Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and involvement in eastern Ukraine in 2014, the term hybrid warfare has become a catchphrase with the Western expert community. It designates a supposedly new strategy of smart employment of technologies to influence the hearts and minds of targeted audiences. But the term is highly controversial: actually, many argue that Russia’s “hybrid warfare strategy” is rather a western myth than a formal comprehensive Russian strategic concept. So what is hybrid warfare?
The concept of hybrid warfare is currently used to describe a wide set of practices such as the use of information warfare, political, intelligence operations, cyber warfare, diplomatic action in combination with limited conventional military operations. Many of these activities have been considered as rather routine intelligence and diplomatic activities since time immemorial.
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After the massive defeat of the Libyan National Army (LNA) at the hands of Operation Burkan Al-Ghadab (Volcano of Rage) - which supports the internationally recognized Government of Accord (GNA) - the new frontline is just west of Sirte, a city 370 km southeast of Tripoli and 350 km southwest of Benghazi, strategically located at the entrance to Libya’s Oil Crescent.
Since 2014, the term “hybrid warfare” (HW) has been all over the news, as well as think tanks and academic studies. It has also spurred the creation of new research centres and operational structures within international organisations. In 2016, the European Commission and the European External Action Service developed a joint framework on countering hybrid threats and established a Hybrid Fusion Cell as part of the EU Intelligence and Situation Centre.
While the weaponization of disinformation and propaganda is as old as warfare itself, new technologies and an increasingly more globalized world have rendered information operations a more prominent feature of some states’ battle for global influence.
Since 2017, Russian private military companies (PMC), such as the Wagner Group, have played a prominent role in facilitating the expansion of Moscow’s geopolitical influence in Africa. On the heels of Russia’s use of PMCs in Ukraine and Syria, Russia deployed Wagner Group PMCs to Libya in 2017, in order to facilitate Libya National Army (LNA) chieftain Khalifa Haftar’s ambitions for territorial expansion.
Researchers are still divided on the need to use the term ‘hybrid warfare’. Focusing on the essence of conflicts may be a far more productive approach than getting lost in endless debates about labels.
Since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 without firing a single shot, former Soviet States in the area – particularly the Baltic countries – have been increasingly worried by the idea they could be ‘the next’ target of an hybrid war operated from Moscow with some form of occupation as their objective.