“A lie can travel halfway around the world
while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
– Mark Twain
About five years ago, I was struck by two articles written by Molly McKew—a journalist, former aide to the president of Georgia and an expert in information warfare—about a 30-year-old strategy called The Gerasimov Doctrine, which outlined the Russian government’s five-part strategy to compete with China and the West now that the former Soviet Union could no longer do so militarily or economically. ‘It’s war; it is always war; and therefore, everything is fair,’ summed up the three pillars of reasoning. Sowing domestic dissatisfaction and a loss of trust in government, the rule of law and the media was its goal. Vladimir Putin, along with General Valery Gerasimov, were among its authors.
It was such a harrowing read that I asked Ms. McKew to join a Sirius-XM show I was honored to co-host with venture capitalist Jonathan Aberman, now Dean and Professor of Practice at the School of Business and Technology at Marymount University. While deeply frightening, the thought of Russia winning a new disinformation war—despite the unexpected wins of Brexit and Donald Trump—still seemed more theoretical than real. No more.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have been running podcasts on our show In House Warrior for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal daily on various legal, IP, business, cyber and geopolitical issues impacted by the war. It has required long days and seven-day weeks. Still, when I read Paul Holmes 7,000-word spellbinding article—A Turning Point In The Disinformation War? —I could not put it down. Here, in one place, was a 30-year history of Russia’s systematic and tragically successful war on the West, which touched on so many critical issues.
Paul Holmes is the Founder and Chair of PRovoke Media—the most important read in the public relations industry. He has been writing about public relations for more than 25 years and has a deep intellect that comprehends history, global politics and business in addition to communications. I knew as soon as I read his piece I had to have him on a show right away.
Over the past several years, proponents of the Gerasimov Doctrine—Russia and their Western apologists—almost won without firing a shot. Now that we see what violent autocracy looks like up close, we may reflect long enough to reconsider our ever-escalating internal strife.
As Shadi Hamid wrote in The Atlantic, “Sometimes, unusual and extreme events mark the separation between old and new ways of thinking and being. Russia’s war on Ukraine has already left several such marks: It has upended the West’s assumptions about the world, revitalized the liberal order, and transformed perceptions of both Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky. The war has also thrust America back into a main role on the world stage. In the span of a few days, skeptics of American power have gotten a taste of what a world where America grows weak and Russia grows strong looks like.”
When I am at Navy Marine Corp stadium for football and lacrosse games, the perimeter of the second level is complete with placards of great naval battles—Belleau Wood, Chateau Thierry, Pearl Harbor, Java Sea, Wake, Coral Sea, Midway, Eastern Solomons, Guadalcanal and more. Somewhere in Russia they have a similar memorial for their successes of dezinformatsiya, but instead of naval battles they have memorialized Brexit, Hillary’s email exfiltration, Donald Trump’s election and on and on. As Molly McKew wrote, “[Russia] arguably won a significant battle without most Americans realizing it ever took place.”
Russia perfected its disinformation campaign in countries such as Estonia, Georgia and Lithuania and then escalated it, significantly influencing the outcomes of Brexit in the U.K. and the 2016 U.S. presidential election, leaving chaos in its wake. While the Brits and Americans were distracted by kompromat and whether the Mueller Report would show dispositive proof of collusion, the Russians had already successfully launched a disinformation war to split both countries.
Have any of us stopped to appreciate the miracle of the past few weeks? The Biden Administration and U.S. intelligence helped hinder President Putin’s disinformation efforts and even the invasion itself through aggressive and real time sunlight, while NATO reorganized to a level of unanimity and strength not seen in years. It didn’t stop the war, but we finally learned how to battle dezinformatsiya. It didn’t end divisiveness, but it reminded us of what a post-World War II alliance can do with extraordinary speed and effectiveness.
As Paul points out at the end, “Reality may not be as speedy as a lie, but it is inexorable.”
Enjoy the listen and read—they are essential for these times.
Subscribe here to receive an email when Richard Levick publishes a story on Medium.