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What Is Behind Russia’s ‘Hybrid Aggression’? Part 2

Promote Ukraine continues to publish research on Russian geopolitical activity in the form of “hybrid aggression.” Hybrid wardiffers from classical conventional war by another combination of traditional elements of war and the use of completely new components, non-classical for combat operations.

Types of Expansion. Continuation

  1. Intervention and occupation of territories or parts of territories of other states. There are three main types of Russian interventions and occupations in the post-World War II period.

The first type includes interventions and occupations with the aim of suppressing uprisings or democratic movements (suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the Prague Spring of 1968). It became most widespread during the existence of the “socialist camp.”

The second type is the intervention and occupation of parts of the countries in order to keep them in its sphere of influence (occupation of Transnistria in Moldova in 1991, occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia in 2008, annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and occupation of parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in Ukraine in 2014).

The third type covers interventions and occupations in order to include new countries in its sphere of influence (the invasion of Soviet troops in Afghanistan in 1979-1989 and the participation of the Russian Federation in the current conflict in Syria).

It should be noted that if the first type of interventions and occupations is characterised mainly by a short-term and temporary nature, then the second and third types can be long-term or permanent. In general, depending on the situational nature of geopolitics, Russia resorts to freezing and conservation or supporting existing or artificially inflating new international conflicts.

  1. The use of mercenaries, “Cossacks” and “little green men” – the path from supporting and financing separatism to the introduction of regular troops. The tactics of “hybrid intervention”  was used by Russia with various peculiarities during the annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine, which, in terms of their implementation and scale, have no analogues in history.

In Crimea, the main driving force was the “little green men” – Russian career officers without identification signs on their uniforms. But during the occupation of eastern Ukraine, Russia resorted to an even more veiled method – indirect intervention, which consisted of organising, supporting, equipping, and financing the “militias” (local fringe groups, criminals, mercenaries, “Russian Cossacks,” supporters of Kadyrov, and residents of Dagestan), that is, the actual incitement and coordination of separatist and terrorist movements, which, according to the Kremlin’s plan, were to spread to other regions of Ukraine in the format of the “Russian Spring.”

DNRHowever, with the beginning of the anti-terrorist operation and the active counterattack of the Ukrainian military, there was a threat to further developments under the Moscow scenario, after which Russia introduced its regular troops, de facto moving to direct intervention in certain districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions (officially denying this).

Similar to “hybrid” military tactics, depending on the situation, Russia transforms the very ideological and political interpretation of events. Thus, the Novorossiya (New Russia) project was replaced with Malorossiya (Little Russia) due to its actual failure and the conservation of the conflict. The Malorossiya project is now a bit forgotten, but can still be mentioned later (with the potential unification of the DPR and the LPR).

In fact, all these steps are the quintessence of “chameleon-likeness” and adaptability as an essential feature that determines the entire nature of totalitarian and neo-totalitarian regimes, including attempts to “export totalitarianism.” After all, the totalitarian goal itself, given the level of its realisation, its specific historical state and ways to achieve it, must be constantly modified, from time to time changing its interpretation.

Role of Special Services

  1. Focus on special services. In “hybrid conflicts,” the key role is given first of all to special services. Let us single out three stages of the FSB’s activity in the context of the Russian “hybrid aggression”.

FSB RussiaAt the first stage, which preceded Russia’s direct military intervention in Ukraine, the functioning of the FSB was characterised by overseeing the creation and support of pro-Russian parties, foundations, public associations, and organisations in Ukraine, conducting information and propaganda works, infiltrating the politics of Ukraine, obtaining leading positions in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the Security Service of Ukraine in order to destroy the defence sector and the military-industrial complex of Ukraine.

The second stage began with the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of eastern Ukraine, and consisted of organising rallies in support of Russia, preparing for referendums, blockading and disarming Ukrainian military units, as well as equipping, training, financing and arming separatist and terrorist formations, attempts to destabilise the situation in other regions of Ukraine in order to spread the “Russian Spring.” The third stage was caused by the conditional “freezing” of the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the actual transition to trench warfare. The FSB’s activity is focused mainly on intelligence and counterintelligence, organising and preparing sabotage, subversive and terrorist activities, and infiltrating the SBU.

The priority of the activities of the special services is natural for Russia, as they constitute the basic internal and external support of all tough political regimes. For example, the leading role in suppressing the second wave of the Ukrainian Liberation Movement in the 20th century – OUN and UPA – belonged to the Soviet internal troops – the NKVD and the MGB.

  1. Creation and support of puppet quasi-state formations as a method of Russian expansion became widespread in 1917-1921. At that time, it was regarded as a certain stage on the way of “exporting communism” to Ukraine as a whole and as a factor in destabilising and undermining Ukrainian sovereignty. During the first Ukrainian liberation movement, the Bolsheviks created a number of Soviet puppet republics hostile to Ukrainian statehood (Kharkiv Ukrainian People’s Republic of Soviets, Donetsk-Kryvyi Rih Soviet Republic, Odesa Soviet Republic, and Tavriya Soviet Socialist Republic), which were in a state of confrontation with the UPR or the Ukrainian State of Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky.

minefieldFor the Soviet leaders, such quasi-state formations in the territory of Ukraine were a way of imposing communism. On the one hand, they provided an alternative, like “Ukrainian,” Soviet project of statehood and created a convenient “platform” for a further offensive, which allowed disguising expansion as “internal civil conflict.” On the other hand, it was a great way to consolidate territorial gains and somehow “legalise” them. Moreover, it should be noted that geographically the borders of the then separatist “republics” almost coincide with the current potential area of the “Russian world.

In today’s reality, Russia continues to apply the same tactics in the post-Soviet territories, but now to maintain or return a number of states to its sphere of influence and to prevent their integration into the Western economic, political and security space (EU, NATO). To this end, such “fake republics” were constructed in Moldova (Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic), Georgia (Republic of Abkhazia, Republic of South Ossetia or the State of Alania), and Ukraine (Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic). Thus, the main goal of Russia is not Crimea, the DPR, and the LPR, but the return of control over the whole of Ukraine in one form or another.

Excursion into History

  1. Legitimisation of its intervention and annexation is shown as incorporation. Historically, all Russian invasions are justified solely by “good intentions.” In particular, the so-called “Red Army Liberation Campaign” of 17 September 1939 (that took place without declaring war on the Polish government), which was essentially an act of aggression and a logical consequence of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, was justified by the need to protect “defenceless consanguineous Ukrainians and Belarusians” living in Poland.

After seizing a number of lands, the Soviet regime tried to give it a democratic look. On 22-23 October 1939, under the control of the Soviet military power, it organised elections to the People’s Assembly of Western Ukraine, in which the population was forced to vote for a single list of candidates who supported the annexation of Western Ukraine by the Soviet Union. More than 90% of voters allegedly supported “communists and non-party people.” After that, the People’s Assembly of Western Ukraine unanimously adopted a declaration on the establishment of Soviet power in Western Ukraine and on reunification with the Ukrainian SSR. To complete the process of legitimising the annexation of new territories, on 31 October 1939, an extraordinary session of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR was convened in Moscow, which adopted a law on the incorporation of Western Ukraine into the USSR and its reunification with the Ukrainian SSR.

Crimea Is Ukraine

Crimia monument

An almost identical mechanism was used in the case of Ukrainian Crimea in February-March 2014. At the end of February 2014, Russian “little green men” appeared in the ARC, introduced by the Russian Federation as if to “protect” the Crimean people from the “Kyiv junta” and “Ukrainian Bandera fascists,” “supported by the Americans”.

On 27 February 2014, under pressure from the Russian special forces, the Verkhovna Rada of the ARC decided to hold a referendum on the status of Crimea. At the referendum held on 16 March 2014, allegedly more than 96% of the Crimean population supported the “reunification of Crimea with Russia as a constituent entity of the Russian Federation” (later in May 2014, the same “referendums” will be held in the DPR and the LPR). On 17 March 2014, Putin addressed members of the State Duma and the Federation Council and signed an agreement “On the annexation of the Republic of Crimea to Russia.” On 20-21 March, the process of “legitimisation” of the annexation ended with the ratification of the agreement by the State Duma and the Federation Council.

  1. “Hypocritical diplomacy” is an integral part of all methods of Russia’s expansion. Here, a clear fact is that even during the second Soviet-Ukrainian war, the Council of People’s Commissars replied to diplomatic notes of protest of the UPR that there were no Russian troops in Ukraine, and the war was going on exclusively between the troops of the Directory and the Kursk Ukrainian Soviet government, which was “independent” (during the first Soviet-Ukrainian war, the Council of People’s Commissars at least announced an ultimatum to the Central Rada).

It is noteworthy that during the modern Russian-Ukrainian war, Kremlin diplomacy is moving in the same direction, rejecting its subjectivity as a party to the conflict.

Vladimir Putin RussiaThus, as we can see, most of the above methods of “hybrid aggression” of Russia are not something new and have their roots and analogues in the previous stages of history. Accordingly, the phenomenon of “hybrid wars” is not a “fiction” of our time alone (we can talk more about the modification of methods).

At the same time, some other means have become possible only in our time due to the development of technology and the emergence of information and globalised society (cyberattacks, etc.).

Qualitatively new, from the point of view of military tactics, was the “hybrid intervention” carried out at the state level, used by the Russian Federation during the annexation of the ARC (“little green men” and direct annexation) and the invasion of eastern Ukraine (indirect occupation, carried out first through the organisation and support of terrorism, and then through the informal involvement of regular troops). Such tactics are characteristic of terrorist movements rather than states, which gives every reason to qualify modern Russia as a terrorist state.

Anton Tverdovsky, researcher of totalitarian regimes and movements, Department of Contemporary History of Ukraine, Zaporizhzhia National University

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