The Russian government is using the internet as a new battleground in the fight for Ukraine’s future
He told Express.co.uk: “The Russian government is using the internet as a new battleground in the fight for Ukraine’s future. “They are not the only government to use information control on the internet as a weapon against a population, but they are one of the most aggressive.” In November 2018, Russian website Sputnik published a news story about the Kerch incident with Ukraine, which resulted in the arrest by Russia of 24 Ukrainian soldiers, blaming the incident on Russian negligence or hostility, Mr Williams said.
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However, 40 minutes later the article was removed and replaced with a “Russian propaganda piece” critical of Ukraine - with no formal retraction by Sputnik’s editors, he added.
Arweave’s team discovered an anonymous user uploaded the original article to the PermaWeb, cementing the fact that the Russian government had subverted the narrative of the story.
Mr Williams added: “We can’t know for sure why they did it, but it appears that the Russian government decided that the article was no longer aligned with the narrative, so the article was quietly deleted.
“We know that stealth editing of articles on the internet is frequent, but because of the way the web is built it is hard for us to know who said what and when.
“This is the problem that the PermaWeb solves.
“Secure, reliable access to human history and knowledge is vital for the success of our societies. While the traditional web has been very successful at connecting people over long distances, the PermaWeb is designed to connect people over enormous periods of time.
"It is the Library of Alexandria, rebuilt for the modern age.”
With Russia widely acknowledged to have tried to influence the 2016 US Presidential election campaign, and President Donald Trump declaring a national emergency and banning Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from using US networks over spying fears, Mr Williams said there was increasing scepticism about the truth of what is published online.
Russian lawmakers on Thursday approved a controversial bill to cut off the country’s internet traffic from foreign servers and block popular messaging app, Telegram. Telegram is insanely popular in Russia, where its encrypted technology makes it possible for people to communicate without government snooping, and for protest organizers to operate with impunity.
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He said: “Fake news is effective because it confuses us - we don’t know what to believe, and as a consequence, we don’t know how to act.
“By confusing the population and limiting their ability to make effective decisions, governments like Russia are able to win geopolitical battles without firing a single shot.”
A report published last year by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) suggested manipulation of the internet was a key aspect of what he referred to as Mr Putin’s policy of “tolerance warfare” aimed at testing the patience of the West and pushing boundaries.
Launching the report, entitled Strategic Survey 2018: The Annual Assessment of Geopolitics, Dr John Chipman, IISS Director-General, said: “Tolerance warfare is the effort to push back lines of resistance, probe weaknesses, assert rights unilaterally, break rules, establish new facts on the ground, strip others of initiative and gain systematic advantage over hesitant opponents.
“It particularly exploits weaknesses in Western democracies whose instincts for statecraft have been tempered by geopolitical failure abroad and constraints imposed by domestic opinion on hard-power international deployment.
Governments can exert some influence over the internet within their borders without being authoritarian—if they act in a way that protects citizens from cybersecurity threats, such as identity theft or computer hacking—provided those actions are also backed by democratic laws and procedures that prevent the abuse of power (e.g., using cyberinsecurity as an excuse for censorship).
“It is becoming a favoured strategy for those countries that cannot easily challenge their biggest rivals symmetrically.
“Most obviously, President Vladimir Putin’s Russia is seeking asymmetrically to gain advantage in its weakened position by regular use of tolerance-warfare stratagems.”
Key aspects of his strategy included launching cyber attacks to influence elections and foster domestic discord on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as spreading misinformation through media such as RT (Russia’s state television network, which broadcasts internationally).
Express.co.uk has approached Sputnik for a comment.