Russia carries out and encourages ‘active measures’ in Europe to destabilise and confuse governments and societies. But these are often opportunistic and shaped by local conditions. There is no grand strategy, beyond weakening the EU and NATO and creating a more conducive environment for itself.
This involves a wide range of actors, from officials and the media, through military threats, to business lobbies and spies. Russia pursues different priorities in different countries. This is largely determined by the correlation between the strength of countries’ national institutions and their vulnerability to Russian influence.
Nonetheless, there is an effort to coordinate certain operations across platforms. Insofar as there is a command-and-control node, it is within the Presidential Administration, which is perhaps the most important single organ within Russia’s highly de-institutionalised state.
Without giving up hope of persuading Moscow to change its policies, Europe must nonetheless address its own vulnerabilities: ‘fixing the roof’ rather than simply hoping the rain will stop. Among other things, this includes addressing democratic backsliding in parts of the continent.
Comprehend the challenge: Broaden European understanding of security in this hybrid war and invest more in effective analysis and intelligence on the ground. Watch the Presidential Administration in particular, and identify the individual curators and their methods.
Contain the chaos: Address the counter-intelligence gap by agreeing a minimum level of spending for EU member states. Seal the chinks in the EU’s armour by educating national populations to be more critical of disinformation and by countering democratic backsliding in certain member states.
Deter diffuse threats: Make consistent but asymmetric responses to Russian active measures – any arm of the Russian state is fair game. Name and shame individuals behind active measures and designate Russian organisations acting with hostile intent as “foreign agents”.