The fact that Russian influence operations were thrust into the public limelight with revelations of Moscow's interference with U.S. elections did not deter the Kremlin; on the contrary – it takes pride in it, according to Mikk Marran, Director General of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service.
From the Kremlin's perspective, influence operations are "cheap, reliable and essential," Marran wrote for The Cypher Brief.
"The Kremlin believes that creating confusion that splits unity and trust among Western countries will give Russia greater freedom of action, and the ability to shape decisions more favorably on its terms. Since Russia lacks soft power, it is quite dependent on covert influence operations," the intelligence chief stresses.
"In order to have the capability to influence Western decision-making processes and public opinion, Putin’s regime focuses on two, mutually enforcing fronts; first, by creating a network of agents of influence, and second, by further developing the capability of its information operations."
For the democratic world, Russia’s efforts mean more hostile (dis)information campaigns in the future, and more attempts to recruit foreign citizens, Marran suggests.
The official notes that Russia is constantly targeting Western politicians, journalists, academics, and diplomats in order to expand its network of influence agents. The task of these “partners” is two-fold – promoting the Kremlin´s interests in the West, and strengthening and legitimizing Putin´s domestic position. They are a tool to make attractive political statements according to a Kremlin narrative, shape Western decision-making processes in favor of Russia, or simply to aid the spread of disinformation.
Read alsoPoland detains energy official suspected of spying for Russia – Reuters"Russia is playing a long game, hoping that it will lead to the rise of pro-Russian governments in Europe," Marran writes. "Recruiting surrogates abroad almost always includes an element of corruption, beyond ideology or straight blackmail. The Russian intelligence services know our counter-espionage tactics, and therefore the Kremlin is using its Duma deputies as proxies to make contact and recruit aspiring politicians in the West. A lot of effort is put into keeping the officers of Russian intelligence services as hidden as possible in handling foreign influence agents."
Speaking of what the Kremlin has to offer when recruiting agents of influence, Marran says the support is mainly political and financial; for example, high-level meetings with Russian leaders and businessmen are offered, and exclusive access to the Russian market. Some agents receive media and campaign support, and for most it means earning easy money.
"Of course, there is also a place for classic tricks of deception and blackmail," the intelligence chief says.
Read alsoPACE passes resolution on countering Russian propagandaThe Kremlin believes that superiority in information operations over violence will decide the global power struggle. The purpose of information warfare units set up in each military district is to undermine the adversary´s resistance before a military conflict and to maintain a dominant position once it has begun.
"It is important to note that the Kremlin doesn’t draw a distinction between peacetime and wartime; the informational confrontation is constant," says Marran.
"The main goal for the ruling elite is to hold onto power as long as possible. There is no appetite for reforms or any major changes in domestic or foreign policy, which means that an adversarial stance towards the West will continue in a long standoff," the author concludes.