Thursday, September 8, 2016

‘Main Goal’ of Putin’s Hybrid War is Not Changing Rules of Conflict but Shifting Borders of Control, Sazonov Says

Paul Goble
            Staunton, September 8 – Many in the West have failed to see that “the main goal” of hybrid war is to change not the rules that govern conflict but rather the borders that have existed between states “and not necessarily those on the map” but those of effective control by either another state or other external forces, according to Kirill Sazonov.

            Indeed, the Ukrainian analyst suggests the enormous attention many have paid to the ways in which Putin has changed the rules of conducting war has distracted attention from the Kremlin leader’s use of it to change the borders of control (

            When this is understood, Sazonov says, it becomes clear that “Russia’s aggression in Ukraine” is a war against the West more generally. If Russia wins in Ukraine, then it will move on to others and it will involve real victims. Today, “Warsaw and Cracow are not Donetsk and Luhansk.,” but tomorrow they could be if Russia’s hybrid war is not stopped.

            Tragically, many will not understand this is happening even as it does, he continues, because “at first hybrid war creates not an alternative reality or new borders but an alternative picture. Formally, there is no war and no military aggression. There are only internal conflicts, political struggles, a crisis in administration and cases of armed resistance.”

            At first, “there is no aggression or aggressor; there are only concerned neighbors and freedom of speech and conscience and an effort by the bureaucracy to bring the rules of the game into correspondence with the real situation.” But the bureaucracy will fail because “it is too conservative and thus becomes the unwitting ally of a creative aggressor with new instruments.”

            Over time, the problems Ukraine faces now will be the problems Europe and the West will face in the future.  As long as Moscow has to fight in Ukraine, “everything will be well” in the West. But if Ukraine fails, then “the problem will become yours,” with millions of refugees flowing out of that country into Europe.

            That is how hybrid war is conducted, and today “Russia is carrying out its hybrid war not against Ukraine but against the EU and the US, that is, against the democratic world as a whole. This is really a conflict of worldviews and scenarios of social development,” one that Russia has launched because it has “lost the economic competition.”

            Since it can’t use economic means to project power and since over war would produce an immediate reaction, Russia under Putin has chosen “other methods” including bribery, subversion, manipulation, and exploitation of ethnic and religious differences, having exacerbated them by promoting migration.

            The Kremlin is able to do this because “the contemporary world [is] tied together by thousands of threats of horizontal connections” and thus “hybrid war concerns everyone.” The aggressor, in this case Russia, wants to live no worse than others or more precisely wants to ensure that no one lives better than it does.

            Its “goal is the creation of a zone of instability and threats large enough to force the West to agree to negotiations and concessions, serious concessions, such as the recognition of Russia’s right to dictate the rules of life for countries which in the Kremlin are considered part of its zone of influence.”

            If it achieves that, Moscow will demand even more, including being treated as “an equal or senior partner” in negotiations about the entire world.” Of course, it will sometimes make tactical concessions itself but these will be only tactical and temporary. They will not change the strategy.

            “The experience of such operations from Soviet times is enormous,” Sazonov says; “but now the Russian Federation has made a serious step from local operations to a long-term project that is unified in the single scenario” of hybrid war.  Having chosen dictatorship and reliance on raw materials alone, Moscow sees no other alternative.

            Sazonov says that Russia’s worldwide hybrid war involves the following elements: propaganda, “the creation of internal conflicts with the help of its own agents of influence,” terror both via the support of internal groups and the introduction of outsiders, economic pressure by weakening the economies of target states, political pressure by isolating its targets one way or another, and the creation of conflicts that Moscow can use to justify intervention.

            Moscow views ethnic and religious divisions as the most useful because “one can support them for a very long time with the least expenditure of resources.”  Moreover, its support for this or that group can be presented to the naïve as part of “a struggle for peace and the resolution of conflicts,” even those it has “artificially created on its own.”

            Moscow doesn’t need a powerful technologically developed army. It does need forces to insert near the end, “but the key tasks are fulfilled by intelligence services, diversionists, recruited agents of influence and media under its control.”  And it can count on recruiting those politicians who might without such outside support have no chance of gaining power.

            Faced with this general threat from hybrid war, what should Western countries do?  The best thing is not to have or to eliminate those weak places that Moscow may exploit.  That means, Sazonov says, that “the aggressor -- even a potential one-- must be deprived of the smallest chance of financing political parties, social organization and media.”

            Moreover, the West must recognize that it faces a common threat and meet it with a united front against what the Kremlin is trying to do.  And it must understand that helping those countries like Ukraine which are now on the front line is “not charity but an investment” in the defense of the West.

            “If we together do not stop the Kremlin in Ukraine, Sazonov concludes,  “[the West without Ukraine] will have to stop it in Poland, in Lithuanian, and everywhere” when Russia orchestrates a new refugee flow into Europe and when the enemy will truly and traditionally be “at the border.”

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