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Commentary | 21 October 2014

What does Hybrid Warfare mean to Europe? Three experts weigh in.

Image of Margarita Šešelgytė

Margarita Šešelgytė |Studies Director at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Vilnius University

Image of Martin Hurt

Martin Hurt |Deputy Director of the Estonian International Centre for Defence Studies (RKK)

Baltics Defence Europe Foreign policy Hybrid warfare Russia Russia-West Relations Euro-Atlantic Security

The Ukraine Crisis has sparked a new debate in Europe as the nature and effectiveness of Russia’s use of ‘Hybrid Warfare’. The European Leadership Network has asked three leading defence and foreign policy experts from the Baltics to offer their perspectives on this new and developing threat.


Reacting to Russia
Imants Viesturs Liegis
Latvian Ambassador to Hungary, Former Defence Minister

“Russia is conducting several parallel wars at the same time. There has been a military intervention by stealth into Ukraine’s Crimea and Eastern territory. An economic war is taking place following sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU, U.S. and other Western powers. An information war is being conducted by Russia on a massive and asymmetrical scale, something that neighbouring countries have experienced during the last two decades. The combination of these various elements has resulted in a phenomenon described as “hybrid war”, “next generation warfare” or “non-linear warfare”. The toxic results are there for all to see in Ukraine.

New ‘warning shots’ have also been fired by Russia since Heads of State and Government met last month in Wales. An intelligence officer was abducted from Estonian territory just after President Obama’s visit to Tallinn and languishes in a Moscow jail. A Lithuanian fishing vessel was recently captured in international waters in the Barents Sea and is being held, along with its crew, in Murmansk. The continuously increasing rate of incursions into Baltic States’ air space and territorial sea results in regular scrambles by NATO planes policing airspace in the region and appropriate responses by our naval forces.”

Read Imants Liegis’ full commentary here.



Can Hybrid War Become the Main Security Challenge for Eastern Europe?
Dr. Margarita Šešelgytė
Studies Director at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Vilnius University

“During the crisis in Crimea, the mass media have learned a new buzzword – hybrid war – to label operations of insignia-less “green men” on the Ukrainian soil. But in fact, neither the concept nor the essence of the operations was completely original. Irregular troops were used in military operations by many countries throughout the history. At the beginning of the 19th century, guerrilla troops were fighting hand in hand with conventional forces in the Peninsular War. A similar strategy was employed during the Vietnam War. The main aim of this strategy was to exhaust the troops of adversary. In the academic literature this type of warfare was referred to as a compound war, and later as hybrid warfare.

Activities of the “green men” and the separatists in Ukraine could be described as hybrid warfare according to a number of criteria: use of regular and irregular forces, strong links with criminal groups, unclear distinction between civilians and soldiers, and finally, military activities in the situation when war is actually not declared. However, the main innovation in this conflict is not the use of irregular forces but rather the hybrid instruments of attack used by the Russian side. Along with the military dimension, a broad array of political, economic, information, and cyber instruments are employed to reach political goals. These instruments are used interchangeably to expose the vulnerabilities in Ukraine and to undermine the credibility of the Ukrainian government. Though the majority of researchers of the hybrid war tends to describe the concept within strictly military domain, conflict in Ukraine demonstrates that the boundaries of any future conflicts would not be so easily distinguishable.”

Read Margarita Šešelgytė’s full commentary here.


The potential for hybrid warfare in Central and Western Europe
Martin Hurt
Deputy Director of the Estonian International Centre for Defence Studies (RKK)

“One of Nazi Germany’s pretexts for starting World War II was a Gestapo-orchestrated attack on a radio station in Gleiwitz, which was then part of Germany. After the radio station was seized by German security forces masquerading as Polish military personnel, these “Polish activists” broadcasted a message in Polish before police arrested them. As part of the charade, the Gestapo murdered a German farmer known as a Polish sympathizer, creating the impression that he had taken part in the attack and been shot by the police. The events in Gleiwitz were part of a bigger operation, codenamed Operation Himmler, aimed at creating the impression of Polish aggression. The very next day, German forces poured across the Polish border. It is uncertain how many people Adolf Hitler managed to deceive with this operation, but at least it gave appeasers of Berlin a chance to believe that there was a just cause for Germany’s invasion of Poland.

Leaping ahead to the present, President Vladimir Putin has set the goal of restoring the Soviet empire. Endemic corruption in Russia currently keeps it from flourishing in terms of the economic climate and sustainable growth. For this reason, President Putin has resorted to traditional coercive tactics that he skilfully combines with softer economic aggression and propaganda. Bald-faced lies are also an inseparable element in his arsenal, shown by the initial denials of any Russian involvement in the occupation of Crimea.”

Read Martin Hurt’s full commentary here.
The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges of our time.