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This report has been professionally converted for accurate flowing-text e-book format reproduction. Russia's long, volatile history has been shaped in part by violent struggles using the proverbial sword to maintain its survival and territorial integrity. Russian President Vladimir Putin prefers to cloak his sword under an array of hybrid tools such as misinformation, cyber attacks and special purpose forces intended to create ambiguity while attempting to discredit the very promises that underpin international security institutions, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Despite the proven effectiveness of Putin's hybrid approach as seen in Ukraine in 2014, there are diplomatic and informational actions that NATO can employ to blunt Putin's sword. In Putin's hybrid approach, information is being used as an ambiguous weapon with effective results, unlike the more clear-cut conventional approach outcomes. Within that context, a comprehensive communication campaign to counter Putin's misinformation is imperative. At the heart of this strategic campaign should be substantial counter-information operations and information defense intended not only to prepare the Alliance members and partners for Russia's actions but also to expose Putin's misinformation. Most importantly, NATO must ensure indestructible resilience across the Alliance and strengthen relationships with strategic partners such as the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN). To reinforce this effort, NATO should revise the Article V verbiage to include the use of hybrid tools and explicitly articulate what will trigger an Article V response. Without it, NATO could find itself ill-prepared to deal with Putin's next ambiguous engagement that may very well be within NATO's borders. The result could be, at best, a weakened Alliance, shaken by uncertainty of the collective defense of its trusting members. In the worst case scenario, Putin succeeds at permanently shattering the venerable North Atlantic security establishment.
This compilation includes a reproduction of the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community.
Cyber attacks present an equally dangerous element of Russia's hybrid repertoire. Estonia's information technology experts were caught off guard and national security "was threatened in April 2007 when a near-catastrophic botnet struck almost the entire electronic infrastructure of Estonia." Sparked by the decision to move a Soviet World War II memorial from central Tallinn to a military cemetery, the attacks lasted three weeks and sought to bring down critical communications capabilities and infrastructure nodes. Not only do Estonian citizens rely heavily on e-commerce and online transactions, but the country's leaders also use online briefings as a primary means of informing the public. At first Tallinn's leadership could not post messages on the government's websites, then quickly realized the media outlets and the banking industry were also being targeted. Although the Russian government denied any official involvement, "a group of Russian hackers has taken responsibility for it." Furthermore, Russia has refused to join the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, signifying a reluctance to cooperate with international cybersecurity initiatives. Undoubtedly, in a country so heavily reliant on the Internet for information and services, the denial-of-service attacks were particularly effective in Estonia.