When Westerners first began to hear of Vladimir Putin’s troll army—now some five years ago—the project sounded absurd. President Obama in March 2014 had dismissed Russia as merely a weak “regional power.” And Putin’s plan to strike back was to hire himself a bunch of internet commenters? Seriously?
In a recent talk in Washington, the historian Timothy Snyder observed that Russia’s annual budget for cyberwarfare is less than the price of a single American F-35 jet. Snyder challenged his audience to consider: Which weapon has done more to shape world events?
Snyder is an unusual historian-activist, both a great scholar of the terrible cost of 20th-century totalitarianism and also a passionate champion of endangered democracy in Ukraine and Eastern Europe—and now, the United States. Increasingly, he sees his concerns fusing into one great narrative, as methods of manipulation and deception pioneered inside Russia are deployed against Russia’s chosen targets.
Clausewitz defined war as the use of violence by one state to impose its will upon another. But suppose new technology enabled a state to “engage the enemy’s will directly, without the medium of violence,” Snyder writes—this would be a revolution in the history of conflict. This revolution, Snyder argues, is what Russia has imposed upon the United States and the European Union. How, why, and with what consequences is the theme of Snyder’s newest book, The Road to Unfreedom. [Continue reading…]