Hybrid warfare: An orientating or misleading concept in analysing Russia’s military actions in Ukraine / in Crimea?

Kestutis Kilinskas
Dr., Assistant Professor
University of Vilnius

Hybrid warfare is perhaps the most frequently used concept in seeking to explain and define Russia‘s military actions in Ukraine in 2014. This article thoroughly analyses the development of the theory of hybrid warfare and circumstances of its formation, draws a line between hybrid warfare and hybrid threats, and discusses the perception of hybrid warfare in the armies of Western states and Russia. Actions of the Russian army in Crimea are analysed on the grounds of the provisions of the theory of hybrid warfare formulated by Frank Hoffman through revealing the impact on a military operation not only of the changing warfare tendencies but also of political, cultural, demographic and military conditions that existed on the Crimean peninsula.

Geopolitical changes in the world that occurred at the end of the 20th century essentially transformed the security environment and forced Western states to get involved in a new type of asymmetric military conflicts with non-state actors, terrorist organizations and criminal syndicates. New-type threats, variety of military conflicts and the search for an effective response require reconsideration, generalization, and assessment of the most recent military experience and formulation of theoretical concepts that would help prepare and operate effectively within the zone of military conflicts. These conditions led to the formulation and establishment of new military theories, including the theory of hybrid war. The theory of the hybrid war developed by Hoffman includes four aspects: conventional forces, non-regular tactics, terrorism and criminal acts within a single battle space.

The concept of the hybrid war was created and established in the USA in 2005–2011, and its formation was determined by the aspiration of the USA to explain the threats that the US army had encountered while fighting the “global war on terrorism“. It should be pointed out that NATO does not use the term hybrid war concept; however, on the basis of the experience acquired in the Afghanistan War, it names new-type hybrid threats. The text written by a high-ranking Russian military officials such gen. Valery Gerasimov confirms the fact that on the basis of the experience of Western states, high military command of Russia reflects on and perceives the changing nature of warfare but doesn’t mean that they integrated in military doctrine. In academic circles of warfare researchers, there is a general consensus that Russia’s military actions in Crimea were different from the Russo-Georgian War that took place in 2008; however, the question arises whether the military actions of Russia in Crimea can be called a hybrid war?

Having analysed Russia’s military actions on the basis of Hoffman’s concept of the hybrid war, we can state that actions executed by Russia completely correspond to two aspects of the theory of the hybrid war as formulated by Hoffman: the activity of conventional military forces and irregular military formations. Meanwhile, the character of the activity of non-regular criminal groups and poor evidence of terrorist activity in Crimea differed from the provisions established in Hoffman’s concept of hybrid war. This means that the theory of the hybrid war can only partly explain the actions of the Russian army during the occupation of Crimea.

During the military operation, Russia employed conventional military forces and non-regular military formations, but the character of crimes committed by criminal actors as well as scarce evidence of terrorist actions differed from those defined in Hoffman’s theory. Our comprehensive study of Russia’s military actions in Crimea raises doubts about the analytical value of Hoffman’s theory of hybrid war, since the essential fact in choosing the mode of military operation was the specific conditions characteristic of the Crimean peninsula, taking advantage of which the military operation was executed. Therefore, in attempting to forecast possible military conflicts in the post-Soviet space and seeking to better understand future threats, we should analyse not only the newest warfare theories, but also thoroughly study political, economic, social and military conditions and Russian historical traditions of warfighting that can provide a basis for the opponent to make military interventions or destabilize the situation in the Baltic States. At the same time initial observations from Ukrainian and Russian war in 2022 also initiation thinking that Russian military operations are based more on operational tradition and technical availability that on the newest warfighting theories.

E-mail: kestutis.kilinskas@if.vu.lt

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