While America and its allies have been fighting insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Russians have been perfecting their conventional capabilities. Recently, however, they have been also building on their hybrid warfare skills. A recent study by West Point reveals how Russian special operations forces, known as Spetsnaz, have been employing hybrid warfare methodologies in Ukraine before, during, and after the invasion and annexation of Crimea and the engagements in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. The Spetsnaz have been using cyber warfare in conjunction with information operations (IO) and electronic warfare (EW) to increase and enhance the effectiveness of each.
Their ultimate aim is to sow confusion in their adversary’s ranks by amplifying the impact of the fog of war and thus enabling friendly forces to gain a tactical advantage. Traditional IO is focused more on strategic targets. Consequently, the Russian application of the concepts in a tactical setting will make it harder to counter given that the American doctrine doesn’t expect to encounter IO at that level.
Ukraine has offered the Russian military the perfect opportunity to test their hybrid warfare capabilities in a real environment. Although the Ukrainian military can by no means be compared to that of the United States, the Russians have nonetheless gained valuable feedback on their approaches.
But what exactly have they been doing?