Article by Deputy Director Aivar Jaeski “Hybrid Warfare on the Rise: A New Dominant Military Strategy?”
Date: 24th November 2015
This article was adapted from Aivar Jaeski’s presentation for Baltic Russia Youth forum panel called “Hybrid Warfare on the Rise: A New Dominant Military Strategy?” that took place in Tallinn, 16.-19.October.
I must say that I don’t like the term hybrid warfare, its sounds far too nice. We all know that the Toyota hybrid is a very modern, ecologically clean, friendly, and technically sophisticated machine. Putting the word hybrid in front of the word war is like trying to soften the cruelty of Putin’s regime when he ordered the annexation of Crimea and initiated the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. War is ugly, believe me, I have seen it; there is nothing friendly or clean about it.
Regarding the term ‘war’, Sun Tzu wrote that ‘the supreme art of war is to conquer the enemy without battle’ already in 513 B.C. The annexation of Crimea was a well-conducted strategic act that must be defined as war. War is war. But why talk about the events that took place in Ukraine using such terms?
Putin’s team has implemented several new tactics in his approach to strategic combat. I would like to bring your attention toCRIMINALITY as an aspect of the new hybrid war. What do I mean by that?
In a normal democratic country, when you see people wearing camouflage (bought from a shop, as Mr Putin said), equipped with rifles, you might think this man is a hunter, but when these men are walking through the centre of the town, green and friendly, or driving cars that have no number plates, they are breaking the law; such people are criminals by definition since only particular authorities designated by the country in question have the right to give others the permission to carry weapons or remove car number plates. When armed people are blocking the work of governmental institutions, their actions are taken in blatant disregard for the law.
According to the Geneva Convention, the situation in Ukraine is defined as an international armed conflict. International armed conflict is a conflict between states. So we can say that by denying the presence of Russian forces in Crimea, the Russian leadership was breaking the international law of armed conflict. Here is a timeline containing statements made and real actions taken by the leadership of the Russian Federation.
22 Feb—Putin orders the annexation
23 Feb—a large military exercise is launched in Russia
24 Feb—Russian Forces enter Crimea
25 Feb—Foreign Minister Lavrov claims Russia’s ‘principled position of non-interference in the domestic affairs of Ukraine’
26 Feb—Defence Minister Shoygu announces that the snap exercise being conducted in Western and Southern Russia involving over 150,000 troops ‘is unrelated to Ukraine’
27 Feb—Russian forces occupy key Crimean buildings
1 Mar—Putin is authorized by the Duma to use force in Ukraine
3 Mar—the Russian Foreign Ministry says that the Black Sea Fleet warships ‘are not involved’ in Crimea;
4 Mar—President Putin says ‘Those were self-defence forces.’
10-13 Mar—Paratroopers, artillery, and armour ‘exercise’ near Ukraine
16 Mar—Crimean referendum
18 Mar—Russia annexes Crimea
18 Mar—Putin says ‘Russia’s armed forces never entered Crimea.’
One year later, on 22 Mar 2015—the Documentary “Crimea: The Way Back Home” reveals the truth.
How can the international community trust the Russian President and his Foreign and Defence Ministers when they come to the negotiation table after telling such large lies?
In a civil war or internal armed conflict, Putin’s green men would be identified as combatants; criminal law would not apply to them. It was the use of civilians, or so-called non-legal combatants, that violated the law of armed conflicts in Crimean crisis. Unidentified civilians, who take active part in military actions, are unlawful combatants whose actions can be prosecuted by domestic law.
Thanks to the 27 February 2013 issue of the magazine Voenno-promyshlennyi kur’er (the Military-Industrial Courier or VPK), we know that General Gerasimov, Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces has written the use of civilians during a crisis into his military doctrine. Can we conclude that criminality is an accepted part of Russian military thinking? Stalin himself had a criminal record. He was prosecuted for robbery before he became a communist. After his death things started to normalize, but sometime during the 1970s, when the Soviet army lacked manpower, a decision was made to allow criminals, those who had been convicted of less serious crimes and had completed their punishment, could serve in the Soviet Army. This was the decision that brought criminal behaviour into the ranks of the Soviet Army conscripts. Today criminal behaviour has reached as far as the Generals, the leadership of the Russian Armed Forces.
Hiring actors to distribute false information to internal and external audiences is perfectly acceptable for the criminal mind. Most people familiar with this topic know the facts concerning Russian actor Galina Pyshniak, who was required to play the role of witness in the story of the crucified boy, a wounded bystander in a shooting incident, as well as a member of an angry crowd. This is another example of an unlawful combatant who can be prosecuted by domestic Criminal Law.
General Gerasimov’s doctrine also states that military actions should be undertaken during peacetime, and the first confrontation should be in the communication environment where military means can also be used.
The military uses special tools, not available to general public. Such tools were used to hack the telephone call of former Estonian Foreign Minister Mr Paet to EU high official Ms Ashton. The call was recorded and posted on YouTube. This is not the only incident; there are many examples from Lithuania and the US as well. These are illegal activities. Hacking is a criminal act, even in Russia.
Another unique tactic in the information war that the Russians have developed is the ‘Troll Farm’. The closest one is located 150 km from the EU border in St Petersburg, at Savuskina 55. Computer operators or trolls are paid to write false and inflammatory comments to blogs, online magazines, and various social media platforms. Today the main focus is, of course, Ukraine, but there is some activity regarding the Baltic States as well. The StratCom Centre of Excellence conducted a study on trolls in Latvia identifying five categories of trolls: 1) the blame-the-US troll, who consistently finds a way to put the US at fault for everything, even bad roads in Russia 2) the angry troll, who focuses on hate speech 3) the bikini troll, who asks naïve questions and posts pictures posing as a girl dressed in a bikini 4) the Wikipedia troll, who creates false arguments using lots of materials copied from many different sources, and 5) the attachment troll—the most dangerous type—because, in addition to leaving inflammatory comments, they also distribute viruses using attached links.
The Kremlin is currently putting more emphasis on means of combat that undermine and create confusion. By using a combination of falsified historical and present day facts, the trolls create confusion, influence public opinion through social media, and disseminate conspiracy theories with the goal of undermining Western values and the existing democratic system.
Another criminal tactic is the violent rhetoric used by the Kremlin, driven by the intent to scare. This tactic can also be traced to Russian convicts and criminals who live by the phrase ‘боится значит уважaет’, which means ‘if you are scared of me, you respect me’. Putin makes enormous efforts to show Russia’s superiority. His belligerent attitude can be seen in the Georgian conflict, the annexation of Crimea, and the continuing tension in Ukraine. If we look more broadly, we see it also in the increase in flights of old Russian nuclear bombers in sensitive airspace, as well as the establishment of the Arctic Joint Strategic Command, a fifth Russian military district, in December of last year.
In conclusion, the Kremlin leadership has broken a number of laws and we have been giving a rather soft name to an ugly thing instead focusing on the hard truth.