In a speech to the Russian parliament, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the formation of a new information warfare branch of the Russian military, according to the Associated Press.
The public announcement comes at a time of major, and not-so secret, military revitalization of the Russian military. Across their army, air force, and navy, the Russians are expanding capacity and technology.
While Shoigu alluded to a possible use of the information warfare troops with “propaganda needs to be clever, smart and efficient,” there can be little doubt the Russians are publicly flexing their military might in a new arena, coming on the heels of a number of other military showcases.
Cyber warfare has become a major focus for Russia, and all major military powers, over the last few years. The United States has made cyber and information warfare a priority, creating the Cyber Command in 2009.
CYBERCOM has the mission to “direct the operations and defense of specified Department of Defense information networks and; prepare to, and when directed, conduct full spectrum military cyberspace operations in order to enable actions in all domains, ensure US/Allied freedom of action in cyberspace and deny the same to our adversaries.”
The U.S. Army stood up its own Cyber warfare branch in 2014, putting the Cyber career path for Officers and Enlisted members on equal footing with those of Infantry or Armor, for example.
There is general consensus across the U.S. intelligence community that the Russians were responsible for hacking intrusions against the Democratic party in the 2016 election. NATO and U.S. military leaders have routinely accused Russia of using information warfare to spread propaganda and disinformation, notably in its operation to annex Crimea in 2014.
The announcement of a formal cyber branch within the Russian military follows with its sweeping modernization effort.
Russian president Vladimir Putin has made it clear he seeks to restore his military to achieve some sort of parity with its neighbors and the United States, in the process doubling the size of the military’s budget.
But like the downfall of the Soviet Union, the major limiting factor to Russian military expansion is the economy. A recent downturn in the global energy market has hit the military particularly hard.
As the recent campaigns in Ukraine, Crimea, and Syria can attest, Russia is slowly putting its military back together and joining the 21st century. Organized cyber warfare troops are one more incarnation of that effort.
Image courtesy of Reuters