May 12, 2017

Lessons of Russia's “Hybrid War” against Ukraine–2: Geopolitical Dimension


Yuriy Radkovets

Today, is three years since the beginning of Russia's cynical occupation and further annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea and Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine in the Donbas. In the geopolitical context — the three years of the Russian military intervention against Ukraine have exposed vulnerabilities in the system of international security.

The first study by the experts of the Independent Analytical Center for Geopolitical Studies “Borysfen Intel” entitled “Lessons of Russia's “Hybrid War” against Ukraine” was published in the geopolitical analytics journal “BINTEL”, Issue 2 of 2016 and was posted on the website of “Borysfen Intel” on 13 October 2016. At this, it included estimates on military-political, military-strategic and operational-tactical lessons and conclusions of the “hybrid war”, rightly called by leading experts in the West a “war of the new generation” or “a new generation warfare”.

However, actual results of any study should be action-oriented. Therefore, this article was prepared specially for practical use in decision making, preparing analytical and expert materials on lessons of the three years of Russia's “hybrid war” against Ukraine.


By providing a general description of new forms of current military conflicts, especially their use against Ukraine, we cannot help dwelling on developing some general approaches to a possible strategy for counteracting “hybrid threats”. Here we should highlight some key points.


General approaches to a possible strategy for counteracting “hybrid threats”


Today it is clear that it is impossible to achieve victory in “hybrid wars” without geopolitical assessment of their effects, without thoughtful adaptation of the current Military Doctrine of Ukraine (of 24 September 2015) to the new realities, without upgrading and improvement of the National Security Strategy of Ukraine (of May 26, 2015) and other basic documents that should be corrected according to the current military, socio-economic and socio-political situation in the country. It is necessary to realize that in “hybrid wars” traditional (conventional) methods of warfare are not always effective. The wars of this type are usually conducted for a long time, and the enemy tries to expand the geography of the conflict with involving in it more and more population.


An important task to be addressed in terms of Russia's “hybrid war” against Ukraine, is the military servicemen and population's absolute trusting its security forces. There is no doubt that the protracted “hybrid war” can cause some dissatisfaction and even criticism both from the personnel of law enforcement units, and from citizens, politicians and the media to the military command, accusing it of inept planning, organization of management, etc.


Where it comes to “hybrid threats”, it is important to remember that the enemy absolutely ignores moral and ethical limits during its military operations.


In general the geopolitical situation prevailing today around Ukraine, in our opinion, requires a thorough revision of general approaches to improving national security of Ukraine, radical restructuring of the entire sector of security and defense in order to bring it in line with new challenges and threats. To fulfill this important task we propose to provide and speed up the practical implementation of a number of urgent measures.


General approaches to improving national security of Ukraine

National security system of Ukraine

Firstly, to revise the basic principles of the national security of Ukraine.

As shown by the three years of Russia's military aggression against Ukraine, in the situation of the enemy's really better military, economic and demographic potentials, the neutral course of our country (Ukraine acquired the status of non-alignment in 2010) made it impossible to protect its interests and did not guarantee its security. At the same time, the mechanical build up of the capacity of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and increasing production of obsolete weapons by the national military-industrial complex, did not allow our country to approach to the military potential of Russia, but needed significant financial costs. At this, international security guarantees to Ukraine within the framework of the UN and the obligations under the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 were purely declarative and could not defend Ukraine's state sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Besides, despite the USA, EU and NATO's support to Ukraine, they confined themselves to providing financial and to some extent military-technical assistance to Ukraine, as they did not have clearly regulated by international law allied commitments to our country in case of external aggression against Ukraine and had to act according to their own rules and regulations.

The above-mentioned objectively demands Ukraine's joining an efficient system of collective (coalition) security, which in a complicated geopolitical and geo-economic situation would protect independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country and could become their reliable guarantor. Today the only such system is the North Atlantic Alliance. At this, Russia's negative reaction to the possibility of Ukraine's membership in NATO should not be considered an obstacle to our country's Euro-Atlantic integration, since it is already subject to the Russian Federation's aggressive actions. Besides, getting NATO membership is a long process which includes joining the “Membership Action Plan” (MAP). The experience of some NATO members shows that implementation of the MAP takes up to 10 years (it took Croatia seven, and Albania — ten years). At the same time, judging from the experience of Central and Eastern Europe, the Baltic and Balkan states, NATO membership is a prerequisite for future EU membership. Joining the Alliance creates conditions for the country's implementation of the required European demands, norms and standards, and provides the European Union with guarantees that its candidate will fulfill them. In turn, this opens access to European loans, investments and technologies.

However, Ukraine's returning to the course of Euro-Atlantic integration, demands from it to resolve a number of problems, including: the country's leadership's relevant political decision; amendments to the conceptual documents on national security and defense (including the Constitution, the Law “On the Principles of Domestic and Foreign Policy,” National Security Strategy and Military Doctrine of Ukraine); ensuring constitutional order throughout the country.

In this context President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko initiated and on 23 December 2014 the constitutional majority of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the Law “On Amendments to Some Laws of Ukraine Concerning Ukraine's Giving up the Policy of Non-alignment”. The document states that giving up the non-aligned status will let Ukraine fully realize the search for more effective mechanisms to protect its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, with taking into consideration the irreversibility of the legally enshrined foreign policy course aimed at gaining membership in the European Union.

February 2, 2017, President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko in his interview with German newspaper Berliner Morgenpost said he was willing to hold a referendum on the prospects of Ukraine's membership in NATO.


Armed Forces and other security agencies of Ukraine

Secondly, to make adjustments to plans of development, reform and modernization of the Armed Forces and other security agencies of Ukraine, taking into consideration the experience of the ATO in the East of Ukraine.

A fundamentally new form of warfare with the use of the “hybrid warfare” technologies, that covers a set of political, economic, informational, military and special measures, needs reorientation of the entire security system of Ukraine to warfare in the situation of the current confrontation with the aggressor. The current war against Ukraine, which is being conducted by the forces of regular and irregular (illegal) armed groups and anonymous (private) military units (firms), is different for using new tactics of military operations, constant spread of misinformation, creating short time atmosphere of panic and asymmetric threats, using local residents and settlements as “human shields” and so on. All this requires making a number of revisions, additions and changes to the plans of development, reform and modernization of the Armed Forces and other security agencies of Ukraine.

The main directions of their development should be as follows:

  • adaptation to the current situation the tasks, structure and principles of combat use of the Armed Forces and other security agencies of the country;
  • development and adoption of new high-tech weapons and military equipment (first of all means of reconnaissance, communications, control and precision destruction);
  • revising the forms and methods of using the Armed Forces of Ukraine with the possibility of their simultaneous use for both, conventional (classical) and non-conventional combat actions (fighting irregular forces and terrorist groups);
  • improving the system of operational and combat training focusing on mastering combat actions in urban areas and the fight against irregular forces (particularly in case of their use of the local population as a “human shield”);
  • amendments to the principles of manning the troops and ideological, moral and psychological training of the military servicemen.


Information security of Ukraine

Thirdly, to create an efficient system for maintaining information security of the state as a tool to counteract foreign propaganda, and to support Ukraine's domestic and foreign policy.

This issue is of particular relevance in the situation of the rapid development of modern information technologies, allowing to use media and computer networks as one of the main elements of “hybrid wars” for purposeful influence on the enemy's population and army, own society and the world community.

Evidence of the extremely dangerous nature of these technologies was Russia's actual domination in the media space of the Crimea, East and South of Ukraine, which created preconditions for Russia's occupation of the Crimea and the armed conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Today Russia's purposeful activity in the information sphere allows to provoke tensions in other regions of Ukraine, to support anti-Ukrainian sentiments among the Russian population, to discredit the leadership of Ukraine and to justify the Russian Federation's “hybrid politics” in the West.

In addition, in the current circumstances the efforts of political forces, government and administration, law enforcement agencies of the security and defense sector, and civil society should be directed to consolidation and mobilization of all resources of the country to overcome both external and internal threats to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Especially as the aggressor's secret services and propaganda machine, conducting information war against Ukraine, pay special attention to the question of demoralization and disintegration of the Ukrainian society and discrediting of defense and security sector of our country, especially with regard to the ATO.

To resolve these problems we need to speed up the process of creating a national information system (including cyber one) of security of Ukraine, which should be aggressive in the issues of safety and security, and defending Ukrainian national interests, which provides for:

  • development and improvement of the regulatory and legal framework in the sphere of information security, which today is quite fragmented and does not fully meet the existing needs;
  • creation of an integrated information system for evaluating threats and rapid respond to them;
  • creation of an effective coordinating body of information security of Ukraine in the structure of the executive power;
  • determining (specification) of the list of subjects for maintaining information security, their functions, tasks and powers, for this end it is necessary to introduce certain amendments to the current legislation of Ukraine;
  • studying and determining the needs for technical, financial and staffing support to the functioning of the system with a view to a decision on developing appropriate state program or amendments to the existing state programs;
  • intensification of the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine's activity to create their own information security system, which should be part of the national information security system, and to develop an appropriate legal and regulatory framework as part of the Information Security Doctrine of Ukraine, as well as the Concept of Information Security of the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

At this, it is necessary to use the USA and EU's experience in this sphere. In particular, in late 2016 under the approval by the US Congress of the bill on the financing of the US intelligence services for 2017, was made a separate provision to strengthen the struggle against Russia's “secret influence” on the United States and the European Parliament approved a resolution on counteracting Russia's “hostile propaganda” — “EU strategic communication to counteract propaganda against it by third parties”. Ukraine 's participation in implementation of these USA and EU's projects would have only positive consequences for its information security and image.


Intelligence agencies of Ukraine

Fourthly, to improve the capabilities and effectiveness of the intelligence agencies of Ukraine for timely intelligence and information support of the top state and military leadership's taking important and adequate to real threats decisions in the sphere of national (military) security.

In all-national measures against foreign aggression and internal separatism it is extremely important to understand the enemy's goals and intent, where of crucial importance is doing all kinds of intelligence with the use of a wide range of methods and tools.

Especially dangerous in a “hybrid war” is the enemy's “fake news” (disinformation), spreading of unconfirmed and contradicting information. In this situation, a so-called effect of “mental fog” arises, as a result, analysts may draw wrong conclusions, which in turn could lead to higher state leadership's taking inadequate decisions or to significant complications and delay in time of the process of decision-making.

So, in a “hybrid war” (“hybrid” form of warfare) a special responsibility is on the intelligence agencies of the state, and the specialty of a military intelligence officer becomes a most needed military specialty.

The unpredictability of the situation and its being hard to forecasted, constant changes in the nature of threats, the enemy's constant changing the tactics of the confrontation — all this objectively makes intelligence agencies work more actively, offensively and in a flexible manner when performing their tasks of collecting reliable information, first of all of proactive nature. A deep analysis of the data and their analytical processing and timely passing it over to the high military-political and military leadership of the State will create favorable conditions for achieving victory in a military conflict, to avoid unnecessary casualties, damage and costs.

The dynamics of the military confrontation in modern conflicts demands from intelligence agencies appropriate adjustment to the changing forms of warfare, necessary systemic changes to ensure effective actions by the intelligence agencies of Ukraine in the new conditions of military confrontation. For this end we must decide: what tasks are prioritized; what forces and what means should be used by intelligence; what changes should be in the management system and the system of support of the intelligence in a “hybrid war”; what interaction is necessary between the intelligence agencies of the State; what intelligence specialists should be trained by the system of military education; what intelligence equipment must be developed by the military science and be produced by the military-industrial complex of our country; what amendments should be introduced to the current legislation of Ukraine to create the necessary conditions to ensure the most effective work of the Intelligence. Attention of the entire sector of security and defense of Ukraine, especially of the leadership of the intelligence agencies, should be focused on addressing these pressing issues and finding most efficient ways for that.

It is also important to continue the detailed study of the strategy and peculiarities of a “hybrid war” with active participation of military experts and analysts, academics and researchers, a wide range of special publications and reference books. At this, we should take into account the practical experience of the ATO in Ukraine on the ways of winning “hybrid wars”. Strategic communications, public relations and information activities should be fully integrated into all aspects of activity of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and the question of information operations should be the main theme in any inter-agency approach to decision-making in conditions of “hybrid warfare”.

We should insure closer and more constructive cooperation of the leadership of security agencies of the state with the political leadership, especially at the operational and strategic level. During combat actions, it is appropriate and necessary, along with the command, to actively involve the leaders of political parties and movements, as well as think tanks to consider the goals that can be achieved by military or diplomatic ways and means.


Ukraine's proposals related to taking into consideration the lessons of the “hybrid war”

But special attention should be paid to Ukraine's practical proposals (initiatives) related to taking into consideration the lessons of the “hybrid war” on strategic issues.


De-occupation of Ukraine

Ukraine badly needs a Strategy for De-occupation of Ukraine as a national geopolitical idea of developing a strategic course for maintaining and strengthening its European identity.

Today it is very difficult to explain and for people to understand — why over the three-years of war with Russia our state leadership has not developed and adopted a Strategy for De-occupation of Ukraine? Not the declarative state target program “Restoration and Building of Peace in the East of Ukraine” or the Cabinet's order “On the action plans for the implementation of certain provisions of the internal public policy in certain regions of Donetsk and Luhansk regions where public authorities temporarily do not exercise their functions”, but strictly a Strategy for De-occupation of Ukraine.

The Strategy is not supposed to reveal detailed plans, programs and specific measures and actions or ways and means of de-occupation of the Crimea and the Donbas. There must be also a secret part of the Strategy for De-occupation of Ukraine, but it would be purely for direct executors and purely as separate appendixes. But the essence, strategic orientation, and possible ways to achieve the ultimate goal of the Strategy for De-occupation of Ukraine — should be available to all the Ukrainian people, and all the countries of the CIS, united Europe (EU), USA, NATO, UN and other international and regional organizations.

In the context of openness and publicity of the Strategy for De-occupation of Ukraine, I would like to stress that extremely important would be to involve in its developing both public authorities, local governments and international partners, the scientific community, independent public (non-governmental) organizations and media. Besides, its draft should go through public discussion and then be approved by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

Resolving a conflicts, where one of the parties is the Russian Federation

Ukraine should in the nearest future propose to international and regional organizations (especially the UN, EU, NATO and OSCE, as well as GUAM, BSEC and the “Visegrad Four”, etc.) a new security initiative on the need for the development and adoption of a single international legal mechanism and tools concerning immediate resolution of a conflicts, where one of the parties is the Russian Federation.

As you know, today a number of independent countries, mainly in the CIS, are witnesses and direct participants of the conflicts (mainly — “frozen” ones), where one of the parties to the conflict is Russia, namely in Armenia and Azerbaijan — Nagornyi Karabakh; in Moldova — Trans-Dniester; in Georgia — Abkhazia and South Ossetia; in Ukraine — the Crimea and the Donbas.


That is, the above-mentioned initiatives of Ukraine are strategic and cannot be ignored by major world political centers of power and influential international players in making their geopolitical decisions, including about Ukraine.


So, the three years of Russia's military intervention against Ukraine have exposed vulnerabilities in both, security and defense sectors of Ukraine, united Europe (EU), the USA/NATO and in international security in general.

Russia's continuing the “hybrid war” against Ukraine in the scale and forms of the previous years will lead to Ukraine's gradual exhaustion against the background of a possible lifting/easing of international sanctions against Russia. In such circumstances, the settlement of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict will require finding new and far more rational options.

The delay of resolving the conflict will certainly lead to its turning into a “frozen” one, which almost automatically and to Putin's Kremlin's delight will “put an end” to the European and Euro-Atlantic perspectives of Ukraine for an indefinite period and may lead to Ukraine's losing its statehood.

Taking into account the geopolitical character of the lessons of the “hybrid war” will demand from the sector of security and defense of Ukraine a complete revision of general approaches to maintaining national (including military) security of Ukraine, radical restructuring of the entire sector of security and defense in order to bring it in line with new challenges and threats. Special attention should be paid to proposals (initiatives) on practical use of strategic lessons of the “hybrid war”.


The article was published in the geopolitical analytics journal “BINTEL”, Issue 1 of 2017
and in the edition of the Romanian Center “INGEPO Consulting Company” — “Geostrategic Pulse” № 236 from May 05, 2017