Saturday, 25 May 2019

Russia's hybrid war: a Norwegian perspective

I just finished a book by Norwegian journalist Øystein Bogen. The book came up last year, its Norwegian title, Russlands hemmelige krig mot Vesten, means "Russia's secret war against the West".  It is still only available in Norwegian but I  really hope it gets an English translation soon. It presents a comprehensive analysis of how Putin's Russia is carrying out disinformation campaigns, massive hacking and more aggressive attacks in the West. I have read a lot of things about Russia since I was a child and I always keep an eye for those things but I learnt a lot, even in cases I thought I had read enough already.

Bogen presents a short but very solid historical background of how the Soviet Union was carrying out its desinformation wars in the West. Osten goes into interesting details about how USSR did this. For instance, the KGB worked with obscure newspapers in India to start writing AIDS was "in reality a biological weapon that came from US labs". This lie ended up spreading to Africa and then to the whole world. The Soviet Union also worked with sympathizers in the West, something its follower, Russia of Putin, keeps on doing through obscure think tanks and politicians of both the extreme right and extreme left.

Here a few of the topics covered in this book:

  • How the propaganda machines RT and Sputnik work
  • How the Russian intelligence services carried out the attack on Estonia in 2007, what came up before and afterwards there (among many things, what happened to Eston Kohver)
  • How the invasion of Crimea and the Donbass war were prepared and how Russia carries out a propaganda war against Ukraine
  • How the Russian intelligence services tried to influence things in Montenegro
  • How the extreme right and the extreme left in Europe are used to destabilize the West
  • How the Russian campaign for Trump and against Clinton was carried out and what precedents there were in the USA
  • How Russia used the migration crisis in Europe to destabilize the West (an example that comes up is the way it let thousands of refugees go all the way across Russia to Northern Norway and Finland)
There is also a chapter with the general references to the Litvinenko case but also to many other murders (briefly mentioned on BBC here). There were details I was not aware of like how Henry Kissinger became a lobbyist for Putin.

And there are a couple of chapters on how Russia is meddling in Norway, Sweden and Finland. The only thing that might be a challenge for most English readers in this book is that there are a couple of chapters mostly dealing with Russia's attacks in Scandinavia and no Scandinavian readers might lose focus when things are not so much about themselves.

Bogen presents both sides of the story - or more as there are often more than two - and also his own account and analysis. He has been there and up there. He offers a wealth of sources.The book is very well documented, with sources from the Russian side and from every Western country mentioned.

Those who have read my blog for some time know I have followed Russian events for many years. I can tell you: Osten knows what he writes about. You might want to check out Mr Bogen's appearances in English online. Those of you who read Norwegian should try to check out his books if you have not done so before (most Norwegians will know he works at TV2).