RUSSIA is convinced the next US Presidential election will spark a new civil war. And they should know. Moscow has been secretly manipulating US political opinions now for years.
“The next presidential election could lead to a definitive split in American society and a new civil war,” blares the unsurprisingly state-run RIA Novosti. “Recently, internal dissent has grown in the United States and a “cultural conflict” has intensified, and the cases of sending bombs to prominent critics of the American president, such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, give ground to ‘new prophecies’ about a US civil war.”
Moscow is expert at cultural conflict.
It’s been almost single-handedly waging just such a war on Western society now for decades, analysts say.
“Russia’s strategy (is) to push several conflicting narratives simultaneously, deepening existing divisions within American society and degrading trust in Western institutions and the democratic process,” a report recently issued by the RAND international affairs think-tank reads.
And the civil war narrative is gaining ground, even in the US itself.
An article by The Intercept is just one of many asking historians and political analysts about the implications of rising extremism within the US. Titled “Donald Trump and the coming fall of the American Empire”, historian Alfred McCoy argues the turmoil wracking the United States is likely to get much worse between now and 2020, and will “reach a new critical mass no later than 2030”.
Moscow’s divisive information campaign has seized upon an editorial in the Boston Globe last month by historian Niall Ferguson of Stanford University (formerly of Harvard) as evidence of an impending US split.
Why, isn’t certain.
In it, he discusses a social media ‘civil war’.
“As I’ve argued here before, there is a kind of cultural civil war already being fought on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. With the midterm elections … that culture war gets more febrile by the day,” he wrote.
But Ferguson rejects the idea of a physical conflagration as not being on the cards.
“The evidence suggests that the extreme right and extreme left are two noisy minorities. They would be lost without one another, but they turn everyone else off,” he concludes.
But this conclusion was ignored as inconvenient by the 30 or more articles appearing in Russia’s digital media.
“In Harvard they’re predicting war within the United States,” blares a headline on Gazeta.ru
International affairs analysts are not surprised.
“It suits the Kremlin’s narrative to portray US democracy as dysfunctional and failing,” the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab analyst Ben Nimmo told Foreign Policy.
“It allows the Kremlin to argue that Western democracy is something to be feared, not emulated, and it allows it to point to the US as weak”.
China has also jumped on the US civil war bandwagon.
Beijing media, also state run, has been running commentary contrasting US discord to its own — dystopia enforced — internal unity.
“Stop spreading hate or face the risk of slipping into a new Civil War,” a China Plus editorial shouts.
It pointed to recent acts of US political terrorism.
“The common motivation behind such acts of terror or violence is hatred against political rivals, against different races, and against different religions, turning the United States from the Land of the Brave to the Land of the Deranged,” the editorial reads.
“Perhaps the US should look to the example of European countries, many of which have promulgated laws to tackle illegal posts such as hate speech and fake news on social media platforms. Otherwise, the country indeed risks slipping into a new civil war, as my UPS truck driver warned a year ago.”
US investigators have exposed “Project Lakhta”, a Russian-backed operation targeting the US midterm elections. A US court indictment reveals Russian operatives had been distributing instructions to ‘boost’ an article from the far-right Infowars website on social media. It argues US citizens would “resort to mob violence” if President Trump was to lose the 2020 elections.
“It’s entirely unsurprising that the Russian media will try to sex it up into a piece about civil war in the United States because there’s nothing Vladimir Putin would like more,” the original editorial’s author, Niall Ferguson, told Foreign Policy.
Moscow’s focus on US turmoil is an attempt to blind its internal audience to its own, he says.
President Vladimir Putin’s popularity has plummeted since he was re-elected by a landslide margin earlier this year.
He’s been slashing pensions, among other unpopular public cost cutting exercises as his renegade nation struggles under international sanctions for its invasion of Crimea, the novichok poisonings in the UK, and social media manipulation of the 2016 US presidential elections.
Fighting back on social media, he feels, is much less risky than physical confrontation. And his intelligence agencies have more than enough practice.
“For more than a century, Russia has relied on disinformation, propaganda and other similar measures to achieve its objectives, “ analyst Bruce McClintock wrote for the RAND international affairs think-tank. “For the last three decades, it has exploited its growing capabilities in cyberspace to spy on, influence and punish others.”
The RAND Corporation has recently published a paper on how to counter Russia’s social media attack plans.
“The Russian “disinformation chain” directs these campaigns starts from the very top — from Russian leadership, to Russian organs and proxies, through amplification channels such as social media platforms, and finally to … media consumers,” it reads.
The only way to counter this is to review internal laws, establish new international norms of acceptable state behaviour, increase the transparency of social media platforms — and “prioritise defensive activities over punishments to shape Moscow’s decision making”.
Current attempts to counter this divisive narratives, it says, are proving “piecemeal and inadequate”.