During the Cold War, the Soviet Union developed methods of external interference in order to expand the Soviet plan on an ideological level. To achieve this goal, a large number of tools, collectively called “active measures,” were used. Today, in order not to have to resort directly to armed conflict, Russia has resurrected these forms of unconventional warfare to achieve its political goals.
The Kremlin has successfully adapted the techniques of active measures to the modern strategic environment by creating or changing beliefs in a certain segment of the population, on a specific issue, favoring a particular politician or party. This is called influence campaigning. In the past, TVs, radios, newspapers, and magazines were the media outlets of choice for this type of destabilizing action. Today, a large number of fake social media accounts are used that are usually not located in the country where the debate is taking place.
And the country that is the target of the greatest number of unlawful meddling accusations, by governments and the specialized media, is Russia. Experts claim that the Russians influence the public debate through semi-automated accounts that reproduce certain types of content — the so-called bots. According to Gustavo Rivero, associate professor of international studies at Colombia’s Universidad de la Salle, “the most emblematic Russian case is the Internet Research Agency bot farms, which have a high degree of coordination to reproduce a certain narrative and make it viral. Such a story is classified as disinformation, as it is false information spread with the intent to mislead.”
Moreover, still according to Rivero, the nature of Russian-funded media outlets such as RT en Español — whose audience is growing in countries like Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela — or Sputnik Mundo, has also been questioned.
As the elections in Colombia draw nearer, the concern over possible Russian interference in the electoral process in the South American country is growing. A concern that is not new.
In May 2021, for example, the Colombian government blamed Russia for being linked to cyberattacks against official Colombian websites. At the time, the Russian Embassy denied the accusations.
According to Filipe Rocha Guerra da Silva, who did a dissertation on the subject for his Master in International Studies at the University Institute of Lisbon, Portugal, it is increasingly difficult to confirm this possible Russian interference, because “the whole apparatus from which Russia operates its active measures is different from the one used by the Soviet Union. In the Soviet era, three entities made up the active measure apparatus, whereas in Russia there is a more decentralized structure in which the various agencies have various functions, incorporating many different heads conducting operations, which allows for plausible deniability when accusations arise.”
And Russia shows no signs of abandoning these measures as a means of influence, at least until the costs of using them outweigh the benefits they bring.