost every metric.
  • But Putin's status as a global pariah could spark his most brazen election interference campaigns yet.
  • "Russia has to show a sign of dominance" on the global stage to make up for its failures in Ukraine, said a former NSA hacker.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine has been been an unexpected and historic challenge for Russia: the Russian military is suffering global embarrassment over its inability to tamp down fierce Ukrainian resistance; the Russian economy has been decimated; and the last shreds of Putin's international reputation are in tatters.

The Left’s Bad Takes on Ukraine

  The Left’s Bad Takes on Ukraine Some American leftists continue to prioritize ideological comfort over critical thought.In recent weeks, a wide variety of publications and politicians have taken U.S. leftists to task for their collective response to the crisis in Ukraine, which has been derided as blinkered, “pro-Putin,” and worse things besides. These critiques have prompted rhetorical reprisals from socialists who contend that their faction’s analysis of the war has been unerringly sound, both morally and analytically. More ambivalent fellow-travelers, meanwhile, have vacillated in the crossfire.

But experts say Putin's military failures and his status as a global pariah could make him more likely to double down on another of his goals: manipulating foreign elections and sowing distrust in democratic systems.

"Because of the resistance Russia has gotten and NATO becoming even stronger, Russia has to show a sign of dominance on the cyber side, just from a playbook perspective," David Kennedy, a former NSA hacker and the CEO of TrustedSec, told Insider. "So Putin and the intelligence agencies are going to look at how to cause as much damage as possible."

He added that the voting and election process in the US "is a ripe target" because of its vulnerability and the success Russia saw with its 2016 election interference efforts.

The US intelligence community concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 US election to damage Hillary Clinton and propel Donald Trump to the White House. Its interference campaign featured three major cyber components: hacking into the Democratic National Committee and disseminating stolen emails via WikiLeaks; using troll farms, bots, and fake accounts to spread propaganda and disinformation; and breaching voting systems in dozens of US states to try to steal voter data.

4 ways the war between Russia and Ukraine is likeliest to end

  4 ways the war between Russia and Ukraine is likeliest to end Some experts believe the only way for Putin to defeat Ukraine is by large-scale destruction — and even then, it may be out of reach. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Christopher Chivvis estimated that to achieve a puppet government, Putin would "make an example" of Ukrainian cities like Kharkiv or Mariupol, bearing down militarily and leaving them in ruins, similar to the way Russia has treated Aleppo, Syria, and Grozny, Chechnya, in recent years. Then, Chivvis said, Putin would threaten to destroy Kyiv, Ukraine's capital. From there, the leader could set up a puppet government.

The intelligence community and the special counsel Robert Mueller determined that Putin ordered the interference campaign and that Russia's military intelligence unit hacked the DNC. Putin also sanctioned the social media influence campaign, but it was carried out by proxies and financed by Putin's allies to give the Russian president plausible deniability.

Robert Mueller. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas © REUTERS/Yuri Gripas Robert Mueller. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

'The cheapest form of manipulation and intelligence collection on the planet'

The US had already levied economic sanctions targeting the ringleaders of Russia's 2016 and 2020 election interference campaigns before Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

But Emerson Brooking, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, told Insider that while sanctions are a "useful deterrent," finances don't play a big role in Russia's influence operations because they can be carried out "relatively cheaply."

Mueller's team indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for conducting a social media influence campaign to interfere in the 2016 election.

According to the indictment, the disinformation campaign was carried out by a St. Petersburg based troll farm called the Internet Research Agency. Its work was primarily bankrolled by the wealthy Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, a longtime ally of the Russian leader sometimes referred to as "Putin's chef."

Prigozhin and the other Russian defendants charged in the Mueller investigation will almost certainly never be extradited to the United States to face trial.

The indictment said that the IRA's annual budget was "millions of U.S. dollars," adding that by September 2016, its monthly budget "exceeded 73 million Russian rubles (over 1,250,000 U.S. dollars.)"

Mueller's office also indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers on hacking charges. The charging document said the GRU, Russia's military intelligence unit, hacked into the DNC and the Clinton campaign and funneled stolen emails to WikiLeaks via the digital persona "Guccifer 2.0," which Mueller's team said was created by the GRU.

The indictment did not detail how much the hacking operation cost.


Video: United States needs to be prepared for Putin's cyberattacks: Former DNI (FOX News)

But experts say the cost of the disinformation and hacking campaigns is not nearly enough to put a dent in Putin's and his allies' pockets.

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on during a boat trip with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko off the Black Sea coast, Russia May 29, 2021 Sputnik/Sergei Ilyin/Kremlin via REUTERS © Sputnik/Sergei Ilyin/Kremlin via REUTERS Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on during a boat trip with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko off the Black Sea coast, Russia May 29, 2021 Sputnik/Sergei Ilyin/Kremlin via REUTERS

Money in Russia "lives at the top," Karim Hijazi, the CEO of Prevailion and a former intelligence contractor, told Insider. "Putin himself commands an immense amount of leverage and liquidity to make things go the way he wants them to go. It's not subsidized by any sort of economy."

"This is not an expensive enough endeavor that it'll get impacted significantly by sanctions or financial constraints on the rest of Russia's economy," he added.

Chris Rouland, the CEO of Phosphorus Cybersecurity, echoed that view.

"Manipulating social media is incredibly inexpensive compared to Javelins and ammunition," he told Insider. "If anything, Russia would get more aggressive in its manipulation of social media because it's almost free compared to a tank."

"They're isolated. They've got economic problems," he added. "And cyber is the cheapest form of manipulation and intelligence collection on the planet. There's nothing cheaper."

Kennedy, the former NSA hacker, noted that while the type of hacking operation the GRU carried out is inexpensive, it's time-consuming.

"It takes a lot of people and time to understand the infrastructure you want to infiltrate, gain access to it and maintain that access over time, and then exploit that access to cause issues," he said. "So what the GRU did and the exploratory intrusions Russia conducted on voting infrastructure are not financially costly but require a lot of time."

'This war is just drawing a clearer line in the sand about us and them'

The severity of the consequences Russia has faced coupled with its threats to cordon itself off from the western world could also further ingrain Putin's zero-sum mentality and provoke more brazen election interference efforts.

Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, the US and NATO allies announced that some Russian banks would be disconnected from the SWIFT financial system. Many of the biggest tech companies have boycotted Russia, and the US is leading an effort to starve Russia of advanced technology and weapons systems.

Putin has also tightened his grip on the Russian digital sphere, restricting access to mainstream social media sites to stop Russian citizens from getting information from sources other than state-controlled media.

Russia could go in the direction of North Korea and "hermetically seal itself off from the greater internet," Hijazi said. "On one side that's obviously damaging to them. But they're also starting to unravel their reliance on anything that has to do with us or a system that they benefit from presently."

"If they are removed from something like that, there's no compunction for them to go on a full board attack on these systems," he added. "So I don't see this as something that's going to be demoralizing or deter them from things. In fact if anything, this war is just drawing a clearer line in the sand about us and them."

Brooking agreed, saying that "any illusion of peaceful coexistence has vanished for the foreseeable future. So one should absolutely expect that Russia will use what tools they can to undermine the United States, NATO, and Europe."

'Russia has a problem, for years, that they need to address'

Russian President Vladimir Putin's options are narrowing as his military struggles in Ukraine. Richard Baker © Richard Baker Russian President Vladimir Putin's options are narrowing as his military struggles in Ukraine. Richard Baker

But Russia's miscalculations on the battlefield and its failure to execute a swift invasion of Ukraine could deal a blow to its propaganda efforts.

"In all my years I spent as a career diplomat, I saw too many instances where we lost information wars with the Russians," CIA Director Bill Burns testified to Congress on Thursday. "In this case, I think we have had a great deal of effect in disrupting their tactics and calculations and demonstrating to the entire world that this is premeditated and unprovoked aggression built on a body of lies and false narratives."

That said, although Russia's attention and resources may be diverted elsewhere during the war on Ukraine, Putin still has a vested interest in undermining American democracy. That interest is amplified amid the global humiliation the Russian leader has suffered as a result of his botched invasion.

Laura Edelson, a misinformation researcher and Ph.D candidate at New York University, told Insider that Putin is laser focused on breeding "confusion, destruction, and distrust" in US democracy.

Elevating Trump in 2016 was "at most a secondary goal" for Putin, Edelson said. The "primary goal was just causing chaos and distrust of systems."

And if Russia fails in its effort to topple the Ukrainian government, Edelson said it could open a pathway for the Kremlin to redirect its resources toward meddling in the 2022 midterms and crippling the West from a cybersecurity standpoint.

That said, "even if this conflict were to end tomorrow, sanctions would not," Edelson said. "Russia has a problem, for years, that they need to address."

"The degree to which this has been a blunder is not yet widely understood," she continued. "I don't know what else could have united Europe and the rest of liberal democracies other than something like this."

Read the original article on Business Insider

4 ways the war between Russia and Ukraine is likeliest to end .
Some experts believe the only way for Putin to defeat Ukraine is by large-scale destruction — and even then, it may be out of reach. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Christopher Chivvis estimated that to achieve a puppet government, Putin would "make an example" of Ukrainian cities like Kharkiv or Mariupol, bearing down militarily and leaving them in ruins, similar to the way Russia has treated Aleppo, Syria, and Grozny, Chechnya, in recent years. Then, Chivvis said, Putin would threaten to destroy Kyiv, Ukraine's capital. From there, the leader could set up a puppet government.

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