Decoding Crimea: NATO StratCom COE Article Reveals Putin’s Plays

Decoding Crimea: Pinpointing the Influence Strategies of Modern Information Warfare

by Playmaker’s Alan Kelly and RAND Corp’s Dr. Christopher Paul

View the full article here.

In an era set to be defined by persistent contestation between states, of a nature which falls short of open conflict, Western democracies need to adapt. Strategies employed by adversaries are less likely to rely on the direct application of military power and increasingly on the opportunities afforded by new technologies to create effects, shrouded in complexity and ambiguity, in the information environment. Analysts, planners and policy makers facing these threats struggle with limited tools to understand their form and structure.

As a response to this challenge, we propose an addition to the toolkit – a Taxonomy of Influence Strategies. This is a comprehensive system which attempts to identify, describe and classify the fundamental units of influence, referring to them as ‘plays.’

The purpose of this approach is to provide a system – similar to the periodic table of the elements – which attempts to decode the gamesmanship of peacekeepers and aggressors alike. The ‘Playmaker’ system seeks to demonstrate that techniques of influence are atomic, knowable, manageable and uniquely revealing. They form a framework with specific definitions, purposes and effects that can be identified and therefore countered.

Taking a different approach to our previous research, we use a RAND Corporation study of the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea as a working example, presenting maps of precise ‘plays’ employed by Russia. The resulting illustrations shed light on the ploys of Russian propagandists and the motives behind their messages. We provide visual evidence of how individual plays work, their patterns and scope, as well as a vocabulary and lens with which to address such campaigns.

Through this case study, we demonstrate how a taxonomy of strategies might be used to decode real-world scenarios, making sense of evolving influence campaigns while identifying ways to counter or co-opt them. Identifying and understanding the choice of influence strategies can provide invaluable insight into the interests and posturing of an adversary, ultimately leading to more effective and timely policy responses.

Download the article and its companion news release.