(This is a series, here is Part 1)
Russia has created a lot of confusion and interest via their use of “hybrid warfare.” They know in a confrontation with the West, they’re outgunned. They know military confrontation with the United States is extremely dangerous and would prove devastating. In fact, every nation fears and avoids overt military confrontation with the United States. We do have the most powerful and destructive fighting force in the world. But that golden hammer is meant for nails. Russia is working with the hammer and avoiding presenting a nail.
Russia is presenting problems different and new. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote this about Russia’s tactics: “Russia has been using an advanced form of hybrid warfare in Ukraine since early 2014 that relies heavily on an element of information warfare that the Russians call “reflexive control.” Reflexive control causes a stronger adversary voluntarily to choose the actions most advantageous to Russian objectives by shaping the adversary’s perceptions of the situation decisively. Moscow has used this technique skillfully to persuade the U.S. and its European allies to remain largely passive in the face of Russia’s efforts to disrupt and dismantle Ukraine through military and non-military means. The West must become alert to the use of reflexive control techniques and find ways to counter them if it is to succeed in an era of hybrid war.”
ISW went on to detail key elements:
The key elements of Russia’s reflexive control techniques in Ukraine have been:
• Denial and deception operations to conceal or obfuscate the presence of Russian forces in Ukraine, including sending in “little green men” in uniforms without insignia;
• Concealing Moscow’s goals and objectives in the conflict, which sows fear in some and allows others to persuade themselves that the Kremlin’s aims are limited and ultimately acceptable;
• Retaining superficially plausible legality for Russia’s actions by denying Moscow’s involvement in the conflict, requiring the international community to recognize Russia as an interested power rather than a party to the conflict, and pointing to supposedly-equivalent Western actions such as the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo in the 1990s and the invasion of Iraq in 2003;
• Simultaneously threatening the West with military power in the form of overflights of NATO and non-NATO countries’ airspace, threats of using Russia’s nuclear weapons, and exaggerated claims of Russia’s military prowess and success;
• The deployment of a vast and complex global effort to shape the narrative about the Ukraine conflict through formal and social media.
Russia is waging a sophisticated campaign against the West. Their complex series of operations that are seemingly unrelated, but, are related by design to elicit a particular reaction from the West. They’re taking calculated risks and creating a global narrative. They’re shaping sentiment – and, in turn, exploiting it. It’s both impressive and worrisome for the West. We in the West need to become more shrewd and savvy at using similar resources; not necessarily to play the same game but to better defend and identify their tactics to wade through the sea of misinformation. Russia is creating an advantage abroad, and we need to work to mitigate their sense of power before it grows out of control.
Featured image courtesy of www.japantimes.co.jp,