Russian Hybrid Warfare
Written by Marren Haneberg
On March 17, 2014, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. During the Russian invasion, local residents noted the presence of troops wearing unmarked green uniforms. These troops’ unclear origins and uniform color earned them the moniker “little green men.” Eventually their weapons revealed their Russian origins, which Putin confirmed in April 2014 (Pifer 2014). Russia supported a fraudulent election in Crimea to annex the territory (Adesnik 2014).
This territorial takeover sparked discussion on Russia’s nonmilitary use of force, termed “hybrid warfare” (Chivvis 2017 1). In addition to underhanded territory takeovers, the term includes Russia’s disinformation campaigns and cyber attacks.
In 2008, Russia invaded the Republic of Georgia. Though the Russo-Georgian conflict only lasted five days, the conflict resulted in an ambiguous boundary between the two countries in South Ossetia. Russia uses this ambiguous boundary to block NATO and European Union (EU) expansion without military force, as the ambiguous boundary prevents Georgia from joining NATO and the EU (Pinchuk 2017).
Economic blackmail is another Russian hybrid warfare method. In 1992, Russia cut off energy supplies to Baltic states in retaliation against demands that it withdraw troops from the region (Smith 2006). In March 2018, Gazprom cut off energy to Ukraine after a Stockholm arbitration court ordered Gazprom to pay over $2.5 billion to Ukrainian energy firm Naftogaz. Ukraine took emergency measures to cover the energy shortfall, shutting down schools in Kiev, “switch[ing] power stations from gas to fuel oil,” and using emergency gas from Poland (Soldatkin and Zinets 2018).
Another Russian hybrid warfare strategy is disinformation to manipulate politics in post-Soviet and Western countries. In the lead-up to its March 2014 invasion of Crimea, Russia broadcasted propaganda campaigns to Ukraine via Russian state media channels. These channels were widely watched by Crimeans. As a result, Crimeans were more accepting of Russia’s invasion as propaganda led them to believe a different version of events (Summers 2017).
In 2016, Russian media and “top political leadership” reported a fabricated story that a young Russian girl was gang raped by “Muslim immigrants in Germany” (Chivvis 2017 5). This fabricated story undermined pro-immigrant German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership after she supported strong Western sanctions against Russia (Chivvis 2017 5, Boffey 2016). In January 2017, U.S. Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) reported that the Russian Government used a combination of “covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls’” to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential elections (ODNI 2017 ii). ODNI reported that Russia will use “lessons learned” from this combination of operations to influence future political outcomes of the United States and its allies (ODNI 2017 5).
Jeroen via Wikimedia Commons 2006
This map of Ukraine highlights Crimea in red. Russia invaded and annexed Crimea using hybrid warfare strategies, including soldiers in unmarked uniformed nicknamed “little green men.”
Adesnik, David. 2014. “How Russia Rigged Crimean Referendum.” Forbes. 18 March. https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidadesnik/2014/03/18/how-russia-rigged-crimean- referendum/#442e3c036d41.
Boffey, Daniel. 2016. “Russia ‘stoking refugee unrest in Germany to topple Angela Merkel’.” The Guardian. 5 March. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/05/russia- refugee-germany-angela-merkel-migration-vladimir-putin.
Chivvis, Christopher S. 2017. “Understanding Russian “Hybrid Warfare” and What Can Be Done About It.” Testimony to House Armed Services Committee. 22 March. https://www.rand.org/pubs/testimonies/CT468.html.
Jeroen. 2006. “Position of Crimea on the map of Ukraine.” Wikimedia Commons. 18 July. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e5/Map_of_Ukraine_political_simple_Krim_alternative.png.
ODNI: U.S. Office of Director of National Intelligence. 2017 “Background to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution.” 6 January. https://www.dni.gov/files/documents /ICA_2017_01.pdf.
Pifer, Steven. 2014. “Watch Out for Little Green Men.” Brookings Institute. 7 July. https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/watch-out-for-little-green-men/.
Pinchuk, Denis. 2017. “Russia’s Putin visits breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia.” Reuters. 8 August. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-georgia-putin-abkhazia-idUSKBN1AO1PB.
Smith, Keith. 2006. “Defuse Russia’s energy weapon.” New York Times. 16 January. https://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/16/opinion/defuse-russias-energy-weapon.html.
Soldatkin, Vladimir, and Natalia Zinets. 2018. “Gazprom seeks to halt Ukraine gas contracts as dispute escalates.” Reuters. 2 March. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-ukraine-gas/gazprom-seeks-to-halt-ukraine-gas-contracts-as-dispute-escalates-idUSKCN1GE2DW.
Summers, Julia. 2017. “Countering Disinformation: Russia’s Infowar in Ukraine.” Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. October 25. https://jsis.washington.edu/news/russia-disinformation-ukraine/.