All-out cyberwarfare, nation-wide forced blackouts, and the targeted disruption of internet services—for one of the Kremlin’s top propagandists, all of those tactics are fair game in what she describes as a fated war-to-come against the U.S.
“War [with the U.S.] is inevitable,” declared Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of the state-funded Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik, who believes the conflict will break out when, not if, Vladimir Putin moves to seize more territory from Ukraine.
As Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s doorstep mounts, Kremlin loyalists have been urging for even more overt aggression and bloodshed in the campaign to annex Ukraine’s Donbas region. The only thing standing in the way, they say, is U.S. support for their beleaguered neighbor.
NATO issued a statement on Wednesday demanding an end to Russia’s troop movements on the border with the disputed territory of Donbas in eastern Ukraine. It is the largest buildup of Russian troops since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The U.S. underlined the statement this week by deploying two warships to the Black Sea.
On Tuesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov threatened retaliation. “We warn the United States that it will be better for them to stay far away from Crimea and our Black Sea coast. It will be for their own good,” he said.
The escalation was foreshadowed on state television’s Sunday Evening With Vladimir Soloviev over the weekend. Simonyan explained that it was time for Russia to gear up for a showdown against the U.S., and prophesized a kind of war driven by hacking, the forced disruption of internet access, the shutting down of power supplies, and an all-out offensive on U.S. infrastructure.
“I do not believe that this will be a large-scale hot war, like World War II, and I do not believe that there will be a long Cold War. It will be a war of the third type: the cyberwar,” said Simonyan.
She warned that—in this theoretical battle—the U.S. would plot to cut off the electricity of entire Russian cities. In turn, she speculated, Moscow would be able to force a blackout in Florida or New York’s Harlem at the flip of a switch.
“In conventional war, we could defeat Ukraine in two days,” Simonyan said, “but it will be another kind of war. We’ll do it, and then [the U.S.] will respond by turning off power to [the Russian city] Voronezh,” she said.
The top RT editor asserted that “[Russia] needs to be ready for this war, which is unavoidable, and of course it will start in Ukraine,” arguing that the Kremlin is “invincible where conventional war is concerned, but forget about conventional war... it will be a war of infrastructures, and here we have many vulnerabilities.”
Her solution consists of Stalin-type measures to eliminate “vulnerabilities” in the run-up to another escalation, emphasizing the need for a hack-proof, government-controlled internet. “We still don’t have a sovereign internet, but God willing, we will,” she said.
She wholeheartedly endorsed a suggestion from Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultranationalist leader of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party, who argued that all of Russia’s opposition must be eliminated by May 1, 2021. With imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny on a hunger strike—and suffering from severe health ailments after being denied appropriate medical treatment—the Kremlin seems to be firmly set on that course.
Simonyan argued that once Russia minimizes its vulnerabilities and renders Putin’s opposition powerless—which she argued could happen in a matter of months—the Kremlin will finally be ready to annex Ukraine’s eastern region.
“I’ve been agitating and even demanding that we take Donbas. We need to patch up our vulnerabilities as fast as we can, and then we can do whatever we want,” she boldly proclaimed. The host, Vladimir Soloviev, wholeheartedly agreed: “We only lose if we do nothing.” He argued that by absorbing parts of Ukraine—or the entire country—Russia would be able to remove the zone of American influence further away from its borders.
As one of the Kremlin’s most valued propagandists, Margarita Simonyan is notoriously close to the Russian president and has received multiple awards directly from Putin. After accepting one such award in 2019, Simonyan thanked Putin “for the most important reward in life… this honor to serve one’s Motherland.”
Her “service” has involved RT and Sputnik-driven disinformation operations aimed at influencing the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which she often boasts about by pointing to the inclusion of her name in various U.S. intelligence reports.
Russia’s recent cyberspace activities seem to serve as good practice for the “inevitable war” foreshadowed by Simonyan.
Last year, six Russian intelligence officers were criminally charged by the U.S. for using the world’s most destructive malware to force blackouts in Ukraine and damage the critical infrastructure of multiple countries, which caused nearly $1 billion in losses. On Monday, hackers operating from Russia targeted France’s homeschooling platform.
The Kremlin is prepared to intensify its offensive against the West but fears the retaliation that would follow. The idea of a bulletproof “sovereign internet”—completely under government control within Russian borders—is already on the books, with Moscow having introduced the idea as a preventive measure against retaliatory hacking attempts from other nations.
Simonyan argued that Russia will surely be able to exploit the U.S.’s “catastrophic” educational standards, and referred to American military analysts and specialists as incompetent and stupid. She heartily laughed about news that more than 200,000 U.S. service members experienced hearing loss due to defective earplugs.
“We can never come to any agreements with [Americans],” Simonyan said, arguing that instead, Russia can just as easily defeat the U.S. in a cyberspace war.
She added, mockingly, “We don’t even need the nukes.”