Russia’s Military Alliance Tackles Cyber Crime

By Khatuna Mshvidobadze

Copyright © 2012 Potomac Institute for Policy Studies

Cyber crime topped the agenda at the recent meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Moscow’s proto-collective security alliance.  That would be great news if it meant that Russia and its allies were about to mount a campaign against real online criminals.  Regrettably, the new effort appears to be consistent with previous CSTO initiatives, also taking aim at political opponents of the member governments.

The CSTO was formed in 2002, building upon the 1992 Collective Security Treaty.  In addition to Russia, the CSTO is composed of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.  Uzbekistan quit the alliance last June.

At the October 24 Moscow meeting, CSTO Secretary General Nikolai Bordyuzha declared, “Cyber crime—this is a new problem that all governments are facing.  We are working on practical activities to ensure information security within the CSTO.”  As a concrete example of the alliance’s efforts, Bordyuzha mentioned Operation Proxy, which is conducted by the intelligence organizations of the member states.

Operation Proxy, according to Bordyuzha, is aimed at drug dealers and terrorists and also at extremists and political provocateurs.  The latter two categories, according to the Secretary General, “disseminate information that causes political damage to state and allied interests.”  As a result of the joint action on the six national segments of the Internet, 2,000 suspect websites were identified.  Operation Proxy will continue on a regular basis.

Furthermore, Bordyuzha continued, the CSTO sponsors the Center for Modern Technology at Moscow State University.  The Center’s mission is to train information security specialists.

Commenting on the CSTO developments, Sergei Mironov, leader of the A Just Russia Party and former Chairman of the Federation Council, commented, “Russia more than once in recent years has become the object of such dishonest information attacks.  Their goal was not only to discredit our country, but to weaken it in achieving some of its political or economic goals. Therefore, information security is an important part of maintaining the defense capabilities of our country and its allies.”

This most recent CSTO initiative appears to be in line with earlier international efforts led by Moscow.  In the United Nations General Assembly, for example, Russia proposed a warmed-over version of a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of International Information Security.   The thrust of the agreement is to outlaw the broadcast by mass media or across the Internet of any information that could “distort the perception of the political system, social order, domestic and foreign policy, important political and social processes in the state [or] spiritual, moral and cultural values of its citizens.”  Moreover, each year since 1998, Russia has introduced a resolution at the UN calling for an international agreement to combat what it calls “information terrorism.”

To illustrate the Russian approach, at a 2008 UN-sponsored conference, Sergei Korotkov of the Russian Defense Ministry argued that any time a government promotes ideas on the Internet with the goal of subverting another country’s government—even in the name of democratic reform—it should qualify as “aggression.” And that, in turn, would make it illegal under the prospective treaty.

This is a very different view of the Internet than the one to which most of us are accustomed.  Russia’s international forays, most recently with the CSTO, underscore that Moscow is not alone in this respect.  As the US delegation leaves for Dubai to attend the December 3-14 World Conference on International Telecommunications, it must prepare itself to fend off attempts by Russia and others to define Internet Freedom as cyber crime or cyber terrorism.