Nuclear Intimidation, A Russian Success Story

August 2023 No Comments

Speaker: Mr. Keir Giles (Chatham House)

Date: 5 September 2023

Speaker Session Summary

Russia’s long-term information operations (IO) and influence campaigns have altered how US and Western decision makers perceive the risk level of Russia using a nuclear weapon. Russian IO are designed to influence the decision makers through several levers, including through their constituents. These IO use multi-domain approaches such as Russia’s own domestic media. Mr. Giles pointed out that most Russian media is broadcast in many countries, giving it a wide reach and large non-Russian audience. An example of this targeted use of media is Russian news showing the trajectory needed for Russian missiles to strike specific European cities—even though the Russian missile system required to launch the missiles is believed to be offline. The Kremlin uses long-term IO to convince its adversaries that it is willing to use a nuclear missile if contested.

This includes the potential for Russia to use a nuclear weapon to win its war in Ukraine. Mr. Giles commented that Russia’s use of aggressive rhetoric regarding the use of nuclear weapons is even causing some in the West to perceive an end to the war in Ukraine as necessary to avoid a nuclear strike. Russian President Putin has mythologized aspects of his upbringing to build up Russian deterrence. Because of Russia’s multi-dimensional IO, it was believed that little could be done to deter their invasion of Ukraine. To Putin, this was a green light for Russia to launch its invasion in early 2022. It was pointed out that the aggression of Russia’s nuclear rhetoric has very recently decreased. Mr. Giles commented that this is probably because of backlash from its geopolitical ally, China, which does not want Russia to be perceived as a destructive or destabilizing force. 

Speaker Session Recording

Briefing Materials

Presentation Slides:

Recommended Reading:

Russian nuclear intimidation | Chatham House – International Affairs Think Tank

What deters Russia | Chatham House – International Affairs Think Tank

How to end Russia’s war on Ukraine | Chatham House – International Affairs Think Tank

Biography: Keir Giles is a Senior Consulting Fellow with the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, and also works with the Conflict Studies Research Centre, a small group of deep subject matter experts which was formerly part of the UK Ministry of Defence. Keir is an internationally recognised expert on information warfare, including the subdomains of computational propaganda and of cyber conflict. He is a regular speaker on the topic, and has given open conference presentations and closed briefings for government bodies in a dozen European countries, as well as the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. Keir has been involved with exploitation of the internet for over 25 years. In previous roles, he developed the strategy for BBC Monitoring, the UK Government’s open source collection agency, to adapt its operations to respond to the emergence of the internet, and also gained practical experience as a network engineer. He now combines this technical background with in-depth study of hostile information activities to develop forward-looking analysis and assessments of cyber and computational propaganda threats. Keir is a member of several academic and editorial boards on cyber and information warfare studies, and has written or co-authored three monographs assessing international attitudes and approaches to new bodies of law governing the internet and information security. He co-authored (with Kim Hartmann) ‘Shifting the Core’, an influential article calling for an urgent reconsideration of basic assumptions on privacy, encryption and national cyber security in the context of constant, ubiquitous and unconscious use of connected devices. He is also the author of a significant number of groundbreaking studies on Russian theory, doctrine, and structures for engaging in information and cyber confrontation, many of which pre-date the explosion of interest in Russian information warfare, subversion and disinformation that followed the annexation of Crimea.


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