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Russia’s global toolkit and emerging technologies

SUMMARY

How will the Kremlin’s tool kit adapt as new technologies become increasingly prevalent, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deepfake forgeries?

For a very long time, Russia has been having a hard time overcoming the limitations that have been put on the country as a result of the country’s chronic failure to retain talent in favor of domestic innovation and R&D. It is possible that this fact will relegate it to a supporting position in the field of technology. Russia’s global activism continues to rely primarily on tried-and-true strategies and capabilities, which are appearing increasingly regularly in a wide variety of far-flung venues. This trend is expected to continue. The brazen tone of these efforts, which are often frequently clumsy, gives the impression that the Russian leadership believes that any attention, positive or negative, helps reinforce Moscow’s claim to the status of a global power.

A stunning indifference to the knock-on repercussions of their actions is one of the things that makes the Kremlin’s present calling cards easier to recognize, but also makes it more difficult to counter or dissuade them. Cyber and influence operations conducted by Russia in the modern era are capable of causing a significant amount of harm, despite the fact that they are not always very well executed and frequently fail to further Russia’s strategic goals. However, it is more likely that Russia’s operators will maintain a high level of technical capability and will distinguish themselves in the industry by being operationally aggressive than by being the first to pioneer important technological improvements.

CONCLUSIONS

The ongoing study project at Carnegie on the Return of Global Russia has proven that Russia’s activity around the world needs to be regarded seriously and analyzed carefully. This is something that should be done.

39 At the same time, its capabilities ought to be assessed without giving in to alarmism or exaggeration in any way. This is absolutely necessary in order to formulate an accurate yet objective evaluation of the Kremlin’s actual impact beyond its immediate border. It also involves acknowledging the disparity between the actual capabilities of Russia and the aspirations and narratives that are self-serving put forward by the Russian leadership. 40

Western politicians ought to pay more attention to relevant examples of Russia’s failure and overreach on the international scene. Examples like these often demonstrate not just to the meagerness of the Russian tool kit that is currently available but also to the long-term sources of strength and resilience that the West possesses. In no way does any of this serve to minimize the dangers that lie ahead or the destructive character of Russia’s behavior in recent years. Bill Burns, the current director of the CIA and a former president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has issued multiple warnings that “declining powers can be at least as destructive as rising powers.” 41 At the same time, politicians in the West need to be able to establish clear priorities and steer clear of doing anything that might play into the Kremlin’s hands. After all, one of the primary reasons behind Russia’s involvement in international politics is to throw off the balance and divert the attention of Western policymakers away from problems that are closer to home that the Kremlin believes to be of the utmost significance.

That entails not giving in to the desire to engage in a game of whack-a-mole in areas of less significance and being able to recognize the specific kinds of measures taken by the Russian government that are the most cause for concern. As a matter of fact, severe damage can be done to the national security and economic well-being of both the United States and the European Union as a result of, for example, reckless Russian cyber strikes such as NotPetya or destabilizing military operations in Ukraine. The dissemination of false information through specialized online platforms that are run by the Russian security services or the presence of Russian mercenaries in the Central African Republic are examples of the types of problems that Western policymakers can afford to live with, even if they do so unhappily.

At the same time, they need to keep a close eye on the potential development of the Russian tool kit and be ready for the Kremlin’s use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to match the pattern that has been seen in the information domain. Both of these things must be done with a close sensitivity to the situation. Even if Russian engineers are not the ones actually inventing new forms of deep learning or other technologies, Russia may be able to be a “fast follower” and an operational innovator in applying such tools to its global activism if these technologies disseminate somewhat widely. This is the case even if these technologies disseminate somewhat widely.

As a result, Russia’s small AI/machine learning research field and its structurally challenged tech sector may not matter as much as its durable criminal and intelligence/military sectors. These sectors have demonstrated that they are capable of funding a large and dangerous cyber/influence enterprise that continually develops or incorporates new techniques and patterns of activity. These actors will help define the appropriate balance between the adoption of technologies that are becoming increasingly complex and unstable and the continued reliance on strategies that have proven effective in the past. It would appear that, for the foreseeable future at least, the tools that fall into the second category will hold the majority of the market share.

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