From its founding, the Soviet Union ran campaigns designed to destabilize and neutralize potential enemies. Disinformation was and is the name of the game.

After the Russian Revolution, Lenin founded the Third International to support Communist parties around the world. Soviet intelligence ran disinformation campaigns. These campaigns were designed to undermine national governments, to discredit leading figures, and so on.

Russia
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

After World War II, the campaigns increased. The Soviets claimed that the United States was using germ warfare during the Korean War. They used the global movement against the US war in Vietnam to recruit operatives and to undermine US-led alliances.

During the 1970s, the Soviet Union kept it up. They supported European terrorist groups like the Italian Red Brigades and the German Red Army Faction. These carried out killings, kidnappings, bombings, and the like.

The United States Fights Back

The United States, of course, ran its own campaigns to weaken the Soviet Union and its allies. From the beginning of the Cold War, the US recruited émigrés from the Soviet bloc to try to foment uprisings in the East. It broadcast propaganda in various languages into the bloc.

After the Cold War ended, the US supported human rights and democracy movements in the former Soviet states. The Russians believed that the Americans’ true intent was to install pro-American governments in the republics.

They also believed the US was trying to surround Russia with hostile nations, armed by the United States and open to the basing of US troops.

The breaking point for the Russians came in 2004 with the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. The Russians valued Ukraine for its role as a buffer state. And in their eyes, the only interest the US could have in Ukraine was to make the Russian position untenable.

The Russians Come Up with a New Plan

So, the Russians began increasing their efforts all over the world. This time they were led by Vladimir Putin and many others who began their careers in the KGB.

They constructed an ideology vaguely built around Christianity in lieu of Marxism. They used it to strengthen right-wing groups against the United States. This was new, but it was still based on the principle that the greater the dissension in a country, the weaker it would be. And thus, the more secure Russia would be.

Trying to reshape other countries through disinformation and financial aid for right-wing parties was logical. This was especially true after oil prices crashed and insecurity swelled in Russia.

Sowing distrust was at least as important to the Russian campaign as was whether the activities themselves worked. The Russians allowed it to leak that they were engaged in these activities. But then the Russians did not say who was under their influence and who wasn’t.

This was a strong force. The uncertainty caused by this made everyone suspect. Even if no one in a country was under Russian control, the mistrust itself was a victory.

Their Problem Is That It Doesn’t Actually Work

The problem with this strategy when it was employed by the Soviets was that it never really worked. Or more precisely, the desired outcomes were achieved, but Soviet power was only slightly stronger. The great strategic matters were not changed.

Used in addition to real power, these tactics can be useful. Used instead of real power, though, they are inadequate.

The Russians tend to ramp up covert actions as a substitute for real power. The United States, on the other hand, uses it in addition to power.

As a major thrust, it has never worked. It can confuse and buy time. But it does not change the basic realities of power. In the end, military and economic power cannot be replaced by manipulation.

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