IMGL Magazine April 2022

War in Europe

of Russia and the rest of Europe. Longer term there will be moves to reduce reliance on an unstable neighbour but in the meantime, gas imports will continue to earn Russia large amounts of foreign currency. In March the US banned Russian oil imports and the UK said it will phase out its imports in 2022. These moves will have relatively little impact especially as countries like India have taken advantage of Russia’s weakness to secure oil supplies at a knock-down price. There have been moves around the world to block the import of other Russian goods or to impose high tariffs and governments have also banned the export of key technologies. It is no surprise that military uses are top of the list but the aerospace, telecoms, oil refining and maritime sectors will also be affected. Leading technology companies have announced the closure of their operations in the region limiting consumer access to smartphones and other devices. Sanctions and the squeeze on international payments will also limit Russian enterprises’ ability to purchase and maintain technology. Western leaders have tried to warn their populations that sanctions will come at a cost but how large that cost will be is only starting to be realized. Russia and Ukraine are both important exporters of commodities like fertilizer and wheat, and if supplies start to fail, the pain will be felt around the world. Countries such as Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen and others have come to rely on Ukrainian wheat in recent years and the war caused prices to rise by 50 percent in March. As well as uncertainty, the main cause of the increase is the disruption of shipping from Ukrainian ports. With Ukrainian farmers fighting rather than planting, supplies in the autumn of 2022 and beyond could be much more seriously impacted. Russia’s determination to build a land corridor from its border through Mariupol to Sebastopol and possibly on to Odessa does nothing to ease concerns that supply routes will be severely restricted until a negotiated settlement is agreed. The information war Hiram Johnson said that ‘truth is the first casualty of war’. Truth may be too lofty a goal in a world of fake news but controlling the narrative is a new and vital front on which war is fought in the digital age. Mainstream media channels are still the news source of choice for many and an element of the Russian population no doubt supports the “special military operation”. The fact that from outside Russia we are able to see evidence of protests indicates support is not universal. The younger generation have become used to accessing social media and other digital platforms and reports that western intelligence agencies have successfully hacked Russia’s equivalent of Facebook means information

and misinformation are likely to be flowing freely. Outside the country, Russian-backed channels like RT and Sputnik have had their broadcast licenses withdrawn and there have been wholesale attempts to challenge and remove Russian propaganda. It is somewhat harder to tackle misinformation on social channels and harder still for web access platforms, but western countries have legal tools at their disposal should they wish to use them. The UK, for example, has sophisticated internet censorship apparatus designed to tackle child exploitation. This could be used against RT although it would be a controversial move. Similarly, while the US has to give regard to 1st Amendment considerations, the War Powers Act and Section 7066 of Telecommunications Act provide for material to be blocked in times of war and heightened national security concerns. In early March Russia introduced a law criminalizing the spread of “false information” punishable by large fines and up to 15 year’s imprisonment. In an apparent own goal, this resulted in international broadcasters suspending coverage from the country until they could be confident their reporters would not be targeted. Ukraine’s president has shown himself more adept at tapping into world sympathy through the media although some point to stories about an attack on the Chernobyl nuclear reactor as evidence that both sides are prepared to exaggerate events or promote a completely false narrative to support their cause. Back in Russia, there is some evidence that the country has started to disconnect itself from the global internet. The evidence needs to be corroborated but translated materials have been seen apparently showing a plan to transfer domains to Russia-based servers and to gain control over the information ecosystem. The Balkanisation of the internet is a concept that has been around for a while describing a situation where the internet becomes divided into separate regional internets. If Russia were to follow through on its plan it could amount to a violent severing, a splinternet, leading to a new digital iron curtain with the region and its population cut off from the rest of the world. Could war expand into cyberspace? Both Russia and Ukraine have considerable capability in cyber technology leading many to warn that the next front in the war will be digital. Ransomware groups such as Conti have long been assumed to have links to the Putin regime in Russia. They were quick to demonstrate their support although their statement was later modified. The US Federal Government has talked about “evolving intelligence” which shows Russia is considering launching cyberattacks against critical infrastructure targets as the war in Ukraine continues. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security

10 • IMGL Magazine • April 2022

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