Monday, March 11, 2019

Russia continues Soviet disinformation tactics


I've noticed something of a blitz of pro-Russian propaganda, particularly in the military technology sphere, over the past couple of years.  It's gotten so bad that some outlets (yes, I'm looking at you, Zero Hedge) run pro-Russia articles almost daily, trying to portray that country as a neglected superpower that can still make a lot of trouble for the USA.  Unfortunately, those behind this campaign have overplayed their hand.  Their non-stop bombardment of propaganda is beginning to wear thin, because there's very little fact backing it up.

Russia's submarines are certainly capable of posing a threat:  the US armed forces are reconfiguring their patrols and changing deployments to monitor the situation.  However, for the rest of its armed forces, not so much, as Strategy Page reports.

It was bad enough when Russian staff officers and Defense Ministry analysts said it but now foreign nations are saying it too; Russia is weak and getting weaker both economically and militarily. The navy rebuilding program has collapsed because the shipbuilding industry was never able to modernize after 1991 and lost its best people to migration or better jobs elsewhere in Russia. The air force is better off because export orders from China and India kept warplane production and development going. But China was buying mainly so they could clone the latest Russian designs and eventually go on to producing their own designs which they are now doing. The army is stuck with a lot of Cold War era weapons and a growing personnel shortage.

Prospects for improvement are dim and the government has resorted to the Iranian tactic of full time faking it. That means a continuous stream of press releases about new weapons and technologies that, at best, exist in small quantities and in most cases are still stuck in development. This works for a while but eventually becomes tragicomic and counterproductive. Western media will eat this fluff up for much longer because it provides viable clickbait. But the military analysts (intel and staff experts) know better as do American troops who have served anywhere near Russian troops. Israel also provides a lot of useful data as so the recent NATO members from East Europe. The military decline is also accelerated by chronic Russian economic problems and persistent corruption.

Since the oil price collapse in 2013 the Russian economy has contracted and the government budget had to shrink along with it. Russian leaders compounded the problem by invading Ukraine in 2014 and triggering economic sanctions. The government response was a growing number of threats to shoot back at imaginary enemies (mainly NATO nations) using weapons Russia did not have or would not dare use (the nukes). It was also public knowledge that the military could not recruit or conscript enough men to keep the armed forces (now officially 8o percent smaller than when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991) up to strength (about a million personnel). Press releases from the Defense Ministry declare the creation of dozens of new brigades and divisions for which there are no troops. New weapons are either not delivered or do not work when they are. Another obvious problem is that needed work to rebuild decrepit or non-existent Cold War era infrastructure (roads, railroads, utilities and such) has come to a halt. The financial and economic problems increase dependence on China. Meanwhile, China is also having problems that tend to spotlight how weak Russia is.

There's more at the link.

Part of the problem is that so few (allegedly) reputable news sources actually conduct serious investigations of the propaganda being fed to them.  Those knowledgeable about military affairs will not be surprised to read the Strategy Page report above.  However, to someone less knowledgeable, "scare" reports (such as, for example, this one) appear to indicate that the big, bad Russian bear is bigger and badder than ever - when that's simply not the case at all.  Most, if not all, of the "super-weapons" of which it's boasting are still under development, and may never achieve production status.  Indeed, some are simply repurposed weapons from other programs, hastily adapted to a new role, and not new at all (like this, for example - there's no solid evidence of testing at all, merely photographs and video of it being carried on an aircraft, and "something" being launched from that aircraft in more distant, fuzzy video).

What's more, the much-vaunted air defense system protecting Russia may not be so vaunted after all.  A Swedish report suggests that it's far less comprehensive than it's touted to be.

Much has in recent years been made of Russia's new capabilities and the impact they might have on the ability of NATO member states to reinforce or defend the vulnerable Baltic states in case of crisis or war. On closer inspection, however, Russia's capabilities are not quite as daunting, especially if potential countermeasures are factored in. In particular, surface-to-air missile systems currently create much smaller A2/AD bubbles than is often assumed and a number of countermeasures are possible. Experiences from Syria also raise questions about the actual capabilities of such systems in combat, relative to their nominal capabilities. Anti-ship and anti-land systems pose a greater threat but, here too, countermeasures are available. The dynamics of this strategic vortex affect Sweden directly and indirectly. This is one of the reasons why Sweden's security is increasingly interlocked with that of its neighbours and of the transatlantic alliance.

Again, more at the link.  The full report makes interesting reading.  Recommended.

We've concentrated on military issues, but as far as geopolitics is concerned, Russia doesn't exert nearly as much influence as she would like to portray.  There's an interesting summary of US-Russian geopolitical relations in this article.  As for European-Russian geopolitical considerations, see here for a useful analysis.

So, when you read strongly pro-Russia articles, or others suggesting that it has undue influence over aspects of US politics, bear in mind that there's a constant propaganda barrage from that country and its surrogates and supporters, designed to make you think that it's much stronger and more influential than it really is.  It's a continuation, in many ways, of the Soviet Union's disinformation campaign, which was remarkably effective in its day.

Of course, that reality makes the whole "Russia! Russia!" scare over the 2016 election that much more laughable . . . but the mass media will never admit that.  It also calls into question many of the alleged facts relied upon by the media in their attacks on President Trump.

Peter

5 comments:

SiGraybeard said...

When I heard the scare talk about Russian hypersonic missiles I didn't get it. So what? A .22LR bullet is hypersonic.

More to the point, some of our anti-missile defenses are intended for ICBMs and those are so far beyond the speed of sound it's crazy.

The thing is, the talk about how advanced they are is good for our defense industries, too, so the stories are getting picked up and repeated.

Ray - SoCal said...

Agree 100%. Zerohedge is one, a certain publisher is another...

US military has huge issues, especially the Navy.

Dad29 said...

Just as curious as the "Russia!! Russia!!!" line of foofoodust is the complete and total absence of factual stories about the real threat: Red China.

Uncle Lar said...

Do not confuse the terms supersonic and hypersonic.
Supersonic is an object traveling in excess of the speed of sound.
Hypersonic range begins at five times the speed of sound and above.

Nuke Warrior said...

One should always take Russian/Soviet claims about the technical sophistication of their weapons systems with a grain of salt. Yes they have ICBMs with nuclear weapons. Yes they have large numbers of conventional weapons (and as Stalin is quoted "quantity has a quality all it's own"). However, development of high tech weapons systems seems to take forever, and often relies on data stolen from western sources. It is hard to evaluate the effectiveness of the latest Russian weapons, because these haven't been used in competition with western equivalents. It wasn't until the Soviet Union collapsed that many highly touted weapon systems were objectively evaluated and found to be seriously flawed compared to western standards.