Question: As communication continues to breakdown between Russia and the United States on various channels of potential bilateral cooperation, cybersecurity or information security remains a top concern, especially given the accusations that both powers have thrown at one another in this field. What differences in position have so far prevented Moscow and Washington from establishing a “rules of the road” treaty in the information realm as they did with nuclear weapons and maritime traffic?
Answer: Different approaches to information security are natural. Each person, family, and community, people strive to preserve their uniqueness. It is important to multiply the diversity of knowledge, opinions and skills, use it for mutual scientific, cultural and moral enrichment. Today it becomes possible thanks to computers, telephones, electronic computing devices – in other words, modern information and communications technologies (ICTs).
Contradictions arise when technical vulnerabilities of ICTs are used for political purposes. This is what intelligence services of certain governments do “at home” and abroad – against independent states. Their interest in access to the technologies becomes a subject of manipulations. This is done so blatantly, could be compared to the colonial rules of the East India Companies. Yet, instead of glass beads, hollow promises are given to provide ICTs in exchange for human and natural resources.
In relations with self-sufficient countries which have their own technologies these countries are pursuing a more aggressive policy. They use ICTs for sabotage, incitement, “freezing” or appropriation of financial resources, data stealing. Encourage allies, hackers and common users to follow suit. Explain this policy by propaganda slogans of a “rules-based order”, which applies to everyone except Washington. In line with this approach the US promote political attribution of sources of cyberattacks. Many governments suffer from this policy when faced with unfounded allegations.
Our disagreements with the US Administration lie, in particular, in the approaches to establishing a system of ensuring international information security. Russia insists on the principles of justice, sovereign equality of states, non-interference in internal affairs and peaceful settlement of conflicts. These are the principles of the UN Charter. We are striving to reach such an understanding that governments and their competent agencies could directly investigate cyberincidents putting aside unsubstantiated assessments. Ideally, ICTs should be used for their intended purpose – as a means of communication, storage and transfer of useful and creative knowledge – for development, not destruction.
In March 2022, the US unilaterally wrapped up the work of the interagency expert group “Kremlin – White House” which operated under the auspices of the security councils of the two countries and in pursuance of the 2021 Geneva summit agreements. We considered this format as one of the “bricks” of the dialogue on strategic stability, as an opportunity for a depoliticized conversation and neutralization of the growing threats from crimes in the ICT-field. Unlike the US agencies, we regularly responded to incoming requests. It is the current Administration that is responsible for disruption of the dialogue between our countries on international information security.
Question: What is the risk posed by failing to come to an agreement on this issue, not just for Russia and the US, but for the rest of the increasingly digitally engaged world?
Answer: The main risk is further mounting tension and its escalation into a full-fledged interstate confrontation, including the use of conventional means of warfare. It leads to mutual destruction. The threat is high, given the variety of technical vulnerabilities and legal gaps in today’s digital space that allow carrying out sabotage anonymously or under a “false flag”.
The dangers lurk in the disruption of the functioning of vital infrastructure – government agencies, energy and industrial sectors, transport and logistics chains. Hundreds of medical facilities around the world are under cyberattacks, and the lives of citizens are at risk. No one wants to lose their savings due to a computer attack on banking systems or tricks of cybercriminals. Until governments establish universal “rules of the game” in the digital environment, this kind of subversive activities involving ICTs will flourish.
Certainly, we are concerned about the lack of communication between the competent agencies. The channels of cooperation, “frozen” by the US, represent a factor aggravating the already difficult international situation. The impression is that the Administration is seeking a direct great power confrontation in cyberspace.
The specificity of ICTs does not tolerate the division. Their nature is transboundary, which means that the safety of their use can only be ensured together – by joint efforts of the global community. The format of the UN Open-ended Working Group on ICTs established by Russia is aimed precisely at promoting depoliticized and calm interstate cooperation throughout the complex of issues of ensuring international information security. Governments of all countries need to work towards agreeing on mutual legally binding arrangements and confidence-building measures on an equal and democratic basis. We expect greater compliance of the US to the negotiations on combating information crime in the UN Ad Hoc Committee.
Security guarantees of all countries in information space is the issue wherein it is in the interest of the United States to rise above political ambitions and commit to searching compromises with other states, primarily with Russia.