Putin: master of hybrid wars?



Expression “hybrid war” was first fashioned by Frank Hoffman in 2007. It took on wider significance after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. However, it is currently suffering from overexploitation.

All is not war

For starters, it’s not all war, or Hybrid War for that matter, despite the fact that we live in a hybrid age.

Consider what is happening on the border between Belarus and Poland. Immigrants and refugees were brought to the border region of Iraq and elsewhere by Lukashenko.

This act can be described as a “weapon of mass immigration”, as Mark Leonard did in his book “The Age of Unpeace”. Recourse to this tool as a means of foreign policy is a “gray area” of power politics. But this is not a war, not even a hybrid war.

This is true, even if Russia looms in the background. It is a nation that is very skilled in the field between war and peace.

Poutine, the intelligent splittist

In this case, it is reminiscent of the fallout from a war led by the West which was by no means hybrid, the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Admittedly, Vladimir Poutine, with his “splittist” mentality always so fruitful, realizes that the manipulation of irregular immigration flows will necessarily further radicalize the extreme right in Europe on this issue (see what is happening in France).

A tactical application of the strategy of chaos

Certainly, Russia has a concept of “hybrid war”. According to Mathieu Boulègue and Alina Polyakova, it is a “tactical application of the strategy of chaos.

It is a full spectrum war which deploys a mixture of conventional and unconventional means aimed at affecting on the ground changes of target while seeking to avoid a direct military confrontation with the Western states ”.

However, let’s not jump to conclusions that this is an exclusive prerogative of Russia.

The failed US Vietnam War, with its counterinsurgency (also deployed in other conflicts later), also met many criteria for being hybrid from the American perspective.

Irregular threats

A recent Rand report prefers to speak of “irregular threats” emanating from Russia.

This is not entirely new, apart from cyber attacks (which are new, and are also instigated by private actors seeking profit, for example with ransomware, involving the hijacking of data and systems).

These “threats” include disinformation in various fields, the promotion of political subversion and the use of violence or the indirect threat of violence to undermine the political order and influence vulnerable governments, as well as irregular soldiers, although these have always existed.

No mercy, mercenaries for profit

Russian mercenaries are found all over the world. Russian soldiers (without official uniforms) in Crimea and Donbass were not new either. The real innovation was their readiness.

These are instruments that have almost always been used. Examples include the manipulation of newspapers perpetrated by publisher William Randolph Hearst during the Spanish-American War of 1898, and the so-called “fifth columns” that accompany various conflicts.

Propaganda is peddled not only by governments but also by private actors, often for private gain.

Clausewitz digitized

Today there are instruments with a greater range. If war is the continuation of politics by other means, as Clausewitz said, those means have been transformed.

Numerical order imposes other forms of logic, or grammars, to use the preferred term of the Prussian military thinker. There is at the same time a lot of novelty, but also a lot of old and perennial.

Russia failed to meet many of its goals

While there are many studies on disinformation and the many campaigns carried out by various parties (led by Russia), few measure their real impact.

The reality is that Russia has failed to meet many of the goals of its disinformation campaigns. He failed to translate these measures into strategic achievements (with the great exception of Crimea, for which he paid the price of sanctions).

Putin as an influencer (desperate)

Putin, more than the winner, has often sought to exert a permanent influence. But contrary to the wishes and goals of Putin’s Russia, as the Rand report and various surveys suggest, public confidence in NATO (unlike the EU and the United States) in many Western countries has grown. has been improved since 2010.

Moreover, it stands to reason that Putin’s actions had the opposite effect of what he wanted. Western countries have maintained a reasonably united front against Russia, as demonstrated by sanctions and military deployments by NATO countries (including Spain).

The West consolidates its position

There is also more unity than on the issue of Beijing, which is not seen as a military threat in Europe but as a rival in economic, technological and connectivity terms (in its various dimensions), rather than in traditional geopolitics.

China is necessary for us in several ways. Europe is not seeking a radical decoupling of this country civilization (and neither is the American economy, for that matter).

Enter China

It is also interesting to note that instead of embracing the concept of “hybrid” warfare, Chinese experts have for years referred to “non-military war”.

As the political use and manipulation of migrants and refugees underlines, there is a certain mixture – a hybridization, if you will – of political, economic, social and, in some cases, military methods.

The concept not of war but of security acquired new dimensions and complexity, when the boundaries between the civilian and the military blurred, sometimes overlapping.


“We live in a world where anything can be a weapon,” says Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. It could be a knife to carry out acts of terrorism in urban areas.

The challenge for Western democracies is that irregular threats often require preventive and defensive measures which are themselves irregular, although subject to national, European and international law.



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