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Competing in the Gray Zone

The RAND Corporation think tank has released a new report on Russia’s gray zone tactics in targeting international opinion:

Recent events in Crimea and the Donbass in eastern Ukraine have upended relations between Russia and the West, specifically the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU). Although Russia’s actions in Ukraine were, for the most part, acts of outright aggression, Russia has been aiming to destabilize both its “near abroad” — the former Soviet states except for the Baltics — and wider Europe through the use of ambiguous “gray zone” tactics. These tactics include everything from propaganda and disinformation to election interference and the incitement of violence.

To better understand where there are vulnerabilities to Russian gray zone tactics in Europe and how to effectively counter them, the RAND Corporation ran a series of war games. These games comprised a Russian (Red) team, which was tasked with expanding its influence and undermining NATO unity, competing against a European (Green) team and a U.S. (Blue) team, which were aiming to defend their allies from Red’s gray zone activities without provoking an outright war. In these games, the authors of this report observed patterns of behavior from the three teams that are broadly consistent with what has been observed in the real world. This report presents key insights from these games and from the research effort that informed them.

This is an interesting contemporary use of wargaming methodologies.

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Research Program

Konstantin Ernst

The New Yorker‘s Joshua Yaffa has profiled Russian television producer Konstantin Ernst who as Channel One’s general director, is an important media and propaganda expert for the Putin Administration:

“Baldly false stories, in the right doses, are not disastrous for Channel One; in fact, they are an integral part of the Putin system’s postmodern approach to propaganda. In the Soviet era, the state pushed a coherent, if occasionally clumsy, narrative to convince the public of the official version of events. But private media ownership and widespread Internet access have made this impossible. Today, state outlets tell viewers what they are already inclined to believe, rather than try to convince them of what they can plainly see is untrue. At the same time, they release a cacophony of theories with the aim of nudging viewers toward believing nothing at all, or of making them so overwhelmed that they simply throw up their hands. Trying to ascertain the truth becomes a matter of guessing who benefits from a given narrative.”