Is hybrid warfare a new quality of complex warfare and a multinational threat? An evaluation of the Russian vantage point

Siegfried Lautsch


The public opinion suggests that the Kremlin, by annexing Crimea, by fighting in Eastern Ukraine, and by deploying Russian armed forces in Syria, is following a thoughtful strategy, which is postulated under the category “hybrid war” by both the EU and NATO. Obviously there exist different conceptions concerning “hybrid warfare” among the analysts. What, however, is “hybrid war” really? What is the conception of the Russian command and control of the armed forces, and how is this conception to be implemented? The following presentation attempts at pointing out the respective Russian point of view. According to Soviet and/or Russian warfare there were and have been different forms of war, and they have been characterized according to the deployed technological weapons. So far the Russian military theory has differentiated between conventional war and nuclear war. These kinds of war were subclassified in chemical and bacteriological wars. Now, a new dimension of warfare (apart from land, air, sea and cosmic warfare) has been added, namely Cyber War, which rests upon extensive computerization and interconnectedness of military and civil realms. Thus, its subsuming under the concept of hybrid warfare is an expression of a mutated war picture. According to the Russian version the “rules of war” have changed. The importance of non-military means for achieving political and strategic goals has increased, and their effectiveness excels the impact of military violence in a multitude of cases. Although the term „hybrid“ has been established in politics as well as in the media, in the military, especially in Russia, and also in the USA, the term asymmetric warfare and/or unconventional warfare is still being used. These terms explicitly include “use of military violence”. The meanings of these word formations are mostly expressions of their origins and of special methods of use of force. The further development and dissemination of precise and far-reaching forms of fighting with high efficiency achieved with organised procedures and variable means so far have played secondary parts in political and military considerations, although especially this development might lead to the possibility that in dangerous crisis situations, under time-critical pressure for decision-finding, the barrier to war might dissolve rapidly. Whether this phenomenon is called hybrid war in the media or asymmetric warfare in the military often depends on political considerations. The term “hybrid” naturally tends towards abstraction and does not do justice to the basic forms of action. When talking of a conflict which complies with military criteria to the greatest possible extent, one had rather maintain the previous authentic language “asymmetric” in order to better be in accordance with the defined character of these actions, for otherwise the actual actions of use of force should be denominated precisely. In respect of the fact that organised violence is in the foreground of this phenomenon, a definition is required which on the one hand does not compound for the forms of fight but designate them, and which on the other hand complies with the norms of public international law as far as its classification is concerned.