Russia’s ‘hybrid war’ against Ukraine


The post-Cold War world is at an inflection point: a common orthodoxy in Western thought – the notion of a globalising world in which greater prosperity was ultimately analogous to stability – has been again thrown into contention, the FT’s Sam Jones writes in a must-read analysis of Russia’s ‘hybrid war’ doctrine:

In public, Nato chiefs talk of Vladimir Putin’s 20th century mentality. ….But, in private, they are more candid – and worried – about the 21st century tactics Mr Putin is using. Russia’s actions in Ukraine have exploded the notion that expansive communications technologies and economic interdependence were fostering a kind of grand bargain.

Instead nationalism, genocide, irredentism and military aggression, which were thought to be in decline, are alive and well, finding new and powerful means of being deployed in Ukraine and beyond.

“We are entering a brave new world here,” says Admiral James Stavridis, supreme allied commander of Nato until last year and now dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

“And I use that expression really thinking about the novel [by Aldous Huxley]...its anything but a brave new world. Its a frightened, unstable world and we need to wake up and realise that.”

russia ukrainePredictably, the most lucid exposition of hybrid war is Russian, Jones notes:

In February 2013, Valery Gerasimov, the newly appointed chief of Russia’s general staff, penned an article in the Russian defence journal VPK. War and peace, Mr Gerasimov wrote, in remarks that now seem prophetic, are becoming more blurred.

“Methods of conflict,” he wrote, have changed, and now involve “the broad use of political, economic, informational, humanitarian and other non-military measures”. All of this, he said, could be supplemented by firing up the local populace as a fifth column and by “concealed” armed forces.

Mr Gerasimov quoted the Soviet military theoretician Georgii Isserson: mobilisation does not occur after a war is declared, but “unnoticed, proceeds long before that”.

“I think it’s not usually appreciated what an enormous violation of international law this has amounted to,” says Jonathan Eyal, international director at the Royal United Services Institute, the prominent London-based military think-tank. “We have spent nearly 200 years defining rules about conflict. Sending in soldiers without markings, introduced in such a cavalier way, denying their existence with absolutely no blush and saying anyone can buy a uniform in a shop – and a month later rewarding them with medals – we have to go back a long way to see something like that.”

But what has got Western spymasters particularly concerned has been the scale of the Russian disinformation campaign, both domestically and abroad. The Kremlin’s grip on Russian media was always tight, one British security official observed this year, but since the Ukrainian crisis, the degree of control has become “staggering”. The rhetoric out of Russian media channels is expansive and alarming.

“This crisis is not about Ukraine,” Mr Eyal notes. “This crisis is about the status quo at the end of the cold war.”

RussiaSoftPower238x339The Kremlin is also exploiting civil society as a tool of political warfare, notes Jones:

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato’s secretary-general, warned in June that Russia was secretly funding European environmental groups in order to hinder the spread of fracking in Europe and thus preserve dependence on Russian energy. The notion seemed wildly fanciful. Greenpeace dismissed it as preposterous. “You have to wonder what they are smoking over at Nato HQ,” a spokesperson for the group said.

“What we have seen in Ukraine is part of a much broader process that most people in the west still do not have any idea about,” says Chris Donnelly, founder of the Institute for Statecraft, a think-tank.

A former army intelligence officer, Mr Donnelly spent 10 years running the Soviet Studies Centre at the UK’s Sandhurst military academy and for 13 years was a special adviser to the Nato secretary-general.

“The covert forms of power that Russia is using are not just military,” he says. “Firstly there is money. They buy members of parliament as consultants. They buy companies. They buy the City of London. They buy individuals: bankers who get jobs in Moscow and then find themselves compromised, blackmailed when they return to the west. Secondly there is corruption. A lot of governments in countries around the world do not like that aid comes with strings attached. Russia is happy to bribe and use organised crime as a tool.”

He also argues that Moscow is better at espionage – not just traditional undercover work but also “the standard open source analysis of the kind that the west has forgotten how to do”. Hybrid war, Mr Donnelly suggests, is perhaps the wrong term. “It is hyper competition,” he says.

Search for other forms of deterrence

“Any state that is able to bring to bear its full strength rapidly and comprehensively through centrally controlled means – be they economic, military, cultural, informational, social – will be able to create facts on the ground that we [democratic powers] will be weak or unable to respond to just like Russia has,” saysRobin Niblett, director of Chatham House, the international affairs think-tank.

Russia may be the principal exponent of hybrid warfare but other states have the resources and will at their disposal, too. The combination of resource competition, geostrategic tensions and a huge ethnic Chinese diaspora make the whole of the South China Sea region, for example, a tinderbox when it comes to the hybrid war model.

“If I was Singapore, if I was Australia, if I was Vietnam, I would be studying all of this very carefully,” says one European military intelligence analyst.

In the Middle East, too, with its long-running ethnic and sectarian tensions, the hybrid warfare model may grow in prominence.

Iran has invested huge sums in developing its cyber warfare capabilities. It supports dozens of proxies in the region. It has huge energy resources and a government-controlled media regime. If international negotiations succeed by the end of the year in bringing the country back into the international economic system, the unintended effect may be a significant expansion of Tehran’s use of hybrid warfare as a new, powerful regional policy lever.

“We need to start thinking about security in a much more sophisticated way and in a much more comprehensive way,” Mr Niblett says, pointing to issues such as policing, citizenship, multinational corporations, crime and energy markets as new strategic frontiers.

In a world of hyper competition, hybrid warfare or non-linear conflict, says Mr Niblett, “we need to find new forms of deterrence”.

Russia, China and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are adopting similar “hybrid” strategies to undermine the democratic West, says Niblett:

China is using a hybrid strategy to pursue territorial claims with fishing vessels, drilling platforms and market access playing a bigger role than military assets. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) uses digital propaganda alongside a resource-focused military strategy, seeking to control oil production as much as territory.


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Opposing democracy at home and abroad: will Saudis stand up to ISIS?


Saudi Arabia is the wealthiest country in the region. It has by far the largest air force, equipped with hundreds of U.S. and British advanced fighter aircraft. With its oil reserves and stature as the birthplace of Islam, the kingdom is an inevitable target for the rolling brigades of ISIS, notes Karen Elliott House, author of On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines-and Future.

So why aren’t well-trained Saudi pilots flying bombing runs over Mosul or against ISIS command and control centers in Syria? The problem is a failure of will even in pursuit of their own interests, she writes for the Wall Street Journal:

Some wealthy Saudis have provided financial support to ISIS. Some of these funders may be seeking to buy insurance against an ISIS victory, but others apparently share a desire for a Wahhabi resurgence in a kingdom that they see as corrupt and unjust—a kingdom in which royal rulers put their own profligacy ahead of the needs of Allah’s flock. A Wahhabi resurgence that originates from outside the kingdom but is supported inside the kingdom is a serious threat—and another reason to confront the terrorist army. Internal Saudi support for the “caliphate” will only increase if ISIS grows.

Since the onset of the Arab Spring, the authorities in Saudi Arabia have pursued an increasingly repressive course, seeking to maintain the status quo in an environment where expectations are markedly changing. In this context, Saudi Arabia faces a series of daunting challenges, including high youth unemployment, an education system ill-suited to meet the needs of a modern economy, an inability to diversify from a hydrocarbon-reliant economic system, and the growth of political extremism. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is taking a more active role in the Middle East in an effort to tamp down nascent reform movements and in response to challenges from Iran, its principal rival in the region.

Join a discussion with three leading experts who will discuss the key issues relating to Saudi Arabia’s opposition to democracy within and beyond its borders.

Sponsored by the International Forum for Democratic Studies


Bernard Haykel, Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University

Karen Elliott House, Author, On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines-and Future

Jean-François Seznec, Visiting Associate Professor, Georgetown University

moderated by

Christopher Walker, Executive Director, International Forum for Democratic Studies

Monday, September 22. 12:00 p.m. to 2 p.m. National Endowment for Democrac, 1025 F. Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C.

RSVP (acceptances only) with name and affiliation by Thursday, September 18.

Twitter:Follow@ThinkDemocracyand use #NEDEvents to join the conversation.

About the Speakers

Bernard Haykelis professor of Near Eastern Studies and the director of the Transregional Institute for the Study of the Middle East and North Africa at Princeton University. He was formerly associate professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern history at New York University. Haykel’s primary research interests center on Islamic political movements and legal thought. Currently, he studies the history and politics of the Arabian Peninsula and Islamism. He has published extensively on the Salafi movement in both its pre-modern and modern manifestations. Haykel is currently editing a volume with Thomas Hegghammer and Stéphane Lacroix entitledSaudi Arabia in Transition: Insights on Social, Political, Economic and Religious Change, to be published by Cambridge University Press in November 2014. He is also the author ofRevival and Reform in Islam: The Legacy of Muhammad al-Shawkani, (Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Karen Elliott-Houseretired in 2006 as Publisher ofThe Wall Street Journal, Senior Vice President of Dow Jones & Company, and a member of the company’s executive committee. She is a broadly experienced business executive with particular expertise and experience in international affairs stemming from a distinguished 32-year career as a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and editor. Her most recent book isOn Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines-and Future (Random House, 2013.

Jean-François Seznecis a visiting associate professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. His research centers on the influence of political and social variables on the financial and oil markets in the Arab-Persian Gulf. He is focusing on the industrialization of the Gulf and in particular the growth of the petrochemical industry. He is also a senior advisor to PFC Energy in Washington, DC. He has published and lectured extensively on petrochemicals and energy-based industries in the Gulf and their importance in world trade. He is interviewed regularly by national TV, radio, and newspapers, as well as by foreign media.

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Civil society’s ‘Power of Together’


‘What Football Taught Me About Citizen Action’ is just one of several new speaker videos released by ICNL, ECNL, and TEDxLiberdade under the rubric of The Power of Together.

On April 23, 2014 in Săo Paulo, Brazil, fourteen speakers demonstrated the power of civil society. We invite you to watch and share these TEDx talks, available here. Join the conversation using the hashtag #PowerOfTogether.

Available TEDx talks include:

Experience Maidan – Citizens Assembling For Their Country | Ruslana |

From ‘Fart People’ To Citizens On China’s Internet | Xiao Qiang |

Advocating For Uganda’s LGBT: Risk And Resilience | Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera |

Kids! The New Frontier For A Democratic Society | Mary Beth Tinker |

Document, Denounce And Divulge Human Rights Violations | Feliciano Reyna Ganteaume |

Using Your Capital To Transform Lives | Leonardo Letelier |

‘Counterterrorism’ Used To Crackdown On Civil Society | Ben Hayes |

E-Democracy And Building The Open Parliament | Cristiano Ferri |

What Football Taught Me About Citizen Action | Katerina Hadzi – Miceva Evans |

TEDxLiberdade is an awareness-raising project of the Civic Space Initiative, a global program that ICNL leads with partners ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, and the World Movement for Democracy. Support for the Civic Space Initiative is provided by the Government of Sweden. The Government of Sweden does not necessarily share the opinions here within expressed.

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Putin ends interregnum? Green light to Authoritarian Internationale

putinVladimir Putin’s increasingly reckless interventions in Ukraine should force the West to reevaluate everything it thought it knew about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the past two decades of Western policy on Russia, says a prominent analyst.

Ironically, the 1991 Soviet collapse did not guarantee the gradual rise of liberal civilization. We are witnessing its crisis twenty years later, Lilia Shevstova writes for the American Interest:

Perhaps, the West needs rivals like the former Soviet Union to sustain itself and remain true to form. The West needs to return to its mission and core values in order to respond to Putin’s Russia, but doing so calls for taking stock of the mistakes and dashed hopes of the past. It requires an overhaul of long-standing and ostensibly immutable institutions and principles, including: the European security system (particularly as it pertains to energy security); issues involving democratic transitions, war and peace, and global government and responsibility; and the role of the normative dimension in foreign policy.

The Cold War of the past century was not merely a competition of two global systems; it was also a clash of two ideologies that sought world domination, notes Shevstova (right), a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Democracy:

Russia, having entered a stage of decline, no longer possesses a global ideology and cannot play a role in counterbalancing the West. Nevertheless, the new containment policy initiated by the Kremlin should concern the West, since in one important respect these times differ from those of the Cold War. Back then, the opposing sides attempted to follow the rules of the game (the Cuban Missile Crisis was the sole exception that highlighted the need to play by the rules). The current confrontation with the West instigated by Putin’s Russia, however, is characterized by a new set of circumstances:

  • Russia and the West (primarily Europe) are economically interconnected.
  • There is now a massive pro-Kremlin lobbying operation within Western society. This operation engages right- and left-wing forces, as well as business elites and former politicians, in serving the Kremlin’s interests.
  • Unlike the Soviet Kremlin, Putin’s Kremlin is not only prepared to violate the international rules of the game; it also demands that the world recognize its right to interpret them.
  • Influential forces within Western society aren’t ready to acknowledge the failures of Western policy on Russia. These “accommodators,” attempting to act within the past framework of engaging Russia, view its current belligerence as a temporary phenomenon caused by local factors.

“Now, it is entirely up to the West. The liberal democracies may choose to return to their foundations. If not, the accommodators—those who hope for a return to the old ‘Let’s pretend!’ game—will win,” Shevstova asserts. “If they do, this will give a green light to the Authoritarian Internationale, signaling that the West is weak and can be trampled underfoot”


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Lebanon may be next victim of ISIS

ISIS ISWLebanon is in grave danger of becoming the next victim of the Islamic State in Syria and al-Sham (ISIS), says analyst David Daoud. Although Lebanon has managed to stay off the international radar, instability and sectarianism leave the country equally vulnerable to this growing threat, he writes for the Fikra Forum:

It is unlikely that Lebanon’s Sunnis and their leaders will submit to ISIS out of true ideological conviction, but practical needs might overshadow ideology. Shortages in supplies and ammunition have pushed many Syrian rebels to switch allegiances, and others have said that their desperation on the battlefield might force them to join ISIS. Driven by despair and sectarian violence, we might soon see a similar trend among some of Lebanon’s Sunnis. If Lebanon continues to disenfranchise Sunnis, ISIS will repeat Hezbollah’s approach to the Lebanese Shiites. It will take advantage of the absence of the Lebanese state and provide armed protection and a wide array of social services to some Sunnis in exchange for their obedience.


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