How to deal with Russia’s Hybrid Warfare?
19 November, 2019
How to deal with Russia’s Hybrid Warfare?
How to deal with Russia’s Hybrid Warfare?
The Georgian Institute for Security Policy (GISP) sat down with Eitvydas Bajarunas, Ambassador-at-Large for Hybrid Threats, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania, to get his take on his country’s experience in dealing with hybrid warfare.

“This very term ‘hybrid’ is puzzling because if you ask the general public and even google yourself, you will find a ‘hybrid car’ mentioned yet this hybrid car analogy is not discouraging for us professionals; it’s
actually a very good feature. A hybrid car means that you use an engine which might be on gasoline and then switch to electricity: you would not even notice,” Bajarunas told us. “This is what hybrid warfare entails too – disinformation operations might be continued with cyber-attacks and a cyber-attack with a green man invasion or all those in combination; so you don’t notice. This is what happened in Ukraine when we saw a coordinated Russian attack on disinformation, then the cyber-attack on the electricity network followed by Russian Spetsnaz occupying buildings in Lugansk and Donetsk. Afterwards it was called hybrid. The term is new, very much as a consequence of Russia’s operation in Ukraine, but the tactic of meddling with internal affairs to weaken, using lies, has always been there- the only difference is that it’s now a country, Russia, that’s doing this very much at the state level. And then of course globalization and technology are making it even easier. Now you do not need a big investment to send lies; you need just follow social media. The cyber field is far-reaching, global.”

So what’s Lithuania’s response?

There are three tracks we follow; one is of course national homework. This is unavoidable; you cannot just say ‘NATO, please help us,’ no, you should start by doing your national homework: coordination, threat assessment, civil-military cooperation, basically resilience building of your society; this is the best medicine against hybrid warfare, free media literacy, I can expand the list of what Lithuania is doing. The other is awareness raising in society, a ‘whole society’ approach. This is exactly what Lithuania spotted: societal members need to be resilient, government coordination is not enough. We Lithuanians won against the big Soviet Union machinery in the 1990s, despite the KGB and Russian army. We did it because we believed in the liberation process, not because of guns, there were no guns in Lithuania, but because of Lithuania’s societal resilience. So this societal resilience is a key factor. I’m proud to say that we have this concept of Elf Movement in Lithuania – fighting against disinformation, fake news and Russian trolls. There are some big media platforms, very much self-organized where the media has started themselves to collaborate on the debunking, such as debunk.eu.

Also important is the NATO – EU support; there are things what you need to do yourself but there are certain things where doing it together is much better, more effective. The example I usually present is when a Lithuanian or Georgian calls Facebook and says “Hi guys, there are so many anti-Georgian fake pages, can you deal with it? This is hostile content against our country.” While that is also a good thing to do, there is something better: The European Commission has a Code of Conduct which they offered to big social media giants Facebook, Google, Twitter, with very simple measures and a very simple message: guys you need to clean the wrong or fake content or we will start to regulate you. When Brussels announces such things, it is heard more loudly than when it comes from Tbilisi or Vilnius. We need EU-NATO too: Lithuania is a member, Georgia is a future member, no doubt about that whatsoever, so your security is of concern to us and a resilient Georgia is in Lithuania’s and NATO’s interest. The more vulnerable you are, the more troubles there are on the Eastern flank; that’s why we see the need of EU-NATO to extend support for Georgia in resilience building.

You said hybrid is a new word but uses old tactics. If it’s old tactics, why is the world so unprepared?

Remember the 90s saw the liberation of Lithuania and Georgia, we regained our statehood and the world got rid of the Berlin Wall and divisions. It was a period of higher hopes that there is no more division of liberal/non-liberal democracy systems. Russia was not a very democratic country but was moving in this direction; so of course you are losing some immunity saying you need strong military investment, because it’s a cost some are unwilling to make. British journalist and author Ed Lucas, formerly with the Economist, has been saying this for ages that ‘we the West were not listening to our friends from Georgia, Lithuania who were saying, yes Russia might seem like it’s moving in the direction of democracy but we still need to be careful. We were not listening. ‘ Lithuania was more alarmist during this period. Resilience is costly but necessary, especially now with Russia, China, with new actors on cyber field, Iran, North Korea, non-state actors like Daesh and you can name individuals hackers. We should realize that this will be forever with us, that there will be never a world which will not have ‘fakes,’ so best not to regret but to think what to do to strengthen and prevent. Yes, Russia is very strong, but we are also too weak and disorganized, we are not yet united. In the resilience field, if the EU and NATO stand together with friends and future members like Georgia, we will be united in dealing with resilience, making it very difficult for any hackers or hostile countries to penetrate.

An increasingly popular new term is ‘Russia’s Malign Influence.’ What is it exactly?

It is a term that some Georgians and even Lithuanians sometimes struggle to understand. It is what a hybrid or malign operation is about, to go unnoticed. What is “good” with a conventional war is the visuality: you see tanks moving or not moving, engines off or not. The hybrid nature is to make things go unnoticed; the green man has now become a classic. The green man for Lithuanians, Georgians and Ukrainians means Russian soldiers. Many in the West would attribute it to aliens from space. This is what hybrid is about: to make things more clearly unidentifiable by meddling in political processes, supporting political radical parties, gray zone economy corruption, ethnical tensions, social society tensions, everything is a potential hybrid target. Hybrid is opportunistic; about identifying and using weak points. In Lithuania’s case, our weak points were the Lithuania-Polish societal tensions which have historical grounds, and social-economic problems, and then you get a third country actor trying to meddle and exploit them. History is commonly used in hybrid attacks, culture, sport, religion; you can name any field but the main characteristic is that there should be problems, there should be some tensions in society; this is what the outside or non-state actor tries to use.

Quite recently, there has been a series of intelligence operations uncovering Russian spies or proxies, for example in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria. How do you combat that?

There are no magic recipes, but one is Lithuania’s way to deal with the sensitive part; every year based on the example of other countries, Lithuania’s intelligence services, both military and civilian, come up with a joint national threat assessment; it is quite big, open source, and it explains what they see. No political assessment is done but this picture very much highlights increased Russian intelligence activities, gives a more detailed explanation in what spheres Russians are doing this, and I believe this is one way to counter. We also have a big program where Lithuanian experts from academia, from NGOs and from Lithuania’s military, visit schools and universities, and speak with members of society. I would meet a rotary group from Kaunas or university students in Vilnius to talk about threats, what are the threats, what is the modern threat assessment. In doing so we want to present a picture to society, for society to understand and to become more resilient.

A particular facet of Pro-Russian narrative, especially in Georgia, is to promote Russia as a friendly entity, often using the common religious beliefs. What is your advice to combat this narrative?

The question of religion is also being exploited by third countries. They say – we are of the same faith or sometimes, as was in the case of Ukraine, they are trying to cause a schism. Again, there are no magic recipes but one thing is clear: just because of religious closeness, you cannot allow Russia to have special influence. Let’s take Montenegro for example, the country also has strong ties with Russia but there the westward choice had nothing to do with religion; it was based on historical experience, based on their geography and political will that they decided they wanted to join NATO and in the future the EU: This was the choice of the people, not of religion, not of the political elite but of the people of Montenegro, who decided that they wanted to join, and this is what democracy is about.

By Vazha Tavberidze

Source: gisp.ge

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