The Russian ICC (II). Context: Russia

Before talking about the Russian ICC, we must know that Russia is the largest country with the most kilometers (more than 20,000) in the world; it has the largest reserves of energy and mineral resources in the world still to be exploited, making it the largest energy superpower, as well as the world’s largest reserve of forest resources, and also has a quarter of the world’s unfrozen water.

From a cyber perspective, Russia is alleged to be the only country to have carried out combined (physical and logical) military action against another country (Georgia, August 2008) or has degraded critical infrastructure of a third party by cyber approach (Estonia, 2007). Their military and intelligence potential in this area is undoubted, as are their “physical” or traditional capabilities. The intelligence services are heavily involved in politics – as it happens, it is public that Vladimir Putin was an agent of the KGB and director of the FSB – or in the public or private sector, and they also maintain close relations – always supposed – with organized crime.

To understand how the Russian cyber-intelligence community and its relations work, it is necessary first of all to talk about Russian thinking, specifically what analysts call the “Cold War” mode. This way of thinking and acting, physically and logically, is based on three main pillars: Russia is our mother, our mother is in danger, and we must defends her at any cost.

Mother Russia

Russia considers itself (and it is) a superpower: because of its size, military capacity or natural resources, it can act as a country that does not need permission from others to defend its national interest. Even the Russians consider their country as the Third Rome, which protects Orthodox Christians against Catholics or Muslims (Mira Milosevich-Juaristi, Why Russia is an existential threat for Europe? Real Instituto Elcano. July 2015.) Thus, Russia is a great nation that makes its own decisions and defends its values, which of course are the right ones – those of the West are not; moreover, if the West loses, Russia wins. And since this concept is not restricted to the realm of classical security or defense, if Russian space is completely sovereign, Russian cyberspace (the so-called RuNET) is also so.

Russia is in danger

Russia has no natural borders and its territory has been invaded on different occasions – the latter, by Nazi Germany. This situation surely motivates a fear – at times irrational – to be invaded and marks very important national security strategies: border protection is considered a priority, so that only the Border Service, attached to the FSB and whose mission is precisely border control and protection, has more than 200,000 people. Even General Valentin Vladimirovich Korabelnikov, former Director of the GRU, argued that a primary objective of the service was to create a security cordon around Russian borders. The Russian concern over the expansion of NATO towards countries of ancient Eastern Europe is public: they are already too close to the borders of the homeland…

Of course, the “permanent danger” for Russia is not only physical but also logical and even moral (the West represents values that are not correct which they want to instill in Russian society). Russia sees too many states against it and favoring the West.

Russia must be defended at any price

If our mother is in danger, the duty of a good son is to defend her at all costs. And since Russia is our mother and is subject to a permanent threat, it must be defended under any circumstances, even over freedom – or life – of citizens or of any other actor. In fact, citizen freedom must be subordinated to the maintenance of order and to the security of the regime, responsible for defending national interests.

The defense of Russia must be carried out in an active way (Russia has always been characterized by preferring active operations) and of course both physically and logically: if a threat involves a relevant risk, it is attacked by any means.

This philosophy is reflected in the Russian security or defense strategies that have been officially published to date. In this area two documents stand out from the rest: the Strategy for the National Security of the Russian Federation (President of the Russian Federation. Strategy for the national security of the Russian Federation up to 2020. Mayo, 2009.), and the Russian Military Doctrine (The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, February 2010).

Undoubtedly, the most notable of these high-level strategies is the concept of information warfare, a much broader concept than the one commonly used in the West; so much so, that this term is understood in Russia as the influence on the consciousness of the masses by controlling information resources, mixing both the pure technological field with another much more interesting aspect: the social. This approach encompasses, as Soviet reminiscence (as in the past, in 1942, spetspropaganda, special propaganda), all aspects of information management, framed in a context of non-linear (hybrid) warfare, ranging from psychological operations (including propaganda and information warfare) to elements such as coercion, corruption or support for instability in favor of Russian profits, and, of course, cyberattacks. An excellent insight into this broad definition of information warfare can be found in Jolanta Darczewska’s The Anatomy of Russian Information Warfare: The Crimean Operation, a case study. Point of View, no. 42. Center for Eastern Studies. Warsaw, Poland. Mayo, 2104.

It also draws much attention, from previous strategies, to the fact that outside military security, foreign espionage is considered the main threat to the state and society, ahead of other threats such as terrorism, organized crime or separatism. This is, of course, nothing more than the result of the second pillar of Russian national security (the permanent danger) and the “all against me” philosophy of which we have already spoken about. In addition, Russia considers information as a very dangerous weapon: it is cheap, universal, easy to access and on top of that it crosses the Russian borders without any problems (let’s remember “Russia is in danger”).

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