Russia revises its cyber strategy from time to time, keeping in view the fast-changing security environment and threats which are growing world-over in geometrical progression. Russia likes to use the term “information Security”. On 12th April 2021, Russian President Putin approved the latest International Information Security Strategy, which comprises its strategic planning, official views on the essence of international information security, the main threats to international information security, and its objectives in this field.
This document clearly indicates the linkages between the National Security Strategy and Russia’s concept of Foreign Policy with the Doctrine of the Information Security. This is not new but this receives higher priority in the current document. Similarly, the ‘preservation of people of Russia and development of human potential’ has been presented as the leading goal this time, though it was also mentioned in earlier document.
For information security, the National Coordination Centre for Computer Incidents has specific role and the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation deals with the development of technologies, personal data processing and internet governance. The overall strategic decisions are taken by the Security Council of the Russian Federation to ensure the implementation of the directions of the Russian President. This indicates how Russia views the significance of cyberspace for national security.
The current document describes three fundamentals of the Russian global approach in this arena:
a) to promote Russian approaches to the formation of a system for ensuring international information security and Russian initiatives in the field of international information security;
b) to promote the creation of international legal mechanisms for the prevention (settlement) of interstate conflicts in the global information space;
c) the organization of interdepartmental cooperation in the implementation of state policy in the field of international information security.
Importantly, it considers the cyberspace as the global information space, which is governed on the basis of universally recognized principles and norms of international law and on the terms of equal partnership, for the maintenance of international peace, security and stability. In this, both international and state institutions have roles.
The Russian document indicates the main threats, covering all dimensions from international peace and stability, violations of state territorial integrity, support to terrorism/extremism to interference in internal affairs, attacks on critical infrastructure and various types of criminal activities. It states the Russian commitment for the establishment of an international legal regime, in which conditions are created for the prevention (settlement) of interstate conflicts in the global information space, as well as for the formation of a system for ensuring international information security taking into account the national interests of the Russian Federation. It intends to work with the support of the United Nations (UN) of the Convention on Ensuring International Information Security. It commits to conduct on a regular basis bilateral and multilateral expert consultations, coordinating positions and main areas of cooperation in the field of international information security with the member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the BRICS association, the member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Group of Twenty and international organizations.
Russia considers the possibilities of interstate conflicts in this sphere; hence it stresses creation of an effective mechanism of interstate interaction aimed at preventing computer attacks on the information resources of states, including critical information infrastructure. The state policy’s objective is to create conditions for ensuring the technological sovereignty of states in the field of information and communication technologies and overcoming the information inequality between developed and developing countries. In 2021 document there is greater thrust on inter-state conflict resulting in attracting criticism that Russia is placing higher priority on the offensive operations in cyberspace.
In fact, Russia had this in view earlier as well. In December 2016, Russia had outlined the following approach for the national defence:
1. Ensuring strategic deterrence and preventing military conflicts that may be brought about by the use of information technologies;
2. Upgrading the information security system of the Armed Forces, other troops, military formations and bodies, including forces and means of information confrontation;
3. Forecasting, identifying and assessing information threats, including threats to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in information sphere;
4. Promoting the interests of the Russian Federation’s allies in information sphere;
5. Countervailing information and psychological actions, including those aimed at undermining the historical foundations and patriotic traditions related to defending the homeland.
Russia had placed importance on deterrence and upgrading the information security system of the armed forces. The above points are also touched upon in the 2021 document indicating the continuity in its approach.
The Russian strategy is based on its assessment of emerging threats to Russia. In its concept, cyberspace has a pivotal role in hybrid wars. It supports the Chinese concept of sovereignty in cyber space. It is constantly reviewing its doctrine to match the possibility of interstate conflicts. Its analysis of threats has led to adoption of information security as a key priority, where apart from concerns like terrorism, cyberattacks, and money laundering, Russia also sees a threat from the use of internet to mobilise mass events, as well as presentation of history for ‘political means.’
The document also focuses on the economic security, recognising the need for industrial growth and markets for its products. The economic problems arising in the pandemic period have pushed Russia to focus on the economic aspect. This would remain in focus in the coming period as it desires to move away from the dependence on the export of natural resources and develop industrial base.
On the whole, Russia’s 2021 strategy takes into account its growing concerns in the current environment and reflects its vision for the future. While it talks for international cooperation, it is also aware of the increasing tussle with the US and its allies. The threat to internal stability from the US and its allies occupies the central position in the Russian assessment. It certainly desires cooperation in the field of climate change like China. Dmitri Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, states that this document is indicative of the ‘long-term confrontation’ with the West that has set in, marking a change from 2015 when the relations were still thought to be ‘salvageable.’ In this context the view of the well known Russian foreign policy analyst Vasily Kashin, also needs to be kept in view who stated that the new document focuses on traditional values, ensuring information security and countered the view that the 2021 strategy is ‘a radically new document’ that will have long term consequences. In fact, Russia is taking its increasing threats into account and is trying to build its cyber-power.
Significantly, the recent report of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) that ranked countries on a spectrum of cyber capabilities, from the strength of their digital economies and the maturity of their intelligence and security functions to how well cyber facilities were integrated with military operations placed US at the top tier and placed Russia along with China, the UK, Australia, Canada, France and Israel are in the second tier. According to this report, the US was the only country in the top tier in terms of cybersecurity because of its unparalleled digital-industrial base, its cryptographic expertise and the ability to execute “sophisticated, surgical” cyber strikes against adversaries. Given continued adversarial relations with the US, it is natural for Russia to pay greater focus on increasing its offensive capabilities to match the US.
The Russian document has relevance for India and other countries placed in the third tier. As the most countries consider the possibilities of cyber wars, the need for accelerating efforts in this direction can hardly be underestimated with the cyber space fast emerging as new battle ground.
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