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Hybrid Warfare

How can Russia achieve its goals without fighting?

16 February 2022

Complex geopolitical relations between East and West are nothing new, Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014 marked the beginning of a new era in relations between the two sides. The Kremlin is trying to keep former members of the Soviet Union in its zone of interest, and some of the most drastic examples of such aspirations are the armed aggression against Georgia in 2008, as well as the constant tensions in eastern Ukraine. 

After the end of the war in Georgia in 2008, Russia devoted itself intensively to the reform of its own armed forces. The reform included the Law on Defense of Russia, as well as Russian military doctrinal documents at all levels (Gerasimov, 2013). In addition to the establishment of the Southern Military District, new units of the armed forces were formed with the direction of the Azov-Black Sea. In addition, Training and military exercises were conducted with increased intensity in all military districts (which were subjected to unannounced readiness controls), and units belonging to the Southern and Western Military Districts were equipped with state-of-the-art weapons and military equipment (Radkovets, 2015b: 13). Russia's plan was and according to many remained to create a quasi-state "New Russia" on the territory of Ukraine, which would include nine Ukrainian regions: Kharkov, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhya, Kherson, Mykolayiv, Odessa and the Crimean peninsula (Radkovets, 2015b: 17). 

Russia deployment

However, although tensions have been present in Eastern Europe for years, the last few months have been spent deploying additional troops and equipment, as well as increasing all activities on the Ukrainian-Russian border. Expected the focus was on the stationing of a significant number of units of the Russian security forces in the areas of Bryansk, Voronezh, Smolensk and Rostov. This is supported by satellite images obtained by "Maxar Technologies" (Maxar Technologies), based on which it can be estimated that in the vicinity of the border, in the previously mentioned strategic direction, there are between 90,000 to 100,000 members of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, ie over 50 battalion tactical groups. However, it must be emphasized that a high level of combat readiness and mobility could be recognized in the operational deployment of the Russian ground forces, with no units such as the 18th Chechen Motorized Brigade and the 291st Ingushetia Artillery Brigade which already had hardened and experienced fighters, especially for armed actions in urban areas, regardless of the fact that the deployment of forces was accompanied by logistical support from the air. 

Following all the developments, Western intelligence services say that the number of troops in these areas could grow to 175,000, which further worried not only European but also American officials who are now afraid of a possible invasion to Ukraine. In addition, there are certain forecasts stating that such a scenario could occur in the first few months of this year, since about 1,100 tanks, about 2,600 armored combat vehicles, 1,100 artillery systems are concentrated on the borders of Ukraine, in addition to humanity 360 multi-barrel rocket launchers and 18 mobile tactical ballistic missile systems. Also present is the air component, which according to estimates consists of about 330 fighter planes (Su-30SM, Su-35S, Su-34, Su-25SM3, MiG-31K with hypersonic Dagger system) and about 230 helicopters. In all this, the Russian military training center "Pogonovo", which is located not far from Voronezh, attracted the most attention of the world public. 

Satellite images show that the facilities of the training center, among other things, contain tanks, multi-barrel rocket launchers and howitzers, but also a lot of empty space, which indicates that additional weapons are expected to be delivered. Also, similar activities were observed in several military bases in Crimea, where state-of-the-art strategic and tactical weapons, including offensive air forces, are now concentrated. 

On the other hand, Washington is considering sending additional weapons to Ukraine, which would accompany those from previous months. Official Kiev then received, among other things, anti-tank systems "Javelin", patrol boats, ammunition, first aid kits and radio equipment, and some sources state that in the Donetsk region there are about a hundred members of US private military companies working on additional training of Ukrainian security forces. Unofficially, Ukraine is also trying to acquire the Patriot surface-to-air missile system, but US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has expressed concern that sending such a system would be interpreted as a highly provocative move by the Russian Federation. 

Before the United States, military support to Ukraine was provided by the United Kingdom, in the form of assistance in the construction of two naval bases in the Azov and Black Seas. Also, the statements of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg were clear, who firmly adheres to the position that only members of the Alliance and Ukraine will decide on the country's accession to the alliance, and that Russia cannot and has no right to interfere in the process. A similar position was taken by France and Germany, which announced that they were considering the introduction of new sanctions against the Russian Federation. However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejects accusations of possible aggression against Ukraine and states that the Russian Federation has the full right to deploy its troops on its territory, and that it does not threaten anyone with these moves. In the mutual accusation of the two sides, however, it can be concluded that the state of constant tension with Kiev suits Russia very well, because as long as it is present, the chances of Ukraine joining the Alliance are minimal. However, it is clear that maintaining the state of tension can easily lead to escalation and armed conflict, and the frequent existence of instability in this region further contributes to that. 

It will also be very interesting to see how this and future events will be reflected in the newly built and for many controversial gas pipeline "North Stream 2", especially now that the price of gas in Europe has broken its historical record. 

Hybrid warfare

In this context, it is better to emphasize and speak about the pronounced current existence of "hybrid warfare", and similar concepts such as asymmetric or irregular wars, which entails minimized armed confrontations, while relying mostly on non-military means of war. "Hybrid war" is an "armed conflict", which is carried out by a combination of non-military and military means aiming to force the enemy to make concessions. 

At least one side in the conflict is the state, in this case Ukraine. The main role in achieving the goals of the war is the use of non-military means, such as psychological and propaganda operations, economic sanctions, embargoes, criminal activities, terrorist activities, and other subversive activities of a similar nature. The military operations are conducted in secret by irregular forces, combining symmetrical and asymmetric methods of combat operations against the whole society and, especially, against its political structure, state bodies and local self-government, state economy, population morale and armed forces. The basis of the concept of 'hybrid warfare' it is in subversion. " (see Hybrid warfare: A new phenomenon in Europe's security environment, Jagello 2000 for NATO Information Center in Prague, 2015). 

Namely, there is numerous evidence that Russia has encouraged and deepened the anti-Ukrainian, anti-Western and pro-Russian attitudes of the people of Sevastopol and Crimea through various activities during all the years since gaining Ukrainian independence, and that the capabilities of the once strong Ukrainian army destroyed (Radkovets, 2015b: 5). With the significant role of the FSB and through intelligence activities, a number of organizations were founded that have actively and purposefully spread the Russian narrative on the Ukrainian political scene in the past 20 years or more (Radkovets, 2015b: 6). After the victory of the pro-Russian presidential candidate Yanukovych in 2010, Pro-Russian-oriented individuals have been installed in the most responsible positions of the Ukrainian national security, and some have even been shown to have strong ties to the Russian security services (Radkovets, 2015b: 7). Salamatin, Lebedev and Yakimenko stand out in the period 2012-2013. were appointed to the highest positions in the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine and at the head of the National Security Service of Ukraine. All three of them are hiding on Russian territory under their protection after 2014 and the arrival of the pro-Western authorities in Ukraine. 

The goal of Russia's hybrid action in relation to Ukraine can be seen from several perspectives. In this regard, Russia aims to support pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, destabilize pro-Western rule, and create conditions in which Ukraine is maximally dependent on Russia (Ripley, 2014). In a broader sense, Russia's geopolitical goal is to prevent the expansion of the Western sphere of influence and to avoid a situation in which Russia shares a border with a pro-Western country. Also, one of the key goals is Russia's constant aspiration to maintain its status as a global superpower. 

When the situation in Crimea began to develop in 2014, with the appearance of unmarked armed soldiers, Russia's involvement was not obvious. Russia has taken measures to cover up its own involvement, which has created space in the international community for different interpretations of events in Ukraine. Russia’s political goal as a hybrid side in the war with Ukraine was obscured to such an extent that Russia could deny its responsibility in the events in Crimea. 

Theory and practice show that the Russian hybrid model relies heavily on information operations. Namely, in their new approach, the Russians consider the cognitive domain to be the most important battlefield (unlike conventional strategies that focused on logistical and material resources) (Fedyk, 2017). Information operations conducted by Russia are recognized as a serious problem, not only in Ukraine, but also on a global level. This is best illustrated by the fact that in early 2015, several EU member states asked the EEAS (European External Action Service) to implement measures against Russian information operations (Giles, 2016: 59). That is why it is not out of place to mention Russian information operations in a broader sense in a few sentences. Russia is aggressively conducting information operations on a global level, mainly through the television company RT (Russia Today), media house Sputnik International (formerly called Voice of Russia) and various Internet services such as Ruptly, all with abundant and skillful use of various social networks, and these are areas where Russians are actively spreading their narrative, it could be said that they have become goals of Russian hybrid policy. 

However, Russia has not created powerful media primarily with the aim of conducting information operations in Ukraine or any other country. On the contrary, Russia has invested in the long-term development of the infrastructure needed to reduce Western dominance in the information environment. The goal of Russia's information operations on a global level is to question the credibility of Western narratives and actions. In this way, Russia has turned information operations into a tool of public diplomacy, and information into an instrument of national power. By raising suspicions and stepping up investigations into the West's actions, Russia has opened up additional room for maneuver, both on its own territory and globally. 

In this corps of forces are also Russian proxy agents who incited the "information conflict", especially through social networks. An example of this are the so-called "Russian troll army", a group of activists who promoted pro-Russian attitudes through social networks and undermined NATO and the EU. According to some sources, they are employed by the Internet Research Agency based in St. Petersburg. - using public and private media to promote Putin's messages and spread the Russian narrative. And what could be predicted in the end, or concluded, and that is that the tactical and operational characteristics of the Russian campaign point to the modernization of the Russian armed forces and strategic thought that has emerged as a result of numerous changes in contemporary global relations. The growing interconnectedness of global society and the way information is exchanged makes it impossible for states to mobilize a larger number of conventional forces, while their actions remain unnoticed by the international public. The intensive use of special units in the modern structure of war stems from the need for military actions to remain covert or secret, which provides an opportunity to correct the political narrative through the media and in line with strategic goals. The implementation of military force in such a conflict is of an asymmetric nature, of reduced scope and increased intensity, which enables control of further escalation of the conflict. Although the use of military force is realized on a tactical level, the psychological effects extend to the strategic level of decision-making, which directly tests the will of the opponent.