Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine
Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine
EDITOR’s NOTE: Although this paper was authored before the Russian military incursion into Ukraine on February 24, 2022, its content and analysis remain relevant and significant.
The war in Eastern Ukraine has lasted for 7 years now with no end in sight as Russian-backed forces still hold much of the Donetsk and Lugansk Oblasts. Reasons for why the war has lasted for this long are debated, but it is universally known how this conflict started. Western media credit the start of the conflict to Russia’s use of hybrid warfare to wage war which they say used conventional forces from the Russian army to incite and supplement a revolution that Russia proudly hails as the Russian Spring. Many of these sources forget to cite some of the other factors that have made this breed of warfare successful, which is through its unconventional means to achieve victory in the shadows.
Hybrid warfare has made use of many different aspects that not many have thought to militarize in history. The strategy was built through years of experience which the Soviet and Russian armies had gone through in their histories and uses the Russians’ perspective of warfare which is very different from standard military doctrine found in most western schools of thought. The strategy takes its experience from much of the history of Russia and the conventional conflicts where some of these tactics were tested, such as the 2008 Georgian War. Many of the lessons learned from these events would help Russia to form this strategy as well as follow many lessons from its distant past that have helped to make up its military doctrine.
Many of the strategies used in this breed of warfare include the use of military forces to perform both conventional and unconventional tasks on battlefields such as Russian Spetsnaz in Crimea, and even some Russian forces currently in Eastern Ukraine. Other aspects include the use of disinformation by Russia through its media stations such as RT, Sputnik, Tass, RIA Novosty, and other media outlets. They would use social media to post false information to criticize their opponents and eventually demoralize them, as well as use cyber-attacks to limit their enemies’ capabilities to react to Russian actions, and further intimidate their enemies. The object of these methods is to create chaos, as well as enough instability to make it easier to hold influence in these regions.
Some questions still stand about Russia’s new breed of warfare, and some of these include what are the origins of this strategy, and how effective is it in areas such as Ukraine? How could it be used elsewhere, such as in the former Soviet Union or other countries, and, more importantly, how can we counteract it? These questions are important in trying to find out Russia’s future strategy as well as making sure that other nations will be able to counteract them when they are targeted. This paper seeks to answer many of these questions as well as shed light on the motives behind such tactics. This paper will investigate the origins of Russia’s hybrid warfare strategy and how the concept was created, looking into conflicts and events that have helped to form the strategy, as well as how history had a role in creating this unique Russian military doctrine. Once the origins and formulation are established, it will show how these tactics were used in Ukraine from Euromaidan to the current conflict now engulfing the Donbass Region. Then the paper will discuss the ways these tactics can be used in other theatres and how possible counteractions and reactions can be made to prevent their use in the future.
Origins of Hybrid Warfare:
Before we start with the origins of this breed of warfare, one must answer what exactly hybrid warfare is. There are many definitions for this; one of these definitions provided by the Cambridge Dictionary is “the use of a range of different methods to attack an enemy, for example, the spreading of false information, or attacking important computer systems, as well as, or instead of, traditional military action.”1 Before Ukraine, the combined use of cyber warfare, conventional military forces, and even disinformation campaigns was unheard of. It is not the first time it was discussed, though. Many military theorists thought of similar concepts with the growth of technology, such as William J. Nemeth, who wrote a thesis in 2002 on how the Chechen war could be considered the first hybrid war due to the tactics used by the Chechen militias, such as the use of conventional and guerrilla tactics by the rebels and their effective propaganda campaign in Russia and abroad to both gain sympathy and create fear among the Russian populace.2 Some of the earliest writings go farther back, though.
In 1995, General Makhmut Gareev wrote a book called If War Comes Tomorrow: he argued that the creation of new technology made information warfare more sophisticated, and that there would be more use of electronic warfare. He also stated that “… systematic broadcasting of psychologically and ideologically biased materials of a provocative nature, mixing partially truthful and false items of information […] can all result in a mass psychosis, despair and feelings of doom and undermine trust in the government and armed forces; and, in general, lead to the destabilization of the situation in those countries, which become objects of information warfare, creating a fruitful soil for actions of the enemy.”3 This could be considered one of the first written accounts of Russia’s modern-day hybrid strategy.
From this, it is certain that as early as 1995, the concept of hybrid warfare was created, but the tactics involved weren’t wholly new to the Russians. Throughout the Cold War, the Russians have made many uses of tactics such as information warfare to try to influence Western Europe and other countries. Christopher S. Chivvis, a former DOD official, states how Russia throughout the Cold War funded communist movements, encouraged the antinuclear protest movement, and tried to influence through espionage as well as use special forces in the same ways as they were used in Crimea.4 There is one aspect that many western analysts ignore which touches upon the deep, dark past of Russian history: this is the influence of the Mongol invasions and occupation of Russia.
This may seem like a point to ignore in Russia’s development, but that statement would be far from the truth. There are many tendencies that have stemmed from former Mongol influence, the idea of power and central authority being one of the many influences from the Golden Hordes. Though how do the Mongols have a role in this brand of warfare? It is through the tactics used, cyber-attacks, disinformation, etc. It fits into the usage of Mongol psychological warfare, specifically in the Mongol’s use of disinformation.
When the Mongols were at the gates of a city, they would give the settlement two options, to surrender and keep their city intact, or to perish along with it. Those who decided to fight would perish, but the Mongols would always keep a few survivors alive. The reason for this was to spread the word of their victory. The results of this approach often inflated the brutality and destruction that the Mongols inflicted on a region which made their enemies lose the will to fight. In addition, spies would be sent to help spread these rumors far and wide so someone in Europe would know what happened in Central Asia.5,6 The Mongols would also use a strategy of divide and conquer to use groups in enemy nations to have them fight against one another, An example of this can be found in the Jin Dynasty where the Mongols appeared before the Khitan People, a group disgruntled with the Jin because the Khitan royal family was overthrown by them a century before. The Mongols showed themselves as liberators and claimed to have come to restore the Khitan ruling family, and the Khitans joined them to attack and take over the Jin Dynasty. In the same campaign, the Mongols would use a propaganda campaign to convince the Han Chinese that the Jin could not protect them against the Mongols which continued to sow dissent.7 The tactics used against the Jin dynasty would be used to a similar degree in Crimea, as well as Ukraine. Many of the Mongol tactics are found in this new breed of warfare, the use of disinformation to sow utter panic into a society as well as to demoralize them enough to surrender. These tactics today are being used in Ukraine and are working to great effect. Though how did this get translated into current Russian strategy?
On February 27th, 2013, Russian Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov wrote a journal article called “The Values of Science and Prediction”. In it, he describes the events of the Arab Spring, talking about how the events of the protests could be considered events of 21st century warfare. Gerasimov claims that the use of non-military means has expanded and has become more useful in achieving political and strategic goals than conventional military forces. This includes the use of diplomatic, economic, political, and other non-military forces in the information and cyber domains; these could be used to gain objectives instead of waging open war. He states that the advances in technology and the expanded use of information allow for reduced fighting as well as the ability to influence state structures as well as the populations of specific countries.8
Despite these ideas, Gerasimov also emphasizes the use of Special Operations force and internal opposition to create a permanent front within an enemy nation.9 This tactic not only references the Mongol strategy of divide and conquer but can be a reference to other Russian and Soviet tactics. This specifically can be traced back to Soviet actions during World War II when the NKVD and other military officials helped to run the huge network of Soviet partisans within German territory to disrupt supplies and communication, as well as disrupt other German activities within the occupied territories.10 Gerasimov also advocates that Russia needs to create more interagency cooperation and a joint command to coordinate these efforts as well as other military operations to make them successful.11 This article would be echoed by other figures such as Vladislav Surkov, one of Putin’s top advisors.12 And in less than a year, these tactics would be tested in Ukraine.
Many of the pieces in Gerasimov’s article can relate to tactics dating back to Mongol, Soviet, and Russian tactics; some of these include the actions learned from events such as the Soviet-Afghan war and the Chechen wars as well as Russian covert actions from the Cold War where the Soviets performed disinformation campaigns and covert training and equipping of partisan groups around the world. Though compared to previous instances, it would utilize current technologies such as the Internet and computers to expand the impact of these tactics. Though this piece was written back in 2013, it is safe to say that some of these tactics were already being tested prior to Gerasimov’s assessment and were tweaked for their modern-day usage in Ukraine. The earliest sighting of some of these tactics can be found in Georgia during the 2008 Russo-Georgian War.
The Russo-Georgian war taught the Russian military many valuable lessons that it would use in the future. At the onset of the war, the Russians started a disinformation campaign through their media outlets. Channels such as RT, RIA Novosti, etc. were huge proponents in trying to show proof that the Georgian military were the aggressors of this conflict, as well as justify the Russian intervention. Throughout the conflict, Russian media were given unrestricted access to army units and maneuvers to make it seem like the Russian military were liberators rather than an invading army. This access also gave Russia the ability to narrate events to the rest of the world and manipulate the view of the conflict by claiming that the war was one of genocide and that thousands of South Ossetians were being killed in the region each day.13,14 This worked to great effect, as it convinced parts of the world to distrust Georgia’s motives in the conflict.
The Russians would test the use of cyber warfare in an actual war. At the onset of the war, a slew of cyber-attacks would destroy 35% of Georgia’s network, as well as 54 government and news websites to disrupt communications and prevent the Georgian military from countering Russian army movements. DDoS attacks would be used on Georgia to cripple its Internet infrastructure and make websites inoperable. This would also help in Russian disinformation campaigns where the Georgians could not respond properly to Russian claims.15 Though despite the use of cyber-attacks to enhance the Russian war effort, they were considered not the most effective. The reason for this was approximately 10% of Georgians were connected to the internet in 2008.16 Cyber-attacks are most effective depending on how much a population relies on the internet for use, so some say the effects were minimal. This was different compared to a cyber-attack in Estonia during 2007 where most people used the internet daily. Despite this, these represented the first cyber attacks to ever be coordinated with military operations, and they would give Russia valuable lessons on how these tactics can be used in future conflict, especially in the thesis of General Valery Gerasimov.
The war would also see the usage of one other strategy used in hybrid warfare, the use of proxy forces. In the case of the Georgian war, Russia was already supporting and further used fighters from South Ossetia and Abkhazia to fight the Georgians, especially so they would not have to send in a huge ground force into Georgia and maintain plausible deniability towards events of war crimes and genocide.
The war in Georgia would prove to be a perfect testing ground for many ideas that would be used in Ukraine, and they would show the effectiveness of methods such as disinformation campaigns and cyber-attacks. Though the war would teach Russia that it was unprepared for a modern-day conflict, many of its tactics and doctrine came from the days of the USSR. And the war showed deficiencies in Russian communication among troops and all military branches: in one scenario, a general had to borrow a satellite phone to talk with his own troops.17 The war showed both triumphs and errors in Russia’s testing of a hybrid war strategy, and, for the next 5 years, the Russian military would lie dormant to restructure and rearm itself until it was ready to use its perfected strategy of hybrid warfare in Ukraine.
Hybrid Warfare in Ukraine:
In November 2013, protests began in the center of Maidan Square in Kyiv, Ukraine. The protestors were against President Yanukovych’s decision to back out of an Association Agreement with the EU. As protests continued into December and January, Russian intelligence and news media began the first phase of Russia’s hybrid warfare strategy in Ukraine: disinformation. Upon the start of the campaign, Russian news media flocked to Kyiv to cover the events of the Euromaidan protests and made sure to show aspects of the revolution that many were not covering in the West.
Since the Russo-Georgian War, Russian media outlets have been able to expand their reach to encompass more countries; this includes RT or Russia Today which gains a bigger audience through its subchannel RT America. From platforms such as RT, RIA Novosti, Pravda, and Russia 24, Russia was able to send out a narrative in favor of the Kremlin’s view. In the case of Euromaidan, Russian media showed the protesters as violent, chaotic, and fascist.18 When the Euromaidan protests started, Russian media outlets portrayed them as reactionary riots created by fascists groups and Ukrainian nationalists from Western Ukraine and glorified the police who were trying to stop them.19 Russian news channels would show films and reports of protestors attacking barricades and buildings while the police would be either maintaining a defensive stance or not being provocative to give off the image that the protesters were aggressors. Many other Russian media outlets would show this footage to others around the world, though the main targets of this were Russians living in Ukraine who use Russian news media for their news consumption. This was meant to turn this population against the protests and to see the protestors as violent and a danger to them, enough so to act in the future events in Crimea and in the Donbass region.20
Russian news media was not the only source of disinformation about the protests. After the Russo-Georgian War, the internet would become more prominent, giving people the ability to express opinions through social media websites such Twitter and Facebook. These websites started to become more prominent during the wake of Euromaidan, and their importance was quickly realized by Russia’s intelligence services such as the GRU, FSB, and SVR. These agencies would create fake online accounts to post comments on both Russian and English social platforms either posing as pro-Euromaidan protesters or pro-Russian sympathizers. Much of this work was also done in what Western media has called Russian “Troll Factories.” These were businesses in Russia that produced content and social media posts to spread disinformation on social media. It was found that over 755,000 tweets and 3,665 Twitter accounts were associated with the Internet Research Agency, a troll factory located in St. Petersburg, and that many of the tweets were associated with hashtags such as: ПровокацияКиева (KyivProvocation), КиевСбилБоинг (KyivShotDownBoeing), БитваОлигархов (OligarchsBattle), and КрымПутьНаРодину (CrimeaWayToHome).21
This effort on social media was intended to divide the populace even further and convince segments of the population such as those in pro-Russian East Ukraine not to believe that the revolution was created by the Ukrainian nationalists of Western Ukraine to get rid of Russians living in Ukraine. This was highly effective in Crimea, where most of the population is of Russian descent and where much of the population watched Russian news channels and used Russian social media. These actions fit into Russia’s hybrid warfare strategy by weakening Ukraine’s central authority and government trust among Ukrainians, especially those with Russian sympathies. These sentiments made it easier for the Russians to present themselves as a friendly force to save the people. This was shown with the next phase of Russia’s operation to send in the “Little Green Men.”
One of the biggest bombshells in creating the idea of Russian hybrid warfare was the events of February 27th, 2014, when armed men in tactical gear seized the Supreme Council of Crimea. These events caught the world by storm, and the ruse was so real that it was believed at first that they were Radical Russian Unionists.22 But it would later be revealed that these were Russian Special Forces. Excluding the usage of disinformation and cyber-attacks to create unrest, it is believed that another characteristic of hybrid warfare is the use of military forces in conventional and unconventional ways. This includes the use of special forces, as was seen in Crimea. These forces were used under the guise of “self-defense forces” by Russian media to convince the populace of a popular uprising taking place on the peninsula. Despite media reactions, this isn’t the first time Russia has used such tactics in the past. The clearest example could be found during the Soviet era near the end of 1979 in Operation Storm 333 when the Soviet Army invaded Afghanistan. During this operation, Soviet Special Forces were sent to kill the Afghan leader Hafizullah Amin; they were dressed up in Afghan military uniforms to make it seem like a coup was carried out by the Afghan Army. And to add to this ruse, mostly Soviet troops from the Central Asian republics were used to invade Afghanistan during this operation.23
Other similar operations include an attempted coup in Chechnya in November 1994, when the Russian Army dressed up as mercenaries tried to seize the city of Grozny but were defeated.24 Operations like the one used in Crimea can be compared to many Soviet-era clandestine operations done during the Cold War, and even the operations carried out in the Donbass can fit this role as well. As with Afghanistan, Russian forces in Crimea would try to seize facilities such as the Supreme Council, certain ministry buildings, and airports throughout the peninsula; it was a Russian-style coup. In this case, Russian forces were used in an unconventional form, as they were not meant to engage the enemy with heavy mobilization but used small pocket groups of special forces to seize strategic objectives and to surround Ukrainian military forces in their bases of operations and not create a direct conflict.
These were the operations that stunned the West and led to the term “hybrid warfare” in its vocabulary. This was because the troops were unmarked and didn’t particularly act like an invading force. They claimed to be local citizens and seemed like they were protecting buildings and surrounding enemy-held areas instead of attacking and besieging them, as many would believe to be the case in this scenario. This worked to make many in Crimea not see them as occupiers and even took selfies with them.25 The populace was welcoming like the Khitan to the Mongols, and it allowed the Russians to take the peninsula peacefully. With this success, the Russians would go further and attempt another operation in Eastern Ukraine. When conflict started in the Donbass, a swath of information came in about sightings of Russian military equipment, personnel of Asian origin, and even photos of heavy military action occurring on the border. Russia would deny the usage of Russian troops and make excuses, such as rebels taking weaponry from the Ukrainian army, or even them procuring the weapons on their own.
In the summer of 2014 and the winter of 2015, there would be reports circulating of armored columns and soldiers with Russian accents appearing in specific conflict areas and fighting alongside the rebels. One example was the battle of Ilovaisk, where Russian forces were claimed to have reinforced rebel forces and surrounded the initial Ukrainian force that was sent to take the town. Once this was done, the soldiers were subjected to heavy military bombardment until the Ukrainian forces surrendered. Another example was the battle of Debaltseve, a railroad hub close to Donetsk. In this battle, communications were jammed, and during the chaos, Russian Spetsnaz helped to mine routes behind enemy lines and take certain towns to cut off Ukrainian troops. The Ukrainian units were surrounded and attempted to break out of the encirclement but failed to do so.26 Eventually, the troops would retreat from Debaltseve, and Russian separatists would take the town.
What has been observed in both instances is that Russian forces tend to intervene with their forces during the most crucial of battles. In the case of Ilovaisk, the town was a huge supply hub for Donetsk, and its capture would have cut off the city from receiving supplies. And Debaltseve helped to connect the two separatist republics of Lugansk and Donetsk. If Ukraine held the territory, it would have disrupted resource distribution as well as could have been a staging point to divide the two areas. The most interesting case in the latter battle of Debaltseve was an incident when Ukrainian soldiers were surrounded, and they received text messages on their phones which asked for the troops to surrender. Others received threats showing their private information or information on their friends and family.27,28 These messages were sent by Russian intelligence to lower the morale of the troops and gave a stark reminder of the Mongol choices of surrender and live or perish. But instead of verbal command, the Russians utilized this tactic using cyber warfare.
Throughout the conflict, Russia used multiple forms of cyber warfare to demoralize the enemy as well as to support military operations in the Donbass. These methods were used both in Euromaidan to help in retaliatory efforts against the Ukrainian government and in other ways to devastate the population to make it seem like resistance was futile. One of these cases was in mid-2013 through an effort known as “Operation Armageddon.” This operation occurred before the proposed signing date of the EU association agreement with Ukraine. It was an effort by the FSB to steal information from the Ukrainian government, law enforcement, and military officials through a spear phishing campaign. This effort would continue as the situation in Ukraine got worse after Euromaidan. Many Russian cyber attacks that would occur throughout the Donbass conflict would generally be associated with Operation Armageddon.29,30 One clear example of this was the winter of 2015 when a Ukrainian power plant shut down, which caused almost a quarter of a million people to lose power in Western Ukraine. This attack required a huge amount of surveillance, training, and sophistication to be pulled off, and it all happened during the onset of the battle of Debaltseve, a major battle in which Russian forces were involved.31
Cyber-attacks in Ukraine, just like in Estonia, seem to carry more of a strategic objective than a concrete tactical objective, as there is no evidence to support that the hacking of the power grid would have affected events in Eastern Ukraine. But attacks like these can be used to achieve multiple objectives, such as to disorganize government functions and services or convince the people that the government is ineffective and demoralize them. This fits well into Russia’s strategy which uses these attacks as a form of psychological warfare as expressed by General Gerasimov.32 In this type of scenario, it can convince the populace that the government cannot support them and that the conflict in Eastern Ukraine is affecting those on the other side of the country, which will make them sue for peace faster. All of these tactics put together characterize the rise of Russia’s military doctrine, which emphasizes the ability to demoralize and separate a population. As discussed previously, these tactics are not entirely new, but the innovation of new technology has helped to create a new possibility for Russian tactics as well as Russian strategic aims in the future.
Future Uses of Hybrid Warfare
Ukraine showed that Russia has the capabilities to perform campaigns upon other nations technologically and unconventionally while showing plausible deniability, which is one of the biggest factors of hybrid warfare. Many of the strategies used in this conflict are tactics that don’t have to be used in the same strategy and are being used in other parts of the world, from Northern Africa and the Middle East, even in the US. Ever since 2014, Russia has been expanding its disinformation capabilities to span the globe to create soft power as well as to weaken its international rivals by creating discord.
In the U.S., particularly in recent years, Russia has been trying to influence the U.S. elections through media disinformation using media outlets such as previously stated to present a specific narrative and using social media to spread this message throughout the country. This was particularly effective through creating memes on the internet to try to present subjects as jokes to which people can relate and eventually make them skeptical of the validity of their governmental system in a way that is barely regulated. Some of these memes could involve Clinton’s email scandal resurfacing in the 2016 election or even in 2020 when a fake generated video popped up on the internet of Biden sleeping during a news interview.33 These two examples specifically are used to create distrust between those in power and their constituents, which, in turn, creates distrust of the government and a narrative that the government doesn’t support its citizens, which can cause unrest. This was a tactic used throughout the Ukrainian conflict, as during Euromaidan, Russian intelligence agencies used the same tactics to put people against those supportive of Euromaidan and politicians.
Russia has also used parts of this form of warfare in its activities in Syria and Libya, where armed men were sent to the region. The difference is these troops are fighting under the flag of The Wagner Group, a Russian PMC organization that has connections with the Kremlin and Putin himself. This group has been used to support Russian operations in countries such as Syria, Libya, The Central African Republic, and Mozambique to train local military forces, perform certain combat operations and protect recently acquired Russian assets in these regions.34 Wagner gives Russia the ability to give plausible deniability around the world, saying that these actions are those of a PMC group working under a contract. It is possible these forces can be used in other regions to cause unrest and fulfill other objectives.
Other tactics that have been used are Russia’s cyber actions against targets in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and even the U.S. This tactic has been especially used for multiple different situations, such as collecting information, as was done through Burmisa hacking to find incriminating evidence against the Biden campaign to influence the U.S. election.35 Other cyber operations are used to attack institutions against Russian interests or to weaken adversaries. This was shown most with hackings in Malaysia over the MH17 investigation, and even in Salisbury to disrupt the investigation of the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal. Russia has used these attacks in multiple ways and for many different motives, from showing Moscow’s displeasure or even to finding information in support of future operations. Russia has shown that these tactics from Ukraine can be used in multiple different ways, don’t have to be used solely in one whole campaign, and can be adapted depending on the situation.
How to Combat Russian Hybrid Warfare?
Russian hybrid tactics are designed to be hard to combat, as they are in the gray zone of warfare where they are aggressive tactics, but they cannot elicit a direct and harsh response such as bombing a target or threatening an invasion. Russia knows this, which is why it continues these types of tactics because they are hard to respond to. Therefore, the U.S. as well as its allies must come up with a strategy to combat this type of warfare to prevent Kremlin designs in other parts of the world. Any strategies created by the U.S. must contain three different pillars: these must include a strategy for defense, offense, and cooperation. From these, it will be possible for the U.S. to create a defense against Russian disinformation meant to affect public opinion as well as cyber campaigns that can prevent future attacks on infrastructure. There must be an offensive capability so the U.S. can properly act against Russian actions of hybrid warfare that affect our allies or ourselves to show a resolve to retaliate against Russian actions. It is also necessary to have a system of cooperation to identify Russian actions of hybrid warfare and be able to combat them in a unified way.
In creating a defensive strategy against Russian tactics, it is imperative to have a counter to the three topics discussed earlier. In this case, one of the biggest steps is to make a campaign to counter disinformation circulating on the internet as well as on certain news media. Currently, the internet is very unregulated in the dissemination of information and is susceptible to disinformation permeating through it. There are a few ways to combat this, including the creation of laws to regulate portions of the internet, especially in political advertisement in the same ways that political advertisements are regulated on TV. One bill which was made for this purpose was the Honest Ad Act in 2017 which was meant to regulate campaign advertisements online considering Russian interference in the 2016 election.36 Another measure would be a campaign to show the public what could be considered a disinformation campaign, as well as the creation of a group to track disinformation flowing from Russia and to be ready to counter it at a moment’s notice.
There must be action that can help to get information on Russian disinformation efforts. One suggestion made by Christopher S. Chivvis is more interagency interaction and information sharing. This is because this strategy doesn’t just fall into the realms of the military but also the realms of the Intelligence Community, State Department, and Treasury Department. It is necessary for these groups to coordinate and create a strategy to counter Russia’s strategy.37 And it may be possible for these groups to work in a more proactive way. The U.S. could create a specialized team made up of military and intelligence experts to keep track of Russian activity. This strategy pertains more to Russian cyber-attacks but can also work in countering disinformation. This team would specialize in specific groups and organizations connected to Russian intelligence agencies, as many of the campaigns come from these groups. They would have to be experts on these groups and be able to understand them and their tendencies as well as the techniques they use. This team would help in learning how to prevent Russian cyber attacks as well as possibly defeat Russian disinformation campaigns.
The second pillar of offense would be a campaign that would use similar tactics to what Russia has done in other countries but turning it on them. Much of this strategy would rely on the use of media. In NSDD 75, the Reagan National Security Council stressed the importance of exposing the difficulties within the Soviet Union and its empire and the prevention of allowing the USSR to gain the high ground in terms of ideas and morals.38 I believe a variation of this policy should be used in trying to target Russia: the U.S. must use its resources in this campaign. The U.S. should use the media to broadcast Russia’s wrongdoings as well and expose Russian blunders and problems within the country as well as get rid of Russia’s attempts to demonstrate plausible deniability. This campaign cannot be focused in the U.S.; it must target ordinary Russians because only they can create the change. In addition, an effort should be made to support independent Russian journalists by showing their work as well as making sure to spread their content throughout Russia to give it more exposure and possibly create the same unrest that Russia has attempted to create inside other countries. A further example of this could be found in the UK, where it was reported that the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office sponsored news agencies such as Reuters and the BBC to sponsor journalists and even YouTubers in Russia and Central Asia to cover events in Russia and possibly promote a pro-Western narrative and may have had a hand in the promotion of the Belarusian and Navalny protests.39 This could work in trying to create a counternarrative within Russia and weaken Russia’s ability to act with impunity, as it would have to deal with problems at home as well.
Then a final strategy would be to create more cooperation among our allies to try to counter Russia’s hybrid war strategy. With our allies in NATO, we must clearly define what is hybrid warfare as well as be able to determine when it is being used. Once this is done, it will be possible to react more easily to Russian efforts in the future. From this, we can formulate strategies on how to deal with Russian hybrid warfare through conventional and unconventional tactics such as performing our own information campaign inside a targeted country through the usage of social media and news media as well as the possibility of thinking of conventional military strategies to combat Russian aggression such as trying to deal with Russian-inspired protests more effectively or even rebellions orchestrated by the Kremlin. One article suggests making a military force composed of cyber experts, intelligence personnel, civilian-military relations personnel, and even special forces to combat Russian aims in all spectrums.40
Russian Strategy has evolved since the fall of the Soviet Union and has incorporated the technologies of the modern world to enhance tactics once used in previous centuries. Russia has demonstrated that it doesn’t have to use full-on conventional forces to complete its objectives and can use a small force of special forces or even advisors to fuel its goals in the near abroad. Though these tactics are not new, it is shocking how the Russian military apparatus has been able to use platforms like social media to perform its campaigns abroad and to support Russia’s military objectives through demoralizing its enemies as well as creating unrest inside what the Kremlin considers its targets. And it is even more worrying to see that Russia has the capability to use the power of the internet and computer technology to gather information and hack into infrastructure to make it inoperable and create mayhem. These tactics can create the end of our society, especially if left unchecked like in Ukraine.
It is possible to stop Russian aggression through cooperation with our allies and the creation of a new strategy to deal with Russian intervention through covert means. The only problem is the motivation to do so, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any action taken. In 2019, The New York Times reported that the U.S. was placing computer code into Russian power grids to equalize the impact if Russia tried to take down U.S. infrastructure.41 In 2018, President Trump released a White House plan to create more learning for government workers in cyberspace and help prevent phishing campaigns.42 These are steps in the right direction, but more must be done to defend the U.S. from cyber attacks as well as to think of offensive actions that will affect Russia and help possibly to lower their capabilities. For all of this to happen, the U.S. government must find the resolve to put these policies and more into effect if we are to defeat this Russian strategy. And it could possibly help to prevent similar cases in the future towards our allies as well as us.
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5Chakra, Hayden. 2021. The Brutal Military Tactics of the Mongols Make ISIS Look Like Child’s Play. February 9. Accessed April 26, 2021. https://about-history.com/why-are-genghis-khan-and-his-mongol-army-considered-so-brutal/.
6 2019. Genghis Khan’s Use of Psychological Warfare to Expand the Mongol Empire. Performed by Insight History.
7 2019. Genghis Khan’s Use of Psychological Warfare to Expand the Mongol Empire. Performed by Insight History.
8Geramsimov, Valery. 2013. "The Value of Science in prediction." Military-Industrial Kurier.
9Geramsimov, Valery. 2013. "The Value of Science in prediction." Military-Industrial Kurier.
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