New Tools, Old Tricks: Emerging Technologies and Russia’s Global Tool Kit


How will the Kremlin’s instrument package evolve as rising applied sciences like synthetic intelligence, machine studying, and deepfake forgeries grow to be extra widespread?

Russia has lengthy struggled to beat the constraints imposed by the nation’s continual lack of ability to retain expertise in assist of homegrown innovation and R&D. That actuality could consign it to a follower function within the technological realm. Russia’s international activism continues to lean closely on tried-and-true techniques and capabilities which can be popping up extra incessantly in quite a lot of far-flung venues. The blatant and infrequently sloppy nature of such efforts suggests the Russian management believes that even opposed publicity helps strengthen Moscow’s declare to the standing of a worldwide energy.

Part of what makes the Kremlin’s present calling playing cards simpler to identify—and harder to counter or deter—is a exceptional indifference to their knock-on results. Present-day Russian cyber and affect campaigns are able to doing a variety of harm—even when they will additionally generally be fairly clumsy or fail to advance Russian strategic aims. At the identical time, Russia’s operators are more likely to stay extremely technically succesful and to make their mark by being operationally aggressive moderately than by pioneering main technological advances.

“Myths work as conceptual aids, reducing complexity, condensing narratives, and making novel yet unknown technologies approachable, either in a utopian or dystopian way.”

Thomas Rid,
Rise of the Machines (2016)


Russia’s decline and technological backwardness have been touchstones for Western analyses and risk perceptions for hundreds of years. The notion that it couldn’t probably compete head-to-head with extra superior international locations has incessantly offered false consolation to Western leaders. Even at this time overstated assessments of the fragility of the Russian economic system encourage wishful pondering that the Kremlin will ultimately come round and see the advantages of a extra secure and cooperative relationship with the surface world.

In the wake of Russia’s undeclared battle towards Ukraine in 2014 and interference within the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a standard reverse of such pondering has taken maintain in some Western coverage and analytical circles, specializing in the Kremlin as a larger-than-life, omnipotent adversary that cunningly generates most of the ills which have befallen the West. As the cyber and disinformation professional Thomas Rid has warned, “The Kremlin’s rulers are particularly adept at gaming elements of this new age, or at the very least are good at getting everyone to talk about how good they are, which could be the most important trick of all.”1

A more in-depth take a look at Russia’s capabilities, intentions, and up to date habits, together with an examination of its probably path of growth, inform the story of one thing in-between. To make sure, the darkish arts practiced by the Russian safety institution have rattled a lot stronger adversaries just like the United States. With Russia’s ambitions turning into more and more international, many of those techniques are actually being utilized in numerous elements of Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America.

Andrew S. Weiss

Weiss is the James Family Chair and vice chairman for research on the Carnegie Endowment, the place he oversees analysis in Washington and Moscow on Russia and Eurasia.

More >

At the identical time, although, Russia’s international instrument package has not developed all that a lot. Time and once more, it tries out the identical approaches in several areas, with various outcomes.2 For probably the most half, Moscow leverages the cultivation of high-level political and diplomatic relationships, arms gross sales, intelligence cooperation, safety help and navy coaching, propaganda and disinformation, power and industrial alternatives involving Russian personal and state-sector gamers, debt forgiveness, and utilizing proxies. Many of the Kremlin’s present approaches to international competitors have clear analogues within the Cold War battle with the United States within the growing world.3

Yet a part of what makes the Kremlin’s present calling playing cards simpler to identify—and harder to counter or deter—is a exceptional indifference to the knock-on results of its habits. Present-day Russian cyber and affect campaigns are able to doing a variety of harm—even when they will additionally generally be clumsy or fail to advance Russian strategic aims (and even when a few of that harm stems from U.S. misperceptions or mis-reactions to Russian exercise). Russia’s operators are extremely technically succesful, however greater than that they’re operationally aggressive and revolutionary. This type of operational artwork and bravado can imply extra generally than pure technical chops.

Russia has had a variety of “firsts” on this area. Since the mid-2000s, it has piloted and refined methods that mix conventional cyber operations with uneven assaults to undermine adversaries’ info ecosystem and political processes. The battle in Ukraine pushed these efforts to the following degree. In 2015 the BlackEnergy cyber operation towards a Ukrainian energy utility turned off the lights and warmth within the useless of winter within the Ivano-Frankivsk area, leaving hundreds at nighttime and chilly on Christmas Eve. Industroyer, a considerably extra refined assault in December 2016, prompted harmful and widespread electrical energy outages in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. In June 2017, the NotPetya assault, disguised as a run-of-the-mill ransomware virus, partially crippled the Ukrainian economic system by destroying huge quantities of information and computer systems belonging to the federal government, personal sector, and demanding infrastructure. The NotPetya worm, which Donald Trump’s administration described as “the most destructive and costly cyber-attack in history,” rapidly unfold past Ukraine’s borders and prompted billions of {dollars} in losses.4

More just lately, the SolarWinds hack performed by Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) uncovered the vulnerabilities of the cyber provide chain and had a broad influence on hundreds of personal sector firms within the United States and different international locations. (Attacks on the cyber provide chain will not be a brand new phenomenon and have been documented by safety specialists since no less than 2015.) Some cyber specialists, together with Dmitri Alperovitch, have prompt this kind of cyber-espionage operation shouldn’t be portrayed as being exterior the bounds of permissible actions.5 There is a countervailing argument that sure kinds of mega-hacks, even when not explicitly or initially harmful, must be thought of destabilizing and topic to norms of restraint or no less than met with forceful responses by the U.S. authorities.

This long-running Russian marketing campaign of technology-enabled troublemaking has drastically magnified fears about future threats. Given the monitor report of the Kremlin and its proxies in seizing upon the dangerous capabilities supplied by social media and different on-line platforms, there may be rising fear that Russia will make comparable use of quickly maturing superior applied sciences resembling synthetic intelligence (AI), machine studying, and the subtle audiovisual fabrications and manipulations often known as “deepfakes.” According to the ultimate report of the U.S. National Security Commission on AI, revealed final month, “AI is deepening the threat posed by cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns that Russia, China, and other state and non-state actors are using to infiltrate our society, steal our data, and interfere in our democracy. The limited uses of AI-enabled attacks to date are the tip of the iceberg.”6

In mild of such sweeping predictions, a take a look at the state of Russia’s instrument package, the nation’s capability for technological innovation, significantly within the areas of AI and machine studying, and the long-term challenges going through the Russian tech sector is well timed. Assembling a totally correct image of Russia’s future international instrument package is an unimaginable activity. Russian authorities entities have each incentive to shroud superior applied sciences or beautiful capabilities which can be at present beneath growth. This paper, which is predicated on open supply reporting, assesses the extent to which Russian actors have efficiently embraced sure technological improvements to boost the Kremlin’s international activism. It additionally examines whether or not present, off-the-shelf capabilities are largely ample for the Kremlin’s functions. Finally, the paper additionally attracts inferences concerning the doable future evolution of Russia’s instrument package.

At the tip of the day, Russia’s declare to major-power standing and talent to behave as one can be rooted primarily in its nuclear and hard-power capabilities, not on producing false personas on social media or spreading disinformation utilizing machine studying. Ongoing navy modernization efforts resembling the event of strategic standard methods, anti-satellite weapons, and the like lie exterior the scope of this paper.

It can also be price asking what classes to remove from the avalanche of embarrassing revelations about rogue actions by Russian state actors and proxies. Some have been so noisy and conspicuous that one is left with the impression no person on the Russian facet really anticipated them to stay secret. For instance, the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) staff that carried out the botched Novichok assault on Sergei and Yuliya Skripal within the United Kingdom in 2018 and the just lately disclosed assault on an arms depot within the Czech Republic in late 2014 displayed remarkably sloppy tradecraft and a scarcity of consideration to the conspicuous risks that their actions posed to harmless residents.7 The similar will be stated for the Internet Research Agency (IRA) and its simply discoverable actions within the United States and different elements of the world within the wake of the 2016 election.8 In latest years, the IRA has appeared much less occupied with international domination than trolling U.S.-based adversaries or producing favorable public relations for its paymaster Yevgeny Prigozhin in his quest for the Putin regime’s patronage and largesse.9

Falling Further Behind

It is more and more troublesome to reconcile the picture of Russia as a rising international energy with the nation’s stagnant economic system and long-standing difficulties in growing superior applied sciences. With the Putin system now in its third decade, a well-recognized listing of ills proceed to carry Russia again: the failure to shift the economic system away from its overwhelming reliance on the export of hydrocarbons, the more and more dominant and predatory function of the state sector, and the shortage of sturdy protections for personal property and the rule of legislation. As with any nation, Russia’s means to advertise innovation can be pushed by disparate elements—for instance, the extent of analysis and growth (R&D) spending by the personal sector and authorities, the training degree and skills of the nation’s workforce, demographics, the emergence of worldwide aggressive Russian corporations, the tempo of adoption of superior applied sciences, and the clustering of innovation actions in sure areas.

As of now, the image is, placing it charitably, combined. The state has lengthy been the dominant drive behind the extent of R&D spending, however this has barely budged because the 1990s (see determine 1). A deep-seated aversion to structural reforms makes it unlikely that the Russian management will rework the established order and poor funding local weather over the following 5 years. Nor does Russia appear more likely to witness the emergence of a vibrant cohort of small and medium-sized enterprises able to producing innovation for the remainder of the economic system.

Despite plentiful human capital and a wealthy historical past of scientific and technological accomplishment inherited from the Soviet interval, Russia at this time barely cracks the Top 50 of the Global Innovation Index ready by the UN World Intellectual Property Organization.10 It lags behind international locations like Thailand, Ukraine, and Romania. Since the late 1990s a lot of Russians with superior technical expertise have left the nation looking for skilled alternatives and better residing requirements. The main lights of Russia’s scientific and engineering communities are more and more discovered within the United States, Israel, and a terrific many different international locations. Meanwhile, the whole variety of scientific and expertise researchers working in Russia at this time has declined by practically 65 p.c in comparison with 1990 ranges, and the variety of graduate college students was lower nearly in half over the previous decade.11 The variety of researchers departing Russia yearly has elevated sharply since 2012, in keeping with Russian Academy of Sciences head scientific secretary Nikolai Dolgushkin.12 Senior Federal Security Service (FSB) officers painting the continued emigration of IT specialists as a severe risk to nationwide safety (see figures 2 and 4).13

Despite frequent lip service from political figures in regards to the significance of making a aggressive digital economic system based mostly on homegrown champions like Yandex and Sber, each of which spend closely on R&D, the federal government’s actions inform a special story. The tech sector has been damage by more and more heavy-handed strikes carried out within the title of nationwide safety. Opportunities for collaboration with and funding alternatives involving Western corporations have slowly dried up within the wake of U.S. and EU sanctions and the spate of well-publicized Russian cyber operations towards Western targets. Meanwhile, bans on the usage of foreign-origin software program and tech gear by corporations designated as crucial infrastructure will enter into drive in January 2024 and January 2025, respectively. These politically impressed strikes to advertise import substitution have been challenged by regime stalwarts resembling Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller, however they’re unlikely to vanish.14

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Yandex headquarters in Moscow.

Targeted top-down authorities initiatives to foster innovation have been mainstays of Russian science and expertise coverage because the mid-1990s. But they’ve achieved little to alter the trajectory of technological growth. According to a latest report by the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, the nation’s failure to develop superior applied sciences dangers consigning it to a place of being “permanently left behind.”15 Despite outlays of practically a trillion rubles (roughly $13 billion at at this time’s alternate charge) between 2006 and 2020 on state applications to foster innovation, spending on R&D in 2020 was an anemic 1.16 p.c of complete GDP and properly beneath the federal government’s Three p.c goal (see determine 3).16 The Russian authorities continues to out-spend the personal sector on a roughly two-to-one foundation, which is the inverse of the scenario in international locations that Russia seeks to emulate, in keeping with Academy of Sciences chief Aleksandr Sergeyev.17

The launch of the Skolkovo tech park in Moscow and smaller tech incubators in different elements of the nation served as signature initiatives throughout Dmitri Medvedev’s presidency. They briefly attracted curiosity from outstanding Russian corporations and international tech gamers however typically have didn’t disrupt these broader traits. The nationwide undertaking Nauka (Russian for “science”) initiated by Putin in 2018 to bolster scientific experience has fallen far in need of its targets; there are few indicators that such initiatives have had a transformative influence on the general dynamics and incentives at work within the economic system or authorities policymaking.18

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Sber CEO German Gref.

The initiatives which have labored considerably higher typically look like aimed primarily at gaming Russia’s standings in numerous technology-related indices and league tables. For instance, providing money incentives for Russian researchers to extend the variety of articles they submitted for publication created a flood of contributions on numerous matters in listed journals between 2012 and 2018. However, their scientific benefit has been questioned, given the numerous variety of articles by single authors and their comparatively low ranges of citations by different researchers.19 The reputational results of a significant plagiarism scandal on the Russian Academy of Sciences in early 2020 additionally proceed to linger (see desk 1).20

Clearly, the challenges going through expertise growth in Russia is not going to be overcome by way of such bureaucratic sleight of hand. Unlike their friends in China, with its huge inhabitants and burgeoning economic system, Russian engineers have few innate nationwide benefits in relation to growing the big information units or industrial purposes that underlie innovation in fields like AI. Meanwhile, the authorities and safety providers have steadily sought to choke off exchanges and international scientific cooperation. Most just lately, in March, the Duma handed a brand new legislation requiring academic establishments and universities to hunt approval from federal ministries for foreign-related actions.21 Its expansive wording conceivably covers international participation in joint academic and scientific actions, international journey, and participation in international conferences and organizations, amongst different issues. A sequence of high-profile espionage prosecutions towards tutorial researchers has additionally had a chilling impact inside main analysis establishments.22

Plenary session of the Russian State Duma.

The authorities is counting totally on the protection sector to generate main technological advances within the subject of AI. By necessity, the scope of defense-related AI analysis is pretty slim with a specific focus positioned on purposes and methods in a handful of areas: robotics and autonomous methods, unmanned aerial automobiles, digital warfare (EW), and knowledge operations. As researchers Samuel Bendett and Margarita Konaev level out, a few of these efforts are paying off.23 For instance, the navy examined numerous AI-enabled methods through the ongoing marketing campaign in Syria with first rate leads to areas resembling EW jamming gear and unmanned floor automobiles for demining operations. But Russia is thus far behind different international locations in its effort to develop AI that its start-ups and researchers barely register in a panorama dominated by Chinese and U.S. rivals.24

A Tool Kit Consisting of Oldies But Goodies

There are main variations between how Russia behaves in battle zones when it’s engaged in full-scale navy operations and the kinds of actions which can be half and parcel of its broader quest for international affect. In the latter context—particularly, conditions the place it faces formidable long-term rivals just like the United States—Russian actors reveal appreciation of their limitations in addition to consciousness of their adversaries’ strengths and weaknesses. In international locations like France and Germany, the place Russian figures proceed to take pleasure in appreciable entrée in political and industrial circles, there may be far much less must depend on unique capabilities to exert affect.

There is a robust argument to be made in relation to Russia’s international activism that what actually issues is intent, and never essentially the nation’s capability to foster technological innovation. Much of the Kremlin’s disruptive efforts in assist of Trump’s marketing campaign within the 2016 election had been produced on the again of present web platforms. It was Russian actors’ degree of talent and drive in exploiting these instruments that distinguished them from the opposite worldwide gamers that make use of them. It appears secure to imagine that there can be enough technical experience in numerous elements of the Russian nationwide safety equipment to plot comparable gambits sooner or later.

Still, it’s troublesome to pinpoint indicators of main technological advances within the conduct of latest Russian affect operations or malign actions. For instance, fears of Russian interference ran extraordinarily excessive forward of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, however the methods that the Kremlin ultimately used had extra in widespread with the 1920s heyday of the Comintern than sensationalized rising applied sciences like AI and deepfakes. This is a standard thread that runs by way of the 2020 U.S. presidential election and different high-profile situations of Russian election interference (for instance, the 2018 U.S. midterm Congressional elections, the 2017 French presidential election, the 2016 Dutch referendum on the EU affiliation settlement with Ukraine, and the 2016 U.S. presidential election). More just lately, many Russian efforts have been so blatant or clumsy that they appear to betray a want to be uncovered.25

According to a March 2021 unclassified evaluation by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the Kremlin’s major focus was on “conduct[ing] influence operations aimed at denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the U.S.”26 The major distinction between 2016 and 2020 was that there was no hack-and-release operation. Nor had been there any makes an attempt to change “any technical aspect of the voting process, including voter registrations, ballot casting, vote tabulation, or reporting results,” in keeping with the ODNI report. As the previous director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Christopher Krebs, has defined, “Election Day was just another Tuesday on the internet.”27

Indeed, Russian efforts relied closely on two Ukraine-related figures with checkered pasts: Konstantin Kilimnik, a “Russian influence agent” (within the terminology of the U.S. intelligence neighborhood) and longtime colleague of Donald Trump’s former marketing campaign supervisor, Paul Manafort, and Andrii Derkach, a politician/agent provocateur tied to Russian intelligence. In May 2020 Derkach leaked tapes of delicate conversations between Joe Biden when he was vice chairman after which president Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine, which Derkach claimed implicated Biden and his son Hunter in corrupt dealings within the nation. The Russian authorities made no severe try and disguise its hand in any of those efforts. (The U.S. authorities sanctioned Derkach final September and referred to as out ongoing Russia efforts “to sow discord between political parties and drive internal divisions to influence voters.”28)

Disturbingly, Trump, his closest associates, pro-Trump media retailers, and grassroots supporters eagerly embraced and promoted these supplies, simply as they’d achieved with the embarrassing emails stolen by Russian intelligence operatives from Hillary Clinton’s marketing campaign and the Democratic National Committee in 2016.29 In the tip, the data equipped by Russia-tied actors like Derkach didn’t generate ranges of media consideration akin to what occurred with the data launched by Wikileaks in 2016. Still, it stays exceptional {that a} Russian active-measures operation was so intently linked to a sitting U.S. president and key members of his staff. It is tough to think about a extra profitable disinformation marketing campaign that might have been produced utilizing AI or machine studying.

Russian affect operations through the COVID-19 pandemic additionally deserve shut examination. Up to now, the lion’s share of consideration has been targeted on Russian efforts to advertise the Sputnik-V vaccine and to tarnish Western governments’ monitor data in coping with the coronavirus. Surprisingly little consideration has been paid to the truth that in December 2020 the European Medicines Agency (EMA)—the EU’s drug regulator—was hacked, reportedly by each Russia- and China-tied hackers.30 The Russia-tied risk actors reportedly obtained inner EMA paperwork, doctored a few of them, after which made them obtainable on a web-based hacker bulletin board.31 Portions of the paperwork had been subsequently revealed within the French newspaper Le Monde, which helped to amplify ideas that the EMA had been topic to undue political stress by the European Commission and ignored security issues because it fast-tracked approval of the Pfizer vaccine.32 Anti-vaccination teams and conspiracy theorists have seized on the doctored paperwork, which proceed to flow into on social media and in vaccine-hesitant communities in elements of Europe and the United States.

Such Russian efforts contain a degree of human involvement (that’s, an individual sitting behind a keyboard) that has hardly modified lately. Human involvement stays a prerequisite for the kinds of actions which can be on the coronary heart of Russian disinformation campaigns, of spear-phishing campaigns towards politicians, political campaigns, and authorities entities, and of the hijacking of social media platforms for nefarious functions. The time-intensive and infrequently tedious nature of such energetic measures is specified by appreciable element in Department of Justice indictments of a number of Russian actors, the ultimate report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report.33

Will the arrival of recent applied sciences create a significant shift within the Russian instrument package? Perhaps. A latest report from the U.S. National Intelligence Council warns in regards to the impending arrival of a world by which “propagandists could leverage AI, the Internet of Things, and other tools to tailor communications to large audiences, anticipate their reactions, and adapt messaging in near real time.”34 However, there may be, as of this writing, no signal that such approaches are being tailored at scale for the Russian instrument package or employed as a part of the Kremlin’s ongoing international malign actions.

The purpose for this lag could have as a lot to do with the character of up to date affect operations as they do with Russian technological backwardness. Target audiences will be reached fairly successfully with much less refined means, as proven above. As the expertise researcher Tim Hwang has argued, “Online propagandists are pragmatists. They seek to wield the greatest degree of social and political influence at the lowest possible cost. . . . There is no need to spend additional resources creating an elaborate fake video when simply copying an image from elsewhere and misleadingly captioning it will achieve the same impact.”35 At the identical time, it’s conceivable that superior gamers like Russia might be extra profitable with a bit of cash and persistence.

An analogous actuality examine could also be so as when assessing the state of Russia’s offensive cyber capabilities and the way ongoing technological advances could—or could not—improve their future function in its international instrument package. Undoubtedly, Russia will stay a top-tier cyber state actor for the foreseeable future. But we must be cautious to not mythologize its capabilities. According to Marcus Willet, former senior cyber professional on the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), a UK intelligence company,

“We should not conclude that Russia is in any way the master of the internet, or that it outclasses the U.S. at cyber operations. Far from it—Russia is so worried about what it has learned about U.S. and allied cyber capabilities from U.S. intelligence leaks (especially Edward Snowden’s) and by U.S. commercial dominance of internet technology (exemplified by U.S. pressure on the Chinese IT company Huawei) that the Russian government is seeking ways to isolate Russia physically from the global internet, despite the economic and social disadvantages of doing so.”36

Assessments of the SolarWinds hack counsel that the operation’s success was largely pushed by elementary weaknesses current within the cyber provide chain and the exceptional diploma of stealth and self-discipline displayed by the SVR operators who performed it. As former GCHQ Director Robert Hannigan has defined, “The truth is that enterprise IT and software companies—and many of the thousands of smaller companies in the average supply chain—often have significant weaknesses. Far from being unforeseen and unpreventable, these attacks are becoming wearily predictable.”37

As Western policymakers ponder the longer term evolution of Russian capabilities, they need to additionally pay attention to a vigorous debate in professional circles on whether or not AI and machine studying can have a really transformative impact on the efficiency of offensive cyber operations. The query shouldn’t be whether or not automation will grow to be an essential function of Russian cyber operations—it already is. Indeed, a lot of the explanation why the NotPetya malware unfold so rapidly and uncontrollably to such a big selection of victims was on account of automation. In a latest paper on automating cyber assaults, Ben Buchanan, John Bansemer, Dakota Cary, Jack Lucas, and Micah Musser acknowledge that “certain offensive techniques [may] benefit from machine learning, including spearphishing, vulnerability discovery, delivering malicious code into networks, and evading cyber defenses.”38 At the identical time, they warning that predictions that machine studying will rework cyber assaults are probably overblown. “Attackers, especially states, are generally rational and will only turn to machine learning techniques,” they write, “if these techniques are simpler, cheaper, or more effective than the automated tools that are already available and easy to use.”


As Carnegie’s ongoing analysis undertaking on the Return of Global Russia has proven, Russia’s exercise all over the world must be taken severely and scrutinized fastidiously.39 At the identical time, its capabilities must be evaluated with out yielding to alarmism or exaggeration. This is important for forming an correct but clear-eyed evaluation of the Kremlin’s precise affect past its instant periphery. It additionally means recognizing the hole between precise Russian capabilities and the Russian authorities’s aspirations and self-serving narratives.40

Western policymakers ought to pay higher consideration to pertinent situations of Russia’s overreach and failure on the worldwide stage. Such examples sometimes level not solely to the meagerness of the present Russian instrument package but additionally to long-term sources of Western energy and resilience. None of that is to downplay the dangers that lie forward or the dangerous nature of latest Russian habits. As CIA Director (and former Carnegie Endowment for International Peace president) Bill Burns has repeatedly warned, “Declining powers can be at least as disruptive as rising powers.”41 At the identical time, Western policymakers should be capable to set clear priorities and keep away from enjoying into the Kremlin’s fingers. After all, one key motivating issue behind Russian international activism is solely to distract Western policymakers from points nearer to house that the Kremlin really thinks are of paramount significance and to throw them off-balance.

That means with the ability to establish the kinds of Russian actions which can be most regarding and resisting the temptation to enter right into a recreation of whack-a-mole in theaters of lesser significance. To make sure, severe hurt will be achieved to the nationwide safety and prosperity of the United States and the EU by way of, say, careless Russian cyber assaults like NotPetya or destabilizing navy strikes in Ukraine. The movement of disinformation from area of interest on-line platforms operated by the Russian safety providers or the presence of Russian mercenaries within the Central African Republic are the sorts of issues that Western policymakers can afford to reside with, albeit unhappily.

At the identical time, they need to keep intently attuned to the potential evolution of the Russian instrument package and be ready for the Kremlin’s use of AI and machine studying to match the sample that has been noticed within the info area. If these applied sciences disseminate considerably broadly, Russia generally is a “fast follower” and operational innovator in making use of such instruments to its international activism, even when Russian engineers will not be those really inventing, for instance, new types of deep studying.

Hence, Russia’s small AI/machine studying analysis subject and its structurally challenged tech sector could matter lower than its sturdy legal and intelligence/navy sectors, which have confirmed able to funding a big and harmful cyber/affect enterprise that frequently develops or incorporates new methods and patterns of exercise. These actors will assist decide the steadiness between the assimilation of more and more refined and destabilizing applied sciences and the continued reliance on tried-and-true techniques. For the foreseeable future, instruments within the latter class seem more likely to dominate.


The writer is grateful to Jon Bateman, Christopher Chivvis, Steven Feldstein, Leonid Kovachich, Robert Otto, and Nathaniel Reynolds for his or her exceptionally useful and constructive feedback on an earlier draft of this paper. Grace Kier offered excellent analysis help, which additionally benefited from Tatyana Pyak’s energetic contributions. The writer bears full duty for any remaining errors of reality or judgment. This research was undertaken with beneficiant monetary assist from the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Appendix: Figures on Russia’s Struggle With Innovation


1 Joshua Yaffa, “Is Russian Meddling as Dangerous As We Think?,” New Yorker, September 7, 2020,

2 See Paul Stronski and Richard Sokolsky, “The Return of Global Russia: An Analytical Framework,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, December 14, 2017,; Julia Gurganus and Eugene Rumer, “Russia’s Global Ambitions in Perspective,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 20, 2019,

3 See, for instance, “The Soviet State Propaganda Apparatus,” declassified CIA Research Paper, April 1986,, and “The Soviet Military Advisory and Training Program for the Third World,” declassified CIA Research Paper, April 1984,

4 Sarah Sanders, “Statement from the Press Secretary,” White House, February 15, 2018,

5 Dmitri Alperovitch and Ian Ward, “How Should the U.S. Respond to the SolarWinds and Microsoft Exchange Hacks?,” Lawfare, March 12, 2021,

6 National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, “Final Report,” NSCAI, March 19, 2021,

7 Bellingcat Investigation Team, “Senior GRU Leader Directly Involved With Czech Arms Depot Explosion,” Bellingcat, April 20, 2021,

8 See,, For extra on the flamboyance and incompetence of high Prigozhin lieutenants Maksim Shugalei and Alexander Malkevich, see and

9 See Nathaniel Reynolds, “Putin’s Not-So-Secret Mercenaries: Patronage, Geopolitics, and the Wagner Group,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, July 8, 2019,

10 Soumitra Dutta, Bruno Lanvin, and Sacha Wunsch-Vincent (eds.), Global Innovation Index 2020 (Geneva, Switzerland: World Intellectual Property Organization, 2020).

11 “RAN: kolichestvo uchenykh, uyezzhayushchikh iz Rossii, vyroslo v pyat’ raz s 2012 goda” [RAS: the number of scientists leaving Russia has grown fivefold since 2012],, April 20, 2021,; TASS, “Glava RAN rasskazal, chto kolichestvo aspirantov v Rossii sokratilos’ pochti vdvoye” [The head of the Russian Academy of Sciences said that the number of graduate students in Russia has almost halved], TASS, April 20, 2021,

12 “RAN: kolichestvo uchenykh, uyezzhayushchikh iz Rossii, vyroslo v pyat’ raz s 2012 goda” [RAS: the number of scientists leaving Russia has grown fivefold since 2012],

13 Interfax, “V FSB nazvali ser’yeznym vyzovom ottok kvalifitsirovannykh IT-spetsialistov za rubezh” [The FSB called the outflow of qualified IT specialists abroad a serious challenge], Interfax, April 21, 2021,

14 Lyudmila Podobedova, Inna Sidorkova, and Daria Chebakova, “Glava «Gazproma» otsenil v ₽180 mlrd perekhod kompanii na rossiyskoye PO” [The head of Gazprom estimated the company’s transition to Russian software at ₽180 billion], RBK, March 23, 2021,

15 Daria Chebakova, Ivan Tkachev, and Vladislav Skobelev, “Eksperty predupredili o riske dlya Rossii «navsegda otstat’» v tekhnologiyakh” [Experts warn about the risk for Russia to “lag behind forever” in technology], RBK, April 13, 2021,; Yu. V Simachev, A.A. Fedyunina, M.A. Yurevich, M.G. Kuzyk, N.N. Zudin, and N.A. Gorodny, Rossiya na rynkakh peredovogo proizvodstva [Russia in advanced production markets] (Moscow, Russia: Higher School of Economics, 2021), 6.

16 Alexander Sokolov, “Instituty razvitiya provalili innovatsii” [Development Institutions Failed Innovation], Vedomosti, March 2, 2021,

17 Igor Chernyak, “Budet nam nauka. Prezident RAN — o nasushchnykh problemakh i nadezhdakh uchonykh” [There will be science for us. President of the Russian Academy of Sciences – on the pressing problems and hopes of scientists], Argumenty i Fakti, December 16, 2020,

18 YUSI Administrator, “Natsional’nyy proyekt «Nauka»,” [National project “Science”], Strategiya 24, January 10, 2019,

19 Quinn Schiermeier, Russia goals to revive science after period of stagnation,” Nature, March 18, 2020,

20 Dalmeet Singh Chawla, Russian journals retract greater than 800 papers after ‘bombshell’ investigation,” Science, January 8, 2020,

21 Legislative Support System, “O vnesenii izmeneniy v Federal’nyy zakon ‘’Ob obrazovanii v Rossiyskoy Federatsii’” [On amendments to the Federal Law “On Education in the Russian Federation”], Duma, November 18, 2020,

22 Vera Chelishcheva, “FSB vedet okhotu na uchenykh” [FSB is hunting scientists], Novaya Gazeta, November 27, 2020,

23 Margarita Konaev and Samuel Bendett, “Russian AI-Enabled Combat: Coming to a City Near You?”, War on the Rocks, July 31, 2019,

24 “Between 2010 and 2018, Russian researchers published 7,095 papers related to AI, while U.S. researchers published 271,464 papers and Chinese researchers published 262,112 papers.” See Margarita Konaev and James Dunham, “Russian AI Research 2010 to 2018: Topics, Trends, and Institutions,” Center for Security and Emerging Technology, October 2020,, 10.

25 IRA-backed disinformation platforms energetic throughout 2020 had been extra notable for his or her intelligent vulgar Russian phrase play than the dimensions of their American viewers. PeaceKnowledge, a left-wing website that commissioned contributions from American freelancers, “sounds like pizdato, the obscenity for “f***-ing amazing” within the [Russian] mat swearing language. “Only Prigozhin would think that this influence campaign is f***** great; any reasonable observer would conclude that this is f***** insane,” tweeted Sergei Radchenko, a professor of worldwide relations at Cardiff University.” See An IRA-created web site aimed toward right-wing audiences was named NAEBC, “a pun on a Russian expletive meaning to deceive or ‘screw over.’” See IRA associates had been additionally energetic within the Central African Republic and Madagascar however their info operations mannequin had restricted impact on both nation. See; and

26 National Intelligence Council, “Foreign Threats to the 2020 US Federal Elections,” National Intelligence Council, March 10, 2020,

27 Christopher Krebs, “We prepared for more Russian interference. But this year the assault on democracy was from within the US,” CNN, December 15, 2020,

28 U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Sanctions Russia-Linked Election Interference Actors,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, September 10, 2020,

29 See, for instance, Donald J. Trump, “Remarks by President Trump in Press Conference,” The White House, September 7, 2020,; The Commission on Presidential Debates, “September 29, 2020 Debate Transcript,” Commission on Presidential Debates, September 29, 2020,; Andrew S. Weiss, @andrewsweiss, Twitter put up, August 17, 2020, 11:06 a.m.,; Andrew S. Weiss, @andrewsweiss, Twitter put up, September 10, 2020, 12:09 p.m.,; Laura Ingraham, @IngrahamAngle, Twitter put up, October 25, 2020, 4:46 p.m.,

30 European Medicines Agency press workplace, “Cyberattack on the European Medicines Agency,” EMA, December 9, 2012,

31 European Medicines Agency press workplace, “Cyberattack on EMA – update 5,” EMA, January 15, 2021,; Huib Modderkolk, “Russian and Chinese hackers gained access to EMA,” de Volkskrant, March 6, 2021,

32 Lise Barnéoud, “Ce que disent les documents sur les vaccins anti-Covid-19 volés à l’Agence européenne des medicaments” [What documents say about anti-Covid-19 vaccines stolen from the European Medicines Agency], Le Monde, January 16, 2021,

33 See, for instance, Rid, Active Measures, (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), 362-372; United States of America v. Viktor Borisovich Netyshko, et al., No. 1:18-cr-215 (U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia), 6-19,;

Robert S. Mueller, Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election (U.S. Washington, D.C.: Department of Justice, March 2019), 14-41,; Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference within the 2016 U.S. Election, Volume 2: Russia’s Use of Social Media with Additional Views (116 S. Rpt. 290), 22-29,;

United States of America v. Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynov. No. 1:18-MJ-464 (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia), 6-38,;

United States of America v. Artem Mikhaylovich Lifshits. No. 1:20-mj-256 (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia), 9-33,

34 National Intelligence Council, “Global Trends 2040: A More Contested World,” National Intelligence Council, March 2021,

35 Tim Hwang, “Deepfakes: A Grounded Threat Assessment,” Center for Security and Emerging Technology, July 2020,

36 Marcus Willet, “Lessons of the SolarWinds Hack,” Survival 63, no. 2 (April-May 2021): 7-26.

37 Robert Hannigan, “SolarWinds hack exploited weaknesses we continue to tolerate,” Financial Times, December 20, 2020,

38 Ben Buchanan, John Bansemer, Dakota Cary, Jack Lucas, Micah Musser, “Automating Cyber Attacks: Hype and Reality,” Center for Security and Emerging Technology, November 2020,

39 Eugene Rumer, Richard Sokolsky, Paul Stronski, and Andrew S. Weiss, “The Return of Global Russia: A Reassessment of the Kremlin’s International Agenda,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,

40 These themes are explored in higher depth in a forthcoming article by Eugene Rumer and Richard Sokolsky, “Getting Russia Wrong: A Retrospective and Lessons for the Future,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Summer 2021.

41 William J. Burns, “How We Fool Ourselves on Russia,” New York Times, January 7, 2017,


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here