The Naval Forces of Ukraine were the first one who faced hybrid aggression manifestation in Crimea in 2014.

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Hybrid warfare is not a new phenomenon in the world history. It is also neither of Russian nor Soviet origin. Its instruments are changing or advancing, or the target audience and coverage are widening, but the essence of the hybrid warfare remains the same. Ancient Greeks, la petite guerre of European armies in the 17th century, Bismarck tactics in the mid of the 19th century and Hezbollah in the war against Israel in 2006 – are classical examples of the hybrid warfare.

Today these methods are used by not only the Russian Federation against Ukraine and other European states, but also by Islamic State in the Middle East.

The Naval Forces of Ukraine were the first one who faced hybrid aggression manifestation in Crimea in 2014.

Problem Statement

It is necessary to stress that hybrid warfare is not equal to information war. Information operations and propaganda are only elements of the hybrid warfare, which must include a military component. De facto, hybrid actions can be both a separate operation, where military forces are just an additional leverage aimed to increase political influence. Or they can be the first, preparatory stage before a full-fledge use of the military forces.

It is important to emphasize that the hybrid warfare has a latent and complex character, and does not have exact date of the beginning and the end.

One of the best definitions of the Hybrid threat is proposed by the RAND Corporation in 2009: “An adversary that simultaneously and adaptively employs some combination of (1) political, military, economic, social, and information means, and (2) conventional, irregular, catastrophic, terrorism, and disruptive/criminal warfare methods. It may include a combination of state and non-state actors”.

Main challenges of the hybrid threats are:

  • an attacking power seeks to undermine its opponent through a variety of acts including subversive intelligence operations, sabotage, hacking, and the empowering of proxy insurgent groups.
  • spread of disinformation (in target and third countries),
  • exert of economic pressure and threaten energy supplies.

Use of criminal and terroristic activities have always been important elements of the Russian (Soviet) hybrid warfare, in addition to the information operations and sabotage.

Information component is an important part of the hybrid warfare. It comprises of:

  • Propaganda: can aim strategic communication, but more often, it aims to bring fear, and in this sense, it can be considered as a part of the so-called hybrid warfare
  • Influence operations: make a target to conduct certain actions or change decisions, altering the attitudes, actions, and decisions of the target group of influencing actor.
  • Cyber attacks

Possible false disinformation and propaganda topics in the security sphere include:

    • NATO will not secure member states if Russian attack happens, needless to say about partners.
    • NATO forces can attack Russia from a territory of the member-states without consent of the national governments.
    • It is NATO, which provoked Russia first by its enlargement, and continued provoking by deployment of the additional forces.
    • Russia is not an aggressor, but its reaction is natural, as it has a right to protect its spheres of influence by any means.
    • Sanctions hurt only the other states, but are not effective against Russia.
    • “Everybody are lying” – public opinion is created that you cannot trust any local media or politician.
    • All liberal governments or politicians are “American puppets”.
    • Spreading false information about conflict in Ukraine.
    • Manipulation with and securitization of the issue of historical memory.
    • Myth about critical economic and energy dependence.

Main tasks in Ukraine is to undermine the pro-European and Euro-Atlantic sentiments and to decrease the trust in national governments and Armed Forces.

In the security sphere the main threats are: awakening of fear of provocations, minimization of the army support, presenting the Ukrainian Armed Forces not better than the enemy in terms of behavior, violations of cease-fire, human rights etc.

The recent manifestation of the hybrid threat was actions of the Russian Federation in the Sea of Azov. Simultaneous information and economic influence, threatening to use military forces and muster forces to the Azov Sea. Psychological impact had greater consequences as created a wave of expectations that Odessa port can be the next one to be blocked.

Approaches to Problem Solution

Due to the events of February-March 2014, the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are psychologically more prepared to the manifestation of the hybrid aggression. However, today, most of the counter-aggression activities are reactive rather than preventive. Creation of conditions for the Navy resilience enhancement needs a complex approach and should be concentrated at two levels – national and international.

National level envisages appropriate measures in cyber-security sphere, work with personal, as well as explanation of the official position both inside of the Navy and to the local population, aimed to prevent gossips spread and to minimize influence operations impact. Moreover, constant work with local population, media and authorities will facilitate raise in trust and support of the Armed Forces, including the Naval Forces, as most of the hybrid threat are complex and demand joint actions of the civil and military components.

Adequate actions of the Intelligence, not only for the technical conditions and physical threats, will allow immediately react to the hybrid aggression. Response to these challenges and threats requires close cooperation with other security agencies, including Security Service of Ukraine, Foreign Intelligence Service, etc.

In terms of international domain, so in addition to the cooperation with NATO and the EU in combating hybrid threats, which already exist, it is necessary to pay attention to the bilateral dimension of the cooperation with other Black Sea states.

It is necessary to note that BSEC as the only regional organization today de facto ignores this problem. Georgia and Moldova experience the same problems from the Russian Federation side, so can be interested in cooperation. Romania, as the NATO member-state and an active player in the Black Sea region, is also interested in response to the hybrid challenges. Turkey despite its full-fledged support of Ukraine, including military sphere, nevertheless prioritize conventional and direct threats.