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If we are to counter Russian 'hybrid' war, we must understand it

If we are to counter Russian 'hybrid' war, we must understand it
4 min read

Vladimir Putin is seeking to demoralise and divide the West through the use of ‘full spectrum’ warfare. It is vital that we get to grips with it, writes Bob Seely 

Of the many serious and significant challenges of the early 20th century, the Kremlin’s political war against the West is perhaps the most complex. In it, Western states arguably face a new kind of conflict. It is one in which military and non-military tools are combined in a dynamic, efficient, and integrated way to achieve political aims. This Thursday’s debate at in Westminster Hall is a chance for Parliamentarians to examine this important issue.

First, it is important to note that this is not about being anti-Russian, despite the nonsense which comes out of the Russian Embassy in London. The friendliness of Russians to the English during the World Cup shows that the Kremlin’s hostility to the UK is not shared more widely.

Second, the most important job of government is to keep us safe, and we need to do all we can to avoid further conflict with the Kremlin, especially anything that could lead to potentially catastrophic armed conflict.

There are many reasons why Parliamentarians may like to speak, including the ongoing investigation into the Skripal poisoning, the alleged war crimes in Syria implicating Russian forces, the recent speech by the director of MI5 which is highly critical of Russian state behaviour, and alleged attempts by Moscow – according to the German secret services – to conduct information operations in the Catalonian referendum in Spain. Finally, there is the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine, where regular shelling occurs along the line of contact and civilian and military casualties continue.

Critically, Russia’s slide towards its hard-line stance is part a trend taking place around the globe; the rise of authoritarian states and how those authoritarian states use open societies to both project their interests but also to potentially damage those open societies.

Russia is the world leader in these complex, full-spectrum, ‘hybrid’ forms of conflict, but its tools are also being used by other authoritarian states, such as China and Iran. It is a conflict that tests the resilience and deterrence of open societies in many difficult ways.

Yet one of the problems for Western states is that we don’t have a definition of what hybrid/full spectrum war is. That’s why I recently presented to the House of Commons Library and the media a comprehensive, academically peer-reviewed definition. It's available here and here

I explained that Contemporary Russian Conflict was a sophisticated and integrated form of state influence closely linked to political objectives. It has, at its core, the KGB toolkit of ‘Active Measures’ – political warfare – around which has been wrapped a full spectrum of state tools. Such tools are overt and covert, conventional and non-conventional, and are used in a coordinated, efficient and, often, coercive fashion. It is holistic, opportunistic, and flexible. It is a strategic art, not purely a military art.

In waging this form of conflict, I said that Russia makes use of at least 50 tools of state power. These can be grouped into seven elements: Political Conflict; Culture and Governance; Economics and Energy; Military Power; Diplomacy and Public Outreach; and, Information and Narrative Warfare. At its heart is the seventh element: Command and Control (C2).

Contemporary Russian conflict seeks to divide and demoralise the West. It utilises the full spectrum of state power, integrating military and non-military power. It is centralised around the presidential administration, although there are a number of influencing agencies. This conflict is not primarily military and uses violence and force economically. It also uses psychologically-based information operations as both a prelude to war, an alternative to war, and a handmaiden in war.

This ‘Matryoshka Doll’ of conflict is one of the forms of conflict that the West will face for the foreseeable future.

It’s important that we understand and discuss this. I look forward to doing so on Thursday.   

Bob Seely is Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. The Westminster Hall debate on Russia is on Thursday 28 June



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