6 Weaponizing Cyberspace It is not simply that old habits die hard. New generations of leaders with different ideas take time and opportunity to grow. In 2006, the Soviet Union had been relegated to the past for one and a half decades. But that also meant that the people eligible for senior positions had established their professional lives under the Soviet system even the rising profes- sionals who were in their thirties and forties had received much or all of their education in Soviet schools. Even absent cronyism, Soviet modes of thinking would be difficult to escape, and cronyism was far from aban- doned. In 2006, three-quarters of Russia’s top-ranking political figures had not only been part of the Soviet system but had also been specifically asso- ciated with the Soviet Union’s intelligence apparatus.19 H.R. McMaster, a historian, retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, and former National Security Advisor, observed in 2020 that Russian disin- formation activities showed “a lot of continuity” in their approach “going back to the Communist Party in the 1920s and 1930s” and seemed inter- ested in fashioning controversy out of any topic. “If it’s an issue that could naturally divide us, Russia doubles down on it.”20 If there is one notable discontinuity, it is a subtle one. Garry Kasparov, the chess grandmaster and human rights advocate who has critiqued Putin’s conduct in Russia, suggested that even Stalinist-era propaganda was not as bad as the present conditions under Putin, because at least Soviet propaganda tried to sell you [a] fake vision, but still [a] bright future. Somewhere in the distant future, the communist brotherhood will all be good to each other. Putin’s propaganda is different. It’s more like [a] cult of death. It’s all about hatred. It’s all about wars. It’s about conflict. And there’s no bright future. Kasparov hypothesizes that this is the reason that Putin “needs enemies” and is “quite good at creating them, because he knows it’s important.”21 Building a mythology of a perennially embattled and encircled Russia beset by envious antagonists certainly carries continuities with earlier Russian narratives. However, the turn from lies about a bright future to lies about the con- tinually threatening present permits Russian disinformation efforts with greater latitude for a paradoxical reason. The Soviet Union felt obligated to refer to specific (if unrealistic and falsified) visions of the future perhaps because Soviet leaders were pursuing a more ambitious goal than Putin can currently contemplate. At one-third the economic power of the United States, the Soviet Union could nonetheless constitute a superpower rival if not a total equal. Russia’s economy in the twenty-first century is estimated to be about 10 percent the size of the modern U.S. economy, in keeping with other grim figures that will be discussed as part of the country’s stra- tegic picture in the next chapter.22 The point is that Russian disinformation
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