Warfare has many forms. In its most crude form, we tend to think of bombs killing innocent civilians, pilots engaging in gravity defying gun battles, troops being gassed in their trenches and snipers in clock towers. But war also means shutting down your enemy’s transportation, banking and media systems. To win you must acquire and control their food, water and medical supplies. Propaganda and disinformation are as important as bullets and knives. Sowing the seeds of discontent and rebellion within populations is mandatory if you wish to succeed.
Yes, we are at war.
The hacking of our 2016 election may have been the United States’ introduction to the Russian cyber war but Europe has long been Putin’s testing ground. For over a decade now, Russia has been at war with the European Union (EU). Without using any troops, tanks, airplanes, bombs or missiles, Russia has managed to invade and commit acts of war against any country that promotes democratic ideals. His goal is to diminish the power and influence that western countries have had over the world. Led by the narcissistic former KGB agent, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has successfully and systematically attacked country after country with very little, if any, consequences for its aggressive actions.
EU Countries Cyber-Invaded by the Kremlin
The list of EU countries that have had their computer systems hacked by Russia is long: Britain (before and after Brexit), France, Italy, Germany, Estonia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and many more. Year after year, Russia has gradually built and weaponized their computer hackers to cripple foreign economies, sway elections and steal state secrets.
They may not wear a Russian military uniform, but they are Russian soldiers nonetheless.
The data on these operations is incomplete at best. Many countries do not want to publicly admit just how vulnerable their systems are. Others have yet to discover the Russian bugs. Each attack serves to further educate Russian cyber troops on how to better invade the next adversary.
As far back as 2007, Russia cyber-attacked Estonia. Hackers were able to steal documents and data from the president’s office, parliament, the government ministries, political parties, news organizations, banks, and Estonian communication firms. In 2009, Poland’s government agencies had dozens of official email passwords stolen by Russian hackers. As they succeeded, their confidence grew.
Like the U.S., EU countries discovered that Russia not only stole their data, but were actively attempting to affect the outcome of their elections. England’s Brexit election is the most notorious but others include: France’s 2017 presidential election, Germany’s 2017 election, Bulgaria’s 2015 local elections and the Netherlands' 2017 elections.
Ukraine and Georgia
Whether or not Putin aims to physically invade these EU countries is anyone’s guess, but history is not on the EU’s side. Before he decided to invade Ukraine and Georgia, former Soviet satellites, Putin launched a full scale cyber war on them.
On July 20, 2008, just a few weeks before Russian troops attacked, Georgian government websites were shut down by Russian hackers. The goal was to limit the ability of Georgians to defend themselves, to cause mass confusion. Communications, media, transportation and banking systems were shut down by Russian hackers. Georgia was crippled without a single bomb dropped or gun fired. Russia further shut down neighboring countries’ news agencies in an attempt to keep the reports of their war crimes a secret.
Ukraine is the canary in the coal mine in this new war. Putin’s hackers have been consistently striking Ukraine’s government agencies since 2010. From 2014 to 2016, they were able to destroy 80% of Ukraine’s D-30 Howitzers and 50% of other artillery by using malware to infect and transmit their locations to Russian troops. Additionally, Ukrainian citizens have seen their power systems attacked and shut down continuously for years.
Putin has committed war crimes in the Crimea killing over 10,090 people since April of 2014. As of June 2017, over 2,777 civilians have died and an estimated 23,966 have been injured. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are trapped in the war zones without food, water or medical supplies.
As if any of this weren't enough, Putin also used right wing media outlets in the Crimea to spread his propaganda and turn many Ukrainians into rebels for his cause. So, not only are Ukraine’s citizens dealing with transportation, banking and power shut downs, but Russian troops have invaded and there is a percentage of the population engaging in civil war. Should Putin win, he will control the vast oil and gas resources of the Crimea and have access to the Black Sea, a strategic necessity to overthrow the EU.
We Must Recognize Russia has Declared War
To date, the EU has done little to stop or punish Russia for its crimes. Just like the U.S., they appear reluctant to declare Putin’s actions to be acts of war. But Russia is not merely stealing data or trying to influence leaders to join their agenda. When they use cyber warfare to shut down transportation, banking, power, food and water resources, that is the equivalent to bombing those systems and institutions. When Putin affects the outcome of elections and has his troops hack election systems, that is an act of war.
It is past time for America, the EU and NATO to declare this a war. Something more than sanctions and finger waving must be done. Seeing as how Trump is too busy benefiting from Putin’s war crimes and fighting with CNN, the U.S. Congress must take the lead to protect our democracy.