A Credible Source on Putin’s Trolls

BOOK REVIEW: Putin’s Trolls: On the Frontlines of Russia’s Information War Against the World

By Jessikka Aro / Ig Publishing

Reviewed by Dan Hoffman

The Reviewer — Dan Hoffman is a former senior CIA Officer where he served as a three-time station chief and a senior executive Clandestine Services officer. His assignments included tours of duty in the former Soviet Union, Europe, and war zones in the Middle East and South Asia. He is a national security analyst with Fox News.

REVIEW — Finns like to say Ei se pelaa, joka pelkää” (“No guts, no glory”) about people like Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro, who have the courage to act during the most trying of times.  In spite of having faced repeated death threats and slander, Aro bravely exposes the truth about the Kremlin’s propaganda machine in her book, Putin’s Trolls

Putin’s Trolls delivers a comprehensive history of the Kremlin’s aggressive information warfare against Ukraine beginning in 2014, when Russian state media portrayed the Kiev government (and still does today), as “fascist” and full of Nazis.  Aro reveals how Russia deployed Soviet era propaganda techniques designed to influence the local Russian speaking population in the Donbas.

One of the reasons the book works so well is because Aro has extensive experience as a journalist and is a substantive expert on Russia.  She worked as a foreign affairs correspondent for Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat; as a journalist in Petrozavodsk, Karelia; attended Moscow State University; and currently works for Finland’s public service broadcaster YLE (Yleisradio).  As part of her research, she visited and conducted interviews at the St Petersburg based Internet Research Agency aka Russian Troll Farm, that is infamous for creating fake online accounts used to influence U.S. public opinion during the 2016 presidential election.

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Aro also describes in great detail the history of Bill Browder and the Magnitsky Act as well as Russian propaganda attacks on a senior Lithuanian diplomat, who supported the Belarus opposition, a Norwegian journalist, and a Serbian political analyst. Interestingly, Aro also highlights the white hat cyber warriors including Ukrainian Infonapalm and Bellingcat, which has distinguished itself via extraordinary reporting on the Russian downing of a Malaysian Airlines passenger aircraft in 2014. 

Aro details the extent to which U.S. networking and social media enabled Russian cyber operations including launching attacks against her and other journalists as well as disseminating the Kremlin’s propaganda.  (In 2018, the Helsinki District Court found three Finns guilty of defamation against Aro.)

Aro makes a tremendous contribution to our understanding of Russian propaganda operations, all the more important given Finland’s trajectory towards full membership in NATO.  One can only expect Russia to increase the intensity of its already full throttled cyber information warfare against Finland.  Aro would do well to take on this issue and others in a follow up to Putin’s Trolls, which effectively concludes its narrative in 2019.  

This book earns a prestigious four out of four trench coats.

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