sábado, 2 de mayo de 2015

Ukraine and Russia: Hybrid war, how it works, and how it doesn´t?

‘Hybrid War’ and ‘Little Green Men’:

In an age of interconnected economies, expensive militaries, and the 24/7 news cycle, if anything the fusion of a range of different types of conflict will become the norm.

This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 16 April 2015. It is an excerpt from E-IR’s Edited Collection “Ukraine and Russia: People, Politics, Propaganda and Perspectives”.

When Russian special forces seized Crimea at the end of February 2014, without their insignia, but with the latest military kit, it seemed as the start of a new era of warfare. Certainly, the conflict in Ukraine has demonstrated that Moscow, in a bid to square its regional ambitions with its sharply limited resources, has assiduously and effectively developed a new style of ‘guerrilla geopolitics’ which leverages its capacity for misdirection, bluff, intelligence operations, and targeted violence to maximise its opportunities. However, it is too soon to declare that this represents some transformative novelty, because Moscow’s Ukrainian adventures have not only demonstrated the power of such ‘hybrid’ or ‘non-linear’ ways of warfare, but also their distinct limitations.

The Genesis of the Idea

The essence of Russia’s tactics was precisely to try and avoid the need for shooting as much as possible, and then to try and ensure that whatever shooting took place was on the terms that suited them best. To this end, they blended the use of a range of assets, from gangster allies to media spin, in a manner that draws heavily on past political operations, not least the aktivnye meropriyatiya (‘active measures’) of Soviet times (Madeira, 2014).

While not entirely new, their tactics were given a particular novelty simply by the characteristics of the contemporary world, something recognised by the Chief of the General Staff Valerii Gerasimov, in a crucial article from 2013, in which he noted that ‘The role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of weapons in their effectiveness’ (Gerasimov, 2013). In what is ostensibly a piece on the lessons of the ‘Arab Spring’ – which Kremlin orthodoxy presents as the result of covert Western campaigns of regime change – he outlines a new age in which:
Wars are no longer declared and, having begun, proceed according to an unfamiliar template… [A] perfectly thriving state can, in a matter of months and even days, be transformed into an arena of fierce armed conflict, become a victim of foreign intervention, and sink into a morass of chaos, humanitarian catastrophe, and civil war.

There are a variety of reasons why today’s Russia may find itself favouring operations in which, still to quote Gerasimov, ‘The open use of forces – often under the guise of peacekeeping and crisis regulation – is resorted to only at a certain stage, primarily for the achievement of final success in the conflict.’ For a start, despite the still-formidable size of its military, in practice, many of its forces remain antiquated, poorly trained, and scarcely operational. Moscow clearly has the preponderance of military and economic muscle in post-Soviet Eurasia, the region in which it feels it has hegemonic rights. However, not only is this apparent advantage to a considerable extent neutralised by the risk of involving the USA, China, or even the European Union in case of obvious aggression, it is also often not so overwhelming as to guarantee a quick and above all risk-free adventure. Even the five-day war against Georgia in 2008, while a victory, was a sufficiently painful one – with friendly fire incidents, communications mix-ups, and vehicle break-downs – that it galvanised meaningful military reform for the first time in more than two decades (Cohen and Hamilton, 2011).

Non-Linear Instruments

Instead, Russia finds itself in a situation where many of its strengths are either less decisive than it might like, or else are constrained because of economic or geopolitical realities. Put bluntly, a country with an economy somewhere between the size of Italy’s and Brazil’s is seeking to assert a great power international role and agenda. To this end, Russia has turned to this new ‘guerrilla geopolitics’ as a means of playing to its strengths and its opponents’ weaknesses. It has also invested disproportionate resources into the assets most useful for such conflicts.

These are, broadly speaking, three, and they reflect how this is a way of war which even more explicitly than most targets not the opponent’s military or even economic capacity, but their will and ability to fight at all. Of course there is a ‘kinetic’ element ¬– the need to deploy armed forces and sometimes for them to fight – but the forces required for this will tend to have to operate with more autonomy than has in the past been usual for Russian troops, and likewise with greater precision. Thus, Russia has been developing its special and intervention forces, especially its 12,000 or so Spetsnaz. These are generally described as special forces, but they are highly mobile and effective light infantry akin to US Rangers or the French Foreign Legion, rather than true commandos (Galeotti, 2015). Instead, the newly established Special Operations Command (KSO) has perhaps 500 true operators in what in the West would be called ‘Tier One’ akin to the British SAS or US Delta force. Nonetheless, the Spetsnaz, like the VDV Airborne Troops or the Naval Infantry marines, represent an ‘army within an army’ able to operate professionally, decisively, covertly if need be, and outside Russia’s borders.

There is an ‘intelligence-war’ dimension beyond the ‘military war’. The Kremlin has devoted particular resources in its intelligence community. The Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU, military intelligence), and even the Federal Security Service (FSB), which is increasingly involved in overseas operations, are not only agencies tasked with gathering information about foreign capabilities and intentions. Rather, they are also instruments of non-linear warfare, spreading despair and disinformation, encouraging defections, and breaking or corrupting lines of command and communications.

The third particular focus for Kremlin efforts has been its capacity to fight the ‘information war,’ to broadcast its own message and undermine and contest those of others in the name of winning the war in their hearts and minds (Pomerantsev and Weiss, 2014). The RT international television station, for example, has become a crucial player not only in espousing the Kremlin line, but, perhaps more importantly, in challenging Western media orthodoxy with a glitzy mix of genuine investigation, bizarre conspiracy theory, and cynical disingenuousness (Ioffe, 2010; O’Sullivan, 2014). Its 2015 budget is due to increase by almost 30%, suggesting the Kremlin appreciates its role.


Read more:


Ukraine and Russia: People, Politics, Propaganda and Perspectives


The intense and dangerous turmoil provoked by the breakdown in Russo-ukrainian relations has escalated into a crisis that now afflicts both European and global affairs. 

Since the beginning of the confrontation, a lot has been written about its root causes, the motivations of the main actors, and possible scenarios for the future. however, few have looked at what came to be called the ‘ukraine crisis’ from the point of view of Russo-ukrainian relations, and grasped the perspectives of various groups involved, as well as the discursive processes that have contributed to the developments in and interpretations of the conflict.

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