Russia's Other War

  • National Newswatch

Having passed the 200-day mark in the Ukraine-Russia conflict, the dynamics are changing daily, most often with the defenders gaining the upper hand.  Unthinkable even a month ago, vast tracks of land have now been retaken, and the Russian military looks weaker now than at any other time in the conflict.  The passion, inspiration, and valour now count for something besides hope; they appear to be the recipe for victory.But Russia isn't done yet, not by a long shot. As a report last week from the American State Department makes clear, it continues to fight another vast conflict – not in Ukraine, but in America, Europe, Canada, and two dozen other countries.Since 2014, Russia has paid over $300 million (US) to disrupt the major institutions of democracy so as to angle things to their advantage.  It is especially interested in playing havoc in a nation's politics, as we have seen repeatedly in the United States and Europe.  Along with China, Russia has used the internet to place false news and data at numerous levels.  The 2016 and 2020 American elections were the most apparent indications of political interference.Though the State Department report was declassified, officials have refused to disclose some of Russia's most egregious examples of political interference as they continue to monitor Putin's determination to plant his fingerprints all over the West's democratic life.  State Department spokesperson Ned Price identified it as “chipping away at the ability of people around the world to choose the governments that they see best fit to represent them, to represent their interests, and to represent their values.”These are the proxy wars Russia contracts around the globe, invisibly sponsoring extremist movements in modern democracies in efforts to derail consensus and permanently divide nations that once could overcome their differences for the sake of the greater good.  And they have been at it since 2014, following its earlier Crimean annexation.  Putin surely hopes to extend this reach even further should he subjugate Ukraine.Russia's subliminal and twisted efforts to use technology to turn a country inside out have not left Canada untouched.  The 2019 findings from the National Security and Intelligence Committee parliamentary report on Russian and Chinese interference surprised many when it was released.  Diasporas from these two nations, which now reside in Canada, have been based on university campuses to conduct what was termed “significant and sustained” foreign interference in attempts to deceive average Canadians, manipulate the media, and influence government decision-making.  “They are a clear threat to the security of Canada,” the report concluded.Life is turbulent enough in modern democracies without these interferences, but we shouldn't assume that our present troubles can all be summed up as “domestic” concerns.  Many of our current divisions are exacerbated by foreign influence peddlers, resourcing and training operatives to infiltrate extremist groups and political vigilantes.The parliamentary report emerged around the same time as the publication of Ronald Deibert's Massey lectures, titled Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society.  It was shortlisted for the Donner Prize for a reason.   Thoroughly researched and immediately relevant, it exposed this country's vulnerability to outside influences which use technology to achieve their own purposes and not those of our national interest.  The opportunities for Russia are more significant than we might expect.Fareed Zakaria wrote in the Washington Post yesterday that Russia was fighting in a top-down fashion as the aggressor while Ukraine was engaging in a bottom-up effort to save its homeland.  He noted that this is always Russia's way, but it is in military terms.  When it comes to the Dark Web, twisted use of technology, and its ability to sink its enablers deep into the fabric of Canadian society, Russia is subtle and resourced enough to take any homegrown Canadian division and light it up through subterfuge and evil intent.  It's been doing it for years and will continue regardless of the Ukrainian outcome.Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 35 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.