Hybrid warfare as a key instrument of the Russian revenge geostrategy

Originally posted on dt.ua, translated and edited by UaPosition

Russian military aggression against Ukraine became a long-term factor influencing the Ukrainian political, economic, military and social reality. As a result of actions of Russian Federation during 2014 were distorted system of global and regional security, as well as the current system of international law. Almost all international security guarantees for Ukraine (in particular within the Budapest Memorandum) were incompetent in circumstances where the aggressor was made by one of the guarantors – Russian Federation.


Russia used against Ukraine concept of “hybrid war”, which in many ways is unique with structural and functional point of view, the form is “hybrid” and the meaning – “asymmetric”. The most clearly characterized a new type of war the first time the annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea by Russia in spring 2014, and then – supporting local radical elements and a full-scale invasion of Russian troops to the Eastern regions of Ukraine.

Although each specific element of the “hybrid war” is not in fact new and was used almost in all the wars of the past, but coherence is unique and the relationship of these elements, dynamics and flexibility of their use, and weight gain factor information. Moreover, the information factor in some cases became an independent component and is not less important than the military.

Although many scientists and researchers point to the “hybrid” nature of this war, conceptualization in this sense is ambiguous and incomplete. Thus, in the western scientific thought roughly since the mid-2000s appears the concept of “hybrid warfare”, but in many cases it was interpreted in different terms and concepts than there is now. To characterize the modern confrontation between Ukraine and Russia can be applied such concepts as “unconventional warfare”, “irregular warfare”  or “compound warfare”, or “State-Sponsored Hybrid” . In all these states to “blur” the outlines of military conflict and involvement of the non-military means that in the ordinary state of no direct relevance to the classic military confrontation.

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However, the measures used to implement the Russian aggression against Ukraine, in all their entirety were not to the end conceptualized neither by domestic nor by Western scholars. The very genesis of the formation of the Russian concept of “hybrid war” stages of deployment, components, state of implementation of “hybrid” opposition in Ukraine and possible directions counter the plans of the Russian Federation in this area should be further investigated and processed.


Geopolitical revenge: from concept to strategy

The main in today’s  opposition between Ukraine and Russia is that it is the logical culmination of the long “geopolitics revenge”, which Moscow has been working out for a long time.

The very origins of Russian phenomenon “hybrid war” refers to the period of Russia rethink its place in the world and in the region. The main characteristic of the Yeltsin period of the losses  of geopolitical positions, international political influence status and influence was the reformation of the European geostrategic space that completed with a significant expansion of NATO and the EU. At the same time, even the objective elements of the relevant geo-economic and moreover geopolitical trends were usually seen primarily through the prism of subjective image and nostalgia for the lost. In concentrated form, this nostalgia is 2005 V. Putin expressed in his speech to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation:

“… We recognize that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century. For the Russian people it was a real drama. Tens of millions of our citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory. “

You could even say that much of V.Putin’s revanchist geopolitical feelings and his tough stance to any “revolutionary” political changes due to his personal experience, as he saw the destruction of the Berlin Wall, which destroyed the whole world, that Putin understood and which considered his.

The coming to power of V.Putin could be considered as the beginning of the search of Moscow its own “geopolitics revenge”, which aims to complex problems, the key of which – a gradual but steady recovery of Russian influence and importance in the international arena. However, over the challenging international environment, and in view of the significant lack of necessary resources (from a purely military and economic to information and communication), the base of the Russian “geopolitics revenge” could be only asymmetrical approach.

The period from 2001 to 2014 can be attributed to the time of search of forms and methods that would help implement the relevant geopolitical plans. In parallel was carried out the “geo-political mobilization” of the population. It was implemented through classic mechanisms of imposing to the people the own images of “outside enemy”, the feeling of a “besieged fortress” and overall recovery anti-Western (mainly anti-American) rhetoric.

Changes in political regimes in the CIS (Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan), likely more were  perceived by Russia as inspired  from outside a threat to its geopolitical ideas of revenge. This has forced Russia to intensively prepare for a new great confrontation. Meanwhile, the idea of “the Great War”,  that was spoken by presidential adviser Russia Sergey Glazyev obviously really is dominant in the present Russian establishment. And the conclusion Sergey Glazyev also likely dominant among circles: Russia to adopt this new war is unprepared (and will not be ready), and thus it has to provoke and still achieve its objectives even now.

Obviously, the problem for some time was the question: how to implement those ideas in a very limited (and largely absent) readiness for attacks, constraints of international law, the geopolitical status quo and as a result – unavailability solving real full-scale war? It can be assumed that approximately in the middle of the 2000s this solution was found: “asymmetric response” within the broader of larger “hybrid war”.

It should be noted that Russia has not set their strategy “from scratch”. There is a certain “inheritance” of Soviet practices. Some researchers attribute the origins of Russian practices of “hybrid wars” before the 20s of XX century. (methods of “active research”). However, in our opinion, it is better to pay attention to the final stages of Soviet-American confrontation during the “Cold War”. Then, in response to the announced program of the US Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Mikhail Gorbachev on October 12, 1986, during a press conference in Reykjavik, said:

“The answer to SDI will be. Asymmetrical, but it will be. In this case we do not have significant sacrifice.”

In January 2013 in Moscow was holden a general meeting of the Academy of Military Sciences, in which took part the chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces General Valeriy Gerasimov. This was the result of prolonged military analysts of experts and specialists from general staff who  were conceptualizing for some time the problem and looking for mechanisms to solve it. That report General Gerasimov – a kind of “point of no return” in the manifestation of Russian views on modern warfare. In it was indicated how the modern military and political conflict must be performed which elements should be involved and at what stages. The report highlighted the increasing role of non-military methods of pressure on the enemy, especially through political, economic and humanitarian elements. Information confrontation is generally defined as a cross-cutting activities at all stages of the conflict: its origin, maintenance and post-conflict period. Attention is also on “asymmetric measures”, which was included activities of Special Forces, development of internal opposition and continuous growth of information influence the object of attack.

Much of what said in his speech, General Gerasimov (which, in particular, the importance of non-military methods of pressure, information confrontation, etc.) had been already used first in the Crimea, and then in the East of Ukraine. So it can be said that against Ukraine is performed the full war “hybrid” in form ,”asymmetric” in essence.


Ukraine-Russian “hybrid warfare”: the practice of a new concept

Overall the correct conclusion of the chief of staff General Gerasimov about a new type of war, exactly that such wars forces are used only in the final stages – in terms of properly constructed  campaign, was true for the Crimea, but was not confirmed in Donbas.

Annexation of territory of Crimea has largely been successful due to not only detailed action plan, but rightly chosen the date for its implementation. These include:

  •  The weakening of the central government and partial “powerlessness” against regime change;
  •  The growth of contradictions (and faster – Update of already existing) between the center and the regions;
  •  Poor psychological, material and technical condition of Ukrainian security institutions;
  •  Antagonism between security forces;
  •  Especially active informational propaganda work of Russia in Crimea during the years of independence of Ukraine.


All this led to if not ideal, then very close to them conditions to the performing of the special operations annexation of the Crimea. However, in the events that took place in Eastern Ukraine, many of these conditions was not performed, which forced Russia to go to the traditional format invasion.

And it is a large-scale introduction of military equipment in different forms (direct transfer across the border through the delivery of “humanitarian convoy”), but the total negation of doing so significantly distinguishes Ukraine-Russian conflict from all others. Of course, tactics of arming terrorists who are fighting against your enemy is not new. However, the current situation in its way is unique and simply unprecedented. This is manifested primarily in the military and military-technical terms.

Priority actions assumed Russian reconnaissance and sabotage groups providing the terrorist attacks and use guerrilla methods of struggle involving in them so-called militia of local people and criminals, as well as Russian mercenaries. Battalion tactical groups of Russian troops are also used against the Ukrainian army. In particular, it was observed in the battles of Ilovaisk in the second half of August.

Enough remains high threat of the beginning of the “second front” in the south of Ukraine (in particular, from the south of the Rostov region) in the western direction in order to form a land corridor to the Crimea, and under good conditions – even to have the connection with Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (Transnistria).

Russia uses the conflict in Eastern Ukraine also for testing new weapons and new tactics of warfare and the getting fighting experience by Russian military units. In Donbas fought Special Forces almost from all regions of Russia. By the rotational scheme airborne troops, marines are operating in the conflict zone.

Thus, Russia is using Eastern Ukraine as a great proving ground, which hones in practice new methods and means of warfare. It is hard to disagree with the President of Lithuania D.Hribauskayte:

“Ukraine is now fighting for the whole world, for all of us. If a terrorist state, which provides open aggression against its neighbor, does not stop, it will spread to Europe and beyond.”

Besides purely classical military methods, Russia within  “hybrid war” for the first time used in large scale the concept of “war three quarters.” Its essence is to ensure that the modern soldier must be prepared: one quarter – to lead Combined fight, in the second – to perform police functions, in the third – to carry out humanitarian missions. In 1991 Israeli polemology specialist Martin van Creveld defined characteristic of modern “postmodern” period type of wars as “not trinitarian” “because they do not fit in the triple scheme: government – army – population”.

On war paradigm shift in terms of involvement in it non-military structures says also Frank van Kappen:

“Hybrid warfare” – a mix of classical type of war using irregular military formations. The state, which provides “hybrid war”, realizes deal with non-government performers – militants, groups of local people, organizations, communication with which completely negated. These performers can perform things which the state itself can not perform … The whole the dirty work can be shifted to the shoulders of non-government groups.”

The concept of “three quarters war “, implemented by Russia in Ukraine demonstrates the validity of the above considerations. This became especially apparent during the annexation of the Crimea. But there mentioned concept has been implemented not “spatial”, but “time”, besides “reverse” its terms. First “green men” appeared in the Crimea fulfills a quasi “humanitarian” mission to ensure “the rights of Russian / Russian-speaking population.” But gradually shifted to the functions quasi “police” to ensure the right of Moscow “referendum”. Soon they were performing also quasi “military” function of the power of imposing performance of the results of the “referendum”.

However, Russia’s “military-criminal” campaign, which took place in Crimea almost bloodless, in  Eastern Ukraine has become a real tragedy. Trying to repeat the success of the Crimean got in full-scale armed confrontation. Accordingly, Russia is forced to return to the classic scenario of “frozen” conflicts like  Caribbean or Transnistria.


The energy component of the “hybrid war”

An important element of performing “hybrid war” that has demonstrated Russian aggression, is the impact on the livelihoods of society. At the same time energy infrastructure has become a subject of special attention from the aggressor, because its capture (or destruction) not only causes significant economic losses, but also threatens the sustainable operation support system of society in general.

It should be noted that the use of potential energy as “energy” weapons was openly proclaimed in 2003 by the Energy Strategy of the Russian Federation to 2020 : document noted that a powerful fuel and energy complex of Russia “is the basis of economic development tool for the implementation of domestic and foreign Policy”. This is not just a declaration of intent but the real instrument of influence, which Russia has repeatedly used to their advantage (including – by weakening by all means the energy infrastructure of potential adversaries).

An example is the simultaneous explosions on energy infrastructure that stopped the supply of natural gas and electricity to Georgia on January 2006, which was part of further pressure on Georgia. An explosion at a pipeline in Turkmenistan in April 2009 helped Russia to suspend the uncomfortable contract with Turkmenistan and virtually eliminate a competitor from the European market. So in 2006 was shut down for repairs the pipeline, which provided oil supply to the oil refinery plant in Mazeikiai in Lithuania, precisely at the time when Lithuania decided to sell plant to the Polish company.

It is obvious that Russia deliberately uses attacks against critical infrastructure, including energy,  to achieve its goals in the political and economic spheres, and to reduce the military and economic potential of the state in the most short time.

All of these can be seen in Ukraine-Russian confrontation. At the same time the energy infrastructure (because of its geographical dispersed) can indirectly threaten objects located far away from direct attack. Yes, annexing the Crimea, Russian military units actually gained control of Ukrainian energy objects that are outside the administrative borders of Crimea. As a result of annexation in Ukraine was captured not just energy facilities and the Crimea, but after capturing energy infrastructure (pipelines and compressor stations) actually stolen  offshore oil-fields and natural gas directly in the amount of 2 billion cubic meters annually.

Later this element providing the “hybrid war” with even greater scale aggressor used in some parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. By the deliberate actions were actually destroyed many coal mines, blocked and destroyed transport infrastructure. In turn, this has led to problems with supplies of already extracted coal to consumers, especially – in thermal power plants, which was a challenge for the stable functioning of the unified energy system of Ukraine. As a result – became worse socio-economic situation not only in the East, but also in general in Ukraine. In addition, it has formed a long-term challenge of energy security of the entire country.

Further worked out an information element “hybrid war”, adopted by the Ukrainian government’s anti-crisis solutions in the energy sector was actively used to form a negative attitude to government agencies, officials, and government officials. This information is actively used for a negative image of Ukraine among neighboring countries and partners of Ukraine.


Information element of the “hybrid war”

Although the military component of the conflict objectively remains the primary source of its deployment, the scope of the information component are becoming larger. About he scale of the  information war that Russia deployed against Ukraine, most accurately said the Supreme Allied Commander Europe Philip M. Breedlove:

“This is the most amazing information blitzkrieg that we have ever seen in the history of information warfare.”

Information front of the “hybrid war” takes place simultaneously in several directions. First of all:

(1) population in the conflict zone;

(2) among the population of the country, against which is the aggression, but the territory is not covered by the conflict;

(3) among the citizens of the aggressor and

(4) among the international community.

Although the information component was truly cross-cutting theme of the “hybrid war”, it was not performing independent but supportive role, mostly accompanying military phase of the operation. However, in the Ukrainian case we are dealing not just with enemy propaganda, but that specialists in information field rightly described as a “war of meaning / sense” (the beginning of which could be related to 2006-2007.). For relaying these meanings involved the whole set of channels providing information. The basic structural elements in this war are simulacra – images of what in reality does not exist. Examples of such simulacra are “fascists in Kyiv,” “atrocities of punitive battalions”, “crucified boys”, use of prohibited weapons by Ukraine. The strategic goal of operating these simulacra – replace the objective idea of target groups about the nature of the conflict by the “phantoms information” required aggressor.

The active phase of military confrontation that began with the end of February – early March 2014, accompanied tactical information support, which also used the techniques of construction and operation of simulacra. Ukraine was able to quickly adapt and respond in part to this challenge. “Crimean campaign” showed the weakness of Russian informational component of their version of “hybrid war” – it can not withstand the constant, meticulous media view.

Accordingly, almost the first thing that made various “militias” and “green men” in the occupied territories – disconnected Ukrainian TV channels and included massive Russian media. Forming a single, fully controlled information space – an obvious strategy deployment information component of the conflict from the side of the aggressor. It is not surprising that during the events in different cities of Donetsk and Luhansk militants have established the process of finding pro-Ukrainian streamers and systematically hindered their activity (for example, the situation with Luhansk streamers or journalists of the Internet TV).

It is important to note that the Russian Federation has launched one of the fronts of the “hybrid war” against the citizens of its state, forming there a model of behavior that largely conform message of Federal Press (it is fully trusted by almost 60% of Russians). The reluctance of a significant number of Russian citizens to look at things from a different angle is caused also by fear of the emergence of cognitive dissonance between reality molded by Russian media and real events. So much for the Russians really can say as about people who “first fell under the pressure of its own television.”

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Another important information front – outside. The scope of “funds”, “cultural communities”, “analytic centers” and simply “experts” pro-Russian in Europe and RT activity feed are indeed significant. However, even here the general concept of “hybrid war” “in Russian style” reveals itself: part of such experts are just fakes, and under their names are published all necessary comments and conclusions – the last such case was a fictional German expert.

Today ‘s anxiety of the scale of Russian information invasion is also shown by European countries. In 2014 Latvia was founded the Center for Strategic Communications NATO (NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence), among its tasks – to provide an adequate response to the attempts of other countries to influence the information space of members of NATO. The importance of strategic communication was emphasized after the NATO summit in Wales. In particular, there was explicitly stated that the established center must take care of the issues of “hybrid war”. On the Centre to counter Russian propaganda hope also in some countries like Poland and the Baltic States. Several warnings to foreign Russian TV channel RT did the British media regulator Ofcom for violating the coverage during Ukrainian crisis.

An important transboundary space of performing the information confrontation became Internet. A variety of real and imaginary “hackers activists”, “cyber partisans”, “cyber guard” as well as special units of various security agencies to conduct confrontation in cyberspace – they are important elements of cyber attacks and conduct special psychological operations in social networks and the Internet in general (for example, the  organization by the Russian special services protests of internal forces at the Presidential Administration in October 2014).

However,  Russia failed to conquer the full information space  – many advocacy statements by the Russian television with Ukrainian themes quickly refuted most Internet users who are increasingly becoming “privates of the information warfare.”


Lessons for Ukraine

In 1975 a British scholar of international affairs  E. Mack made an important conclusion: in most contemporary conflicts powerful countries have not experienced a military defeat, they were defeated politically – not able to impose its will on the enemy. Political victory of the weakness side was that it – through the use of asymmetric warfare methods (mainly partisan) – depleted the will of the powerful enemy to continue the war and achieve its goals.

Accordingly, the dual task of Ukraine in the current asymmetric confrontation – two-dimensional. In the external dimension – to resist the imposition of the outside political will of the Kremlin that is obviously destructive for our state, but in the same time we have to weaken the enemy. And in the dimension inside – to ensure the dominance of our political liberty in troubled regions, not allowing them to have exhausted our country economically and politically.

However, the current priority task – to give effective and meaningful response primarily to the military, as well as information aggression against our country.

In the military sphere a lot will depend on external factors (eg – foreign aid). Rather, Ukraine will continue to require significant support from its partners in the military sphere to be ready to repel military in the event of a further escalation of military components of the “hybrid war”.

Equally important is the task of forming a system of analysis of threats and the protection of critical infrastructure. Thus, it is clear that the protection of energy infrastructure (especially in an area close to the ATO) has to become one of the priorities for the state. Given the importance of energy infrastructure for society, its protection system must have the appropriate level. As today most entities in the energy sector are private the responsible for the protection of critical infrastructure should carry a relevant government authorities and the private sector (operators of energy infrastructure). However, other stakeholders, including local authorities and people should also be involved in activities in this area.

The response to the information aggression should become more holistic. A number of measures that are mainly restrictive have been taken, however unlikely it may be a complete answer to these challenges. Much will depend on the media sector and civil society activists, as the biggest part of Russian propaganda the state often can not limit. However, we have to create the conditions under which it  all will be replaced by quality domestic information product. Should be strengthened  also the implementation of public information policy in territories  occupied  by Russian troops.

Not fully is used potential resistance information in the international arena, MFA of Ukraine though does a lot, but is unlikely to close all the problem areas. Accelerated implementation requires the creation of effective international broadcasting – we have to admit that today it exists more de jure than de facto. Tools of public diplomacy must be used more active.

We have to stop to ignore the complexities of the work in Russian information space, although  it is actively closing by Russia from any third-party participants. An example of this – the latest legislative decision to limit foreign ownership in the media. In the Internet space active work does  Roskomnadzor that is directly engaged in censorship. However, despite this, the Ukrainian state should find mechanisms for information exchange with Russian audience.

Confronting Russia in “hybrid war” would be difficult. The enemy was preparing for this confrontation for years and clearly knows what he wants. However, the state must learn to resist the  challenges of the “hybrid war”. If this confrontation is not won, we always will deal with self-renewable hydra that appears on the place of enemy that seems to be defeated.


See also “Finding asymmetric responses: cyberspace in hybrid war”

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Volodymyr Horbulin

Head of the Council for Foreign and Security Policy, former secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, former Head of the National Space Agency of Ukraine, Dr. of Engineering Science, Professor, member of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Director of the Institute of National Security Problems at the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine.
Volodymyr Horbulin on wikipedia

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