Perspectives on Geopolitics, History, and Political Economy

Russia’s New Information Security Doctrine: Fencing Russia from the “Outside World”?

Russians peer into computer screens at an Internet cafe in Moscow, Russia Monday, Feb. 21, 2000. Internet is spreading fast in Russia and so are attempts by security services to control electronic traffic. Human rights and Internet freedom activists say the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, has gained access to many among Russia’s 350 Internet service providers. (AP Photo/Maxim Marmur)

Originally Published on The Jamestown Foundation

By: Sergey Sukhankin

On December 6, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the new Information Security Doctrine (Pravo.gov.ru, December 6), replacing the old one that was adopted in 2000, at the start of his first mandate. Despite its seemingly democratic attire and references to Russia’s need to “protect the constitutional rights and freedoms” of the Russian citizens and “secure information support for its democratic institutions” (Interfax.ru, December 6), the document in fact is an open summons to reinstitute methods and patterns employed by the old Soviet ideology.

The three pivotal objectives outlined in the doctrine are: countering external threats; overcoming the international “discrimination” of the Russian media; and eliminating the drawbacks and limitations faced by Russia in the domain of information technologies.

The first objective has a clear aim to establish full state control over the domestic information space. For this purpose, the doctrine envisions creating and fostering “IT bonds”—to supplement the infamous “Russian spiritual bonds” that the Kremlin propaganda hails as deriving from Russian culture, language, history and sacred texts—in order to “protect” the Russian citizens from harmful information. The document is also quite explicit about who the main “culprit” of spreading harmful information is—“foreign services” that are seeking to “dilute traditional spiritual and moral values” and are aiming to “destabilize the domestic political and social situation” (Profile.ru, December 10). Kremlin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov claimed that the Russian Federation is the target of a “deliberate narrative” attempting to “distort, falsify and manipulate historical facts in order to put ideological pressure on Russia” (Riafan.ru, December 6). Particular attention is paid to the threat of “informational-psychological actions” against Russia’s collective public consciousness, actions that are said to be undermining patriotism and readiness to defend the Motherland.

The document’s frequent references to “foreign agents” acting on the territory of the Russian Federation could serve as both a starting signal and justification for a new campaign round leveled against the few remaining NGOs and civil society members with opposing political views. This is also proof of the Kremlin’s determination to establish full control over Runet (the Russian segment of the Internet), whereby stripping from all private companies the vestiges of freedom. This once again underscores numerous phobias that the Russian corrupt and aging elite associates with information technologies and their relation to civil unrest (such as the “Twitter revolutions”).

The second objective is related to the Kremlin’s growing despair over losing the benefits of its external propaganda, which cost a fortune and was designed to justify Moscow’s unlawful actions at home and abroad to the world audience. Namely, the document expresses a serious concern about “the Russian mass media being subjected to open discrimination,” claiming that “Russian journalists are not fully permitted to perform their professional activities” (Scrf.gov.ru, December 5). Apparently, this new turn may have stemmed from recent actions of Brussels and individual EU members taken against Moscow’s aggressive anti-Western propaganda (See EDM, December 7).

The final objective highlights Moscow’s growing concerns that Russia is lagging behind other key players in the domain of IT and cyber security. Among the most noticeable shortcomings, the document points to Russia’s dependence on the external IT market, the low effectiveness of Russia’s scientific research, the weak ties between science and business, and the inadequate number of specialists working in this critical area. As a remedy, the doctrine sets a goal that envisages a drastic increase of IT’s overall contribution to the national GDP and total exports.

In spite of the fact that the new doctrine includes an impressive list of spheres—defense, state security, economics, science, technologies, education and strategic stability (Tass.ru, December 6)—as key areas where IT should start playing a crucial role, there are doubts whether the ambitious goals outlined in the text will be achieved as stated. These doubts are based on a number of factors.

First, the doctrine seeks to expand the state’s share in the IT domain, whereby reiterating the unsuccessful Soviet experience, where civilian needs were subjugated to the security interests of the state, causing disfigurement of the economy and leading to its collapse.

Secondly, the doctrine does not seem to be designed for the purpose of developing and promoting technological progress, instead, it appears to be conceived as a tool meant to control and strangulate potential sources of anti-government sentiment. Therefore, the destructive nature of these two agendas—attempting to control and hinder the free flow of information, combined with putting security priorities above civilian and technological needs—is unlikely to result in achieving positive results.

Thirdly, even though Moscow has recognized numerous existing limitations, it has clearly failed to recognize their main source. Apparently, it is much more convenient to place the entire burden of blame on “external factors” and “foreign agents” rather than face one’s own weaknesses and admit to the fact that the worsening domestic conditions and growing public discontent are primarily related to Russia’s flawed government policies.

About the Author:
Sergey Sukhankin is a historian from Kaliningrad and Associate Expert at the International Centre for Policy Studies (Kyiv). His area of scientific interest primarily concerns Kaliningrad and the Baltic Sea region.

Read the article in its original form on The Jamestown Foundation site.

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