- Fiona Hill told FT that Russia “declared war quite a long time ago in the information sphere.”
- Hill’s comments came ahead of Biden’s highly anticipated summit with Putin in Geneva.
- After recent hacks and cyberattacks linked to Russia, cybersecurity is poised to be a major topic.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The US should expect Russia to ramp up its cyberstrikes as the Kremlin seeks to sow chaos and undermine democracy via coordinated disinformation campaigns, Fiona Hill said in comments to the Financial Times ahead of President Joe Biden’s highly anticipated summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday.
Hill, the top Russia expert in the White House under President Donald Trump from 2017 to 2019, told FT, “The Russians have effectively already declared war quite a long time ago in the information sphere.”
“They’ve been trying to prove that they are a major cyber force – they want to create a wartime scenario so then they can sit down and agree some kind of truce with us,” Hill said.
Hill said Russia was ruthless in its pursuit of intelligence and indifferent to any damage inflicted in the process.
“The Russians take great pride in their novel ways of getting at you … in many respects it’s a continuation of the Cold War,” Hill said. “They don’t really care about the harm they could cause.”
The US has accused Russia of interfering in recent elections, including via the use of “troll farms” like the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency. The Internet Research Agency in 2016 “used social media to wage an information warfare campaign designed to spread disinformation and societal division in the United States,” a report by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said.
“Masquerading as Americans, these operatives used targeted advertisements, intentionally falsified news articles, self-generated content, and social media platform tools to interact with and attempt to deceive tens of millions of social media users in the United States,” the report added.
The US in 2018 indicted 13 people associated with the Internet Research Agency, alleging they violated “US criminal laws in order to interfere with US elections and political processes.”
The US intelligence community concluded Putin directed organizations to interfere in US elections (in both 2016 and 2020) to boost Donald Trump’s chances of winning, though the Kremlin has rejected these allegations.
Beyond election interference, the US also accused Russia of involvement in last year’s massive SolarWinds hack. The Biden administration in April imposed sanctions on over 30 Russian entities over the SolarWinds hack and the Kremlin’s interference in US elections.
The State Department in March also expressed concern that Russia was been behind online disinformation directed at undermining confidence in COVID-19 vaccines in the US.
Meanwhile, there’s also growing alarm in the US over ransomware gangs operating out of Russia with impunity. The FBI attributed two recent cyberattacks – one that shut down a major US oil pipeline and another that disrupted production for the largest meat supplier – to Russia-linked ransomware gangs.
Biden is poised to address all these concerns over Russia’s cyberactivities in his upcoming meeting with Putin, which comes as US-Russia relations are at a historic low. Experts have said Biden is likely to emerge from the summit empty-handed.
“Analysts are struggling to understand what concrete outcomes President Biden will achieve in return for giving Vladimir Putin such an important international spotlight in return for Russia’s increased malign behavior,” Heather Conley, a former senior official for European issues in the State Department under President George W. Bush, told Insider last week.
“If there aren’t clear deliverables (and both sides have been downplaying outcomes), I think criticism will grow that this high-level meeting ultimately benefited the Kremlin,” Conley added.