1. Russia - its power potential and search for great power status
Before treating Russia as a challenge for the EU, let’s assess the Russian power potential in general:
In 2015 it had a population of 144 million with a average annual population growth of 0,10% from 2010-2015 (United Nations: World Population Prospects 2017 (1)). The GDP is situated at 1,578 billion US-$ in 2017 (World Bank: GDP (current US$) 2017 (2)) with an annual growth rate of 1,65% in the same year (World Bank: GDP growth (annual %) 2017 (3)), after two years of negative growth after the application of the sanctions as a consequence of the annexation of Crimea. At the end of 2017 it possessed 6,3% of world oil reserves and 18,1% of its natural gas reserves (BP Statistical Review of World Energy, June 2018 (4)). Its military expenditures amount to 61 billion US-$ in 2018 (SIPRI: Military expenditure by country, in constant (2017) US$ m., 2019 (5)), what is a share of 3,9% of its GDP (SIPRI: Military expenditure by country as percentage of gross domestic product, 2019 (6)). In January 2018 it possessed a total of 6.850 nuclear warheads (SIPRI Yearbook 2018, 6. World nuclear forces (7)).
Compared with the US, China and the EU the population strength is quite low - EU: 513 million in 2018 (Eurostat – newsrelease: EU population up to nearly 513 million on 1 January 2018, 10 July 2018 (8)) -, the GDP is very low compared with the other three (EU: 17,339 billion in 2017) and as a consequence the military expenditures also are much lower than those of the others (in the EU France alone spends more: almost 64 billion, Germany and the UK spend 49 and 50 billion), although the Russian share of GDP is quite high compared with these European powers, not to speak of the 649 billion of the US. Its military strength is the big number of nuclear warheads, that even outnumber those of the US (EU: 515 of France and the UK together), and its second strength are its huge energy reserves.
As far as Russia is concerned the challenge for Europe is thus clearly one of security: of military security and one of energy supply, and it results from NATO and EU enlargements to the east and the development of the EU Neighbourhood Policy, as well as the Russian reaction to them.
But Russia is an isolated state. Above all, since the Ukraine crisis relations with the West are confrontational – with the European countries seen by the Russians as US satellite states that follow their masters into troubled relations with Russia. As the EU doesn’t act as an independent global player political cooperation with it lost its value. The former Soviet states partly regard Russia as a hostile power and partly as a pragmatic partner with whom they accept at most elements of integration. And as for its relations with China, a close partnership with this rising power would not be a partnership of equals but Russia would become the junior partner that it doesn’t want to be in regard to the US. (Trenin, Dmitri: It’s Time to Rethink Russia’s Foreign Policy Strategy, Carnegie Moscow Center, 25.04.2019 (13)) The opinion that the shift of power towards China undermines the Russian-Chinese cooperation is also held by Stratfor analyst Eugene Chausovsky who writes „as China continues to grow as an economic and military power, tensions will likely increase between Russia and China and undermine the trajectory of cooperation that the two countries are currently on.“ (Chausovsky, Eugene: The Ever-Shifting ‚Strategic Triangle‘ Between Russia, China and the U.S., Stratfor Worldview, 07.06.2019, (22))
Generally spoken, the two most important security objectives in Russia’s National Security Strategies of 2009 and 2016 (19) are maintaining the great power status and the sovereignty of the country. But both are challenged by the West that is seen as encouraging democracy movements and anti-regime activism in the former Soviet republics, for example during the ‘coloured’ revolutions between 2003 and 2005 or the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine 2014 - not to mention NATO statements in 2008 that Georgia and Ukraine would one day join the alliance. This region is considered by the Russians as their own sphere of influence. Furthermore, the West, especially the US, undermines sovereignty in general by promoting globalization and neo-liberalism to enrich itself and perpetuate its hegemony. (Clunan, Anne L.: Russia’s pursuit of great power status and security, in: Kanet, Roger E. (ed.): Routledge Handbook of Russian Security, Abingdon, New York, 2019, pp. 3-16).
Another mention of this perception of a besieged Russia comes from Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian general staff, who warned in 2013: "На период до 2030 года уровень существующих и потенциальных военных опасностей для России может существенно повыситься" (“In the period until 2030, the level of existing and potential military threats for Russia may grow significantly”), explaining that “уровень военной опасности для РФ будет определяться борьбой ведущих государств за топливно-энергетические ресурсы, рынки сбыта товаров и жизненное пространство. Для обеспечения доступа к этим ресурсам будет активно задействоваться военный потенциал” (the level of military danger for the Russian Federation will be determined by the struggle of the leading states for fuel and energy resources, commodity markets and living space. To ensure access to these resources, military potential will be actively used). (“Уровень военных угроз для РФ к 2030 году может существенно повыситься”, РИА Новости, 14.02.2013 (25)).
And as Russians, for historical reasons, see their country as a military great power able to project military might globally and based on nuclear weapons, they traditionally prefer falling back on this military might to resolve crises and secure their great power status, be it within their own boundaries as twice in Chechnya, in the former Soviet space as in Moldova-Transnistria, in the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, in Georgia in 2008 or in Ukraine since 2014, or internationally as in Kosovo in 1999 or in Syria since 2015 (Smith, Hanna: Military might as a basis for Russian Great Power identity, in: Kanet (ed.): Routledge Handbook of Russian Security, pp. 46-57).
To maintain the own hegemony in the former Soviet space Russia has undertaken a rebuilding of its military capabilities. After the 2008 war in Georgia Russia transformed its forces into efficient, mobile, well equipped and highly professional ones and streamlined their structure (Mathers, Jennifer G.: The rebuilding of Russian military capabilities, in: Kanet (ed.), 2019, pp. 144-153). The focus of the Russian military strategy lies on its nuclear forces that are thought to compensate for the inferiority of its conventional forces vis-a-vis NATO. Thus, the Russians have modernized their air, sea and land based nuclear weapons as well as their short-, intermediate- and long-range ones. It is also developing new tactical nuclear weapons and weapons that can evade US missile defences (hypersonic missiles, cruise missiles, stealth technology). As a consequence Russia has even reached an advantage over the US nuclear forces. The aim of this nuclear build-up is deterrence of a NATO attack, nuclear and conventional, against its own territory and that of its sphere of influence, above all the former Soviet republics. This way also a massive NATO response against any Russian aggression in this sphere shall be deterred and regional Russian hegemony there shall be stabilized. The problem of the Russian lack of conventional capabilities and Russian threat perception combined with nuclear strength is the pressure this exercises to counter a massive conventional use of force by the West with tactical nuclear weapons, that is a first strike use of these weapons in limited nuclear warfare, as this could be the only means they have to counter the hostile forces – even at the risk that Russia itself could be hit by a nuclear response. In exercises in Europe, Asia and the Indian Ocean the Russians even train for this first strike use of their nuclear weapons. And even when not using nuclear weapons militarily, they are used to intimidate others, be it by rhetorically threatening with their use, by nuclear overflights and submarine probes (Blank, Stephen: Reflections on Russia’s nuclear strategy, in: Kanet (ed.), 2019, pp. 154-168).
2. Challenging Europeans as members of NATO and the EU
2.1 Europeans as members of NATO
As for the tensions arising for Europe from the fact that most European states are NATO members, these tensions began in 1995 after the publication of the study on NATO enlargement and worsened because of the integration of Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland into the organization in 1999. The NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia in 1999 also were perceived as a threat to Russian interests in the region. In 2003 the US and its allies, among them several European countries, invaded Iraq and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein against the will of Russia, France and Germany. Further NATO enlargements followed in 2004, 2009 and 2017 to include the Baltic States and several countries of the Balkans.
In 2007, a speech of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Munich Security Conference showed the worsening of the relations. Thus, he critizised the West’s pursuit of global supremacy and use of force outside the framework of the UN (where Russia is a permanent member and a veto power in the Security Council): „Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force – military force – in international relations […]. We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. […] And of course this is extremely dangerous. It results in the fact that no one feels safe. I want to emphasise this – no one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them.” Moreover, he critizised the expansion of NATO as being a provocation: “I think it is obvious that NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernisation of the Alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe. On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust.” And referring to NATO plans to deploy a missile defence system in Romania and Poland he said “[p]lans to expand certain elements of the anti-missile defence system to Europe cannot help but disturb us.” (Putin, Vladimir: Speech and the Following Discussion at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, Munich, 10.02.2007 (14))
The NATO statements of 2008 that Georgia and Ukraine should one day also be integrated rose the fears in Russia to the point that it even invaded both countries to deter the Alliance from this further enlargement into its own sphere of interest. John Mearsheimer, American professor of political sciences and international relations scholar, also focuses on the NATO enlargement when stating that the following Ukraine crisis is the West’s fault: “the United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis. The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West. At the same time, the EU’s expansion eastward and the West’s backing of the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine -- beginning with the Orange Revolution in 2004 -- were critical elements, too.” (Mearsheimer, John J.: Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault. The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin, Foreign Affairs, September/ October 2014 (28)).
Crimea, that the Russians annexed in 2014, is of a high strategic importance. Thus, from the Black Sea Fleet naval base in Sevastopol Russia has access to its year-round ice-free ports in the Mediterranean and from there to the world oceans. Russia also uses the annexed territory to reinforce its military posture in the Black Sea, increasing thus its military control over the region. (Kabanenko, Ihor: Strategy in the Black Sea and Mediterranean, in: Howard, Glen E. and Matthew Czekaj (ed.): Russia’s Military Strategy and Doctrine, Washington 2019, pp. 34-74).
In 2014 the Russian military doctrine, approved after the Crimea invasion, qualified NATO as a main external military danger: "12. The main external military risks are: a) build-up of the power potential of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and vesting NATO with global functions carried out in violation of the rules of international law, bringing the military infrastructure of NATO member countries near the borders of the Russian Federation, including by further expansion of the alliance; [...]" (The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, 25.12.2014, translation from Russian (15)).
This Russian perception showed in military exercises, especially the so-called ZAPAD, that simulated for example in 2013 the invasion of Poland and the Baltic states and in 2017 the occupation of a territory very similar to the Baltic states with the Russians fighting against forces similar to the NATO ones. Furthermore, the number of Russian naval and airspace violations against NATO member states have greatly increased since 2007, reaching a maximum in 2014 and 2015 during the high tensions because of the Ukrainian crisis (Priego, Alberto: NATO enlargement: a security dilemma for Russia, in: Kanet (ed.), 2019, pp. 257-265). According to Bruno Tertrais, Deputy Director of the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, the 2017 ZAPAD was even accompanied by tests of nuclear weapons: ICBMs (land based ballistic missiles of long range) and SLBMs (submarine based ballistic missiles). (Tertrais, Bruno: Does Russia really include limited nuclear strikes in its large-scale military exercises?, IISS Blog, 15.02.2018 (30)).
But according to a report of the EU Institute for Security Studies (ISS) it is clear that “achieving the triad of maintaining regional dominance, being a peer competitor with NATO and an interventionist power is clearly beyond current Russian capabilities” (Bitzinger, Richard A.; Popescu, Nicu (ed.): Defence industries in Russia and China: players and strategies, ISSUE Report No. 38, December 2017, p. 36 (23)). Thus, if Russia wanted to engage in more than a limited confrontation over Belarus, in the Baltics or the Black Sea, it would have to step up the current efforts to modernise its land forces, air- and space-defence systems as well as non-strategic nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the Eastern European NATO nations are accelerating their modernisation and in particular starting to field weapons systems and munitions designed to take on their Russian counterparts.
As a response to Russian actions in Ukraine NATO created the ‘Enhanced Forward Presence’ (EFP) deploying four battalion-sized battle groups in the Baltic states and Poland to deter Russia from aggressions there: In Estonia the UK leads an armoured battalion with main battle tanks and armoured fighting vehicles supported by an armoured infantry company from Belgium. In Latvia Canada leads a mechanised infantry battalion with armoured fighting vehicles supported by various companies from partner countries. In Lithuania the battlegroup is led by a German armoured infantry company with partner countries deploying two mechanized infantry companies. Finally, the battlegroup in Poland is led by the US who deploys an armoured cavalry squadron. According to NATO the approximate total troop number for all four battlegroups is, in March 2019, 4747. (NATO: Factsheet: NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence, Brussels, March 2019 (27)). Furthermore, fighter jets fly air-policing patrols, AWACS undertake surveillance flights; maritime patrols in the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean were intensified and the number of exercises increased. Overall, the force and command structures were adapted for rapid crisis response. Thus, in general one can say that NATO with the decision to deploy these four battalion-sized battlegroups instead of some brigades showed restraint vis-à-vis Russia to minimise the risk of escalation. (Jakobsen, Peter Viggo: New threats to European security, in: Galbreath, David J.; Mawdsley, Jocelyn; Chappell, Laura (eds.): Contemporary European Security, London and New York 2019, pp. 153-172).
On 2 August 2019 the INF Treaty (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty) concluded between the USSR and the US in December 1987, that forbids ground-based intermediate- and short-range nuclear missiles (500 km - 5.500 km) ended, with the US withdrawing first from the treaty and claiming that the Russians are breaking it. According to them the Russian cruise missile 9М729 has a larger range than that permitted by the INF Treaty, what the Russians deny. But in general, the problem lies deeper: The INF Treaty is a treaty from the past, from a time when the US and the USSR were the big opponents on the world. But now there are five countries (China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea) that possess ground-based medium-range ballistic missiles that can be used as nuclear missiles. But although Russia and the US tried to include other countries, first of all China, there is no interest on their side to participate in such a new treaty. Thus, in Russia many experts now believe that the realities of the modern world and the security interests of the Russian Federation may require the possession of medium-range ground-based missiles. Others however say that the treaty is important for the Russian national interests, because without the treaty the US could place such medium-range nuclear missiles in Eastern European countries. (“Договор о ликвидации ракет средней и меньшей дальности. История и положения”, ТАСС, 01.08.2019 (26)).
2.2 Europeans as members of the EU
As for the EU–Russia relations, after the breakdown of the Soviet Union, a serious economic crisis and rampant criminality at the beginning of the 90s, Russia saw the rapprochement with the West as a solution for its problems. The EU, for its part, wanted to integrate Russia into an institutional arrangement and prevent a rollback of democratic and economic reforms there. But soon the rising oil price allowed Russia to follow its own path and to reject instructions from Brussels. Claims of “great powerness” became more persistent and Russia’s interest for the former Soviet republics grew, leading to the 2008 war in Georgia. But, at the same time, Russia still needs the EU and the EU needs Russia: Thus, Russia wants to avoid its isolation and export oil and gas to Europe, and the Europeans need the Russian energy supplies and stability on its Eastern borders. But realizing these common interests was made more difficult, first, with the Russian war in Georgia and then, with its intervention in Eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea in 2014. (Rotaru, Vasile: Russia, the EU, and the Eastern Partnership. Building Bridges or Digging Trenches?, Stuttgart 2018, chapters 2 and 3).
From the European perspective, the development of common foreign policies towards that country is not always easy, above all because in Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) matters the Council decides with unanimity and the EU member states are divided on Russia. Thus, many members of the German government fear economic and geopolitical instability and favour a moderate stance. In Germany’s business community many want to see an easing of economic sanctions and a strengthening of economic ties with Russia. Furthermore, Russian gas supplies play an important role, as one can also see in the planned Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. Poland, the Baltic States and Finland deeply mistrust Russia and fear its military adventurism. In contrast to these countries of the East, Austria prefers good relations with Russia, so, that some regard the country as Moscow‘s potential Trojan horse within the EU. Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria and Cyprus are also seen as friendly to Russia, sometimes for financial reasons. In Italy, traditionally having relatively strong ties with Russia, Matteo Salvini, the country’s deputy prime minister, has even argued for a recognition of Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea. (Fischer, Eva: New Year, Same Problem. EU divisions on Russia remain, Handelsblatt, 02.01.2019 (17)).
Tensions arise from the fact that both, the EU and Russia, share the same neighbourhood in Eastern Europe. The EU regards its Eastern neighbourhood in the European Security Strategy (ESS) of 2003 and the Implementation Report of 2008 as a geographical area of strategic importance and ‚building security in our Neighbourhood‘ as a key strategic objective (Council of the EU: A Secure Europe in a Better World - European Security Strategy, Brussels, 12 December 2003, p. 5 (9)). The threats are seen in intra- and inter-state conflicts in the South Caucasus, Ukraine and Moldova, in illegal migration, including human trafficking and organized crime. To counter these threats the ESS wants to promote „a ring of well governed countries to the East of the European Union […] with whom we can enjoy close and cooperative relations“ (Council of the EU, 2003, p. 5).
Thus, after the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008 a Polish-Swedish initiative led to the launch of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) in 2009 aiming at “creat[ing] the necessary conditions to accelerate political association and further economic integration between the European Union and interested partner countries […] [what] serves the shared commitment to stability, security and prosperity of the European Union, the partner countries and indeed the entire European continent.” (Council of the European Union: Joint Declaration of the Prague Eastern Partnership Summit, Brussels 07.05.2009, p. 6 (20)). Interested partner countries were Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. With these countries the EU wanted to work closer together, but a EU membership perspective was excluded for them. This now changed the perception of the EU by the Russians: from now on they regard it as a rival for influence in a region that they consider as their zone of influence. But it was them who moved those countries closer to the EU as they tried to bind them within their zone of influence by exercising pressure in the areas of energy delivery (as for example to Ukraine), the economy and the secessionist movements in some of these states provoking them to look for a rapprochement with the EU (Rotaru, Vasile: Russia, the EU, and the Eastern Partnership, chapters 4 and 5), above all Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.
In Moldova the Russians support the breakaway region Transnistria and in Georgia the separatist regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In Ukraine they even occupied Crimea and support the separatists in the eastern region of the Donbas. Moreover, to counteract the EU’s influence in its own sphere of influence in Eastern Europe Moscow offered its own alternatives to the ENP and the EaP in form of economic assistance and political support, as the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) including the Russian Federation, Belarus, Armenia and Kazakhstan that followed the Eurasian Customs Union in 2015, low gas prices and open markets for products from the region.
In 2013 the concerns of Russia grew again with the prospect of the signing of association agreements between former Soviet states and the EU. This, so the Russians, would also bring NATO closer at its borders. Thus, Russia convinced the Ukrainian President Yanukovych to suspend the signing of such an agreement. But the consequence was a revolution in this country, leading to the installation of a pro-Western government in Kiev. Fearing that now NATO would expand to Ukraine, Russia annexed Crimea and started a secessionist war in the Donbas (Rotaru, Vasile, chapter 6).
Although there are considerable differences among the EU states about how to deal with Russia, if they should antagonize it or not, in the case of the sanctions as a consequence of the annexation of Crimea, they show united. (Juncos, Ana E.: CSDP strategy in the Balkans and the Eastern neighbourhood: in search for a strategy?, in: Chappell, Laura; Mawdsley, Jocelyn; Petrov, Petar (eds.): The EU, Strategy and Security Policy. Regional and strategic challenges, London, New York 2016, pp. 19-34). In addition to the economic sanctions, the EU imposes also diplomatic measures and restrictive measures regarding individuals, as asset freeze and travel restrictions (European Union Delegation to the Russian Federation: EU restrictive measures in response to the crisis in Ukraine, (Last updated on 29 March 2019) (18)). Meanwhile, the 2016 Global Strategy of the EU considers Russia as a big security concern for the EU stating that “Russia’s violation of international law and the destabilisation of Ukraine, on top of protracted conflicts in the wider Black Sea region, have challenged the European security order at its core” (European Commission and High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy: A Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy: “Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe”, June 2016, p. 33 (10)).
As for the European capability to defend Europe against a Russian invasion without the United States, a scenario analysis of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) studied this case in April 2019 (Douglas Barrie, Ben Barry, Dr Lucie Béraud-Sudreau, Henry Boyd, Nick Childs, Dr Bastian Giegerich: Defending Europe: scenario-based capability requirements for NATO’s European members (24)). In the second of its analyzed scenarios Russia occupies Lithuania and some Polish territory. Based on the NATO command structure the Europeans plan Operation Eastern Shield to reassure Estonia, Latvia and Poland and to deter further Russian aggression. Then the Europeans prepare for Operation Eastern Storm, a military operation to restore Polish and Lithuanian government control over their territories. To fill the capability gaps that emerge in this scenario, the IISS assesses that European NATO members would have to invest between 288 billion and 357 billion US dollar. Besides capability shortfalls, the study underlines the centrality of the NATO Command Structure. To reach the necessary capability level, the Europeans would need 20 years as the European production capacity is limited, equipment and weapons would have to be produced, troops would have to be recruited and trained and the new units would have to reach operational capability.
3. Russia's use of "hybrid warfare"
3.1 Concept and elements
Beyond direct military conflict there is another weapon Russia uses to reach its aims vis-à-vis the West: the so called “hybrid warfare”, “гибридная война” in Russian, as it appears (without using this term) in the so called “Gerasimov Doctrine” of 2013. In an article the Russian Chief of the General Staff expressed the conviction that in modern times have appeared more complex and politically-led forms of contestation alongside regular warfare:
“The role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness ... The focus of applied methods of conflict has altered in the direction of the broad use of political, economic, informational, humanitarian, and other non-military measures – applied in coordination with the protest potential of the population. All this is supplemented by military means of a concealed character, including carrying out actions of informational conflict and the actions of special-operations forces. The open use of forces – often under the guise of peacekeeping and crisis regulation – is resorted to only at a certain stage, primarily for the achievement of final success in the conflict.” (quoted in: Galeotti, Mark: Russian Political War. Moving Beyond the Hybrid, London, New York 2019, p.27).
Although there seems to be no detailed masterplan for this kind of non-military warfare, there is a broad strategy that aims at supporting Russia’s claim to great-power status, consolidating its dominance over its sphere of influence, weakening the West, above all NATO and the EU and distancing Europe from the US, and undermining hostile governments (Galeotti, Mark: Russian Political War, 2019, p.60).
As „weapons of the new wars“ Galeotti identifies intimidation by displays of military force, as for example Russian bombers flying into European countries‘ airspace, offensive war games against neighbours, the threat to deploy nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad or warnings of military consequences. Another important weapon is the use of special forces, mainly the Spetsnaz, whose provenance is concealed, as in the case of the ‚little green men‘ who took Crimea in 2014 and played an important role in the Donbas. Besides them, the Russians have also used autonomous local militias, mercenaries, volunteers, criminal hackers and gangsters whose advantage is that they are deniable but at the cost of limited control over them.
Also the intelligence agencies, primarily the Foreign Intelligence Service SVR and the Main Intelligence Directorate GRU of the General Staff but also the Federal Security Service FSB (technically a domestic security agency), play a central role in this new kind of war, as they don’t simply gather information but are also involved in active measures like blackmail, subversion, assassination and sabotage. These services create pretexts for military operation, preconditions for success and paralyse and disrupt external forces that block Russian moves.
The media, above all RT TV, Russia’s foreign news service that broadcasts in English, Arabic and Spanish, and the Sputnik news agency, which publishes in 30 languages, promote state propaganda and spread disinformation, false or distorted news and try to undermine foreign unity and will. Additionally, there are the so-called ‚troll farms‘ active in the social media.
Still another element of the hybrid war are state-owned or state-dominated corporations like Gazprom or Rosneft in the gas and petroleum sector that are used by the Kremlin to exploit the dependence of European countries on Russian energy supply (Galeotti, 2019, Part III: Weapons of the new wars, pp. 69-100). Thus, Gabriel Collins writes: “Russian energy companies — presumably with the Kremlin’s blessing — have gone on to make multiple attempts over the past 25 years to use energy supplies to gain leverage over Russia’s neighbors and advance Moscow’s strategic priorities.” He “identified at least 15 discrete instances where Russian entities used price and physical volume manipulation of crude oil or natural gas supplies — often amid political tensions — to pressure consumers located in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet countries.” (Collins, Gabriel: Russia’s Use of the “Energy Weapon” in Europe. Issue brief no. 07.18.17. Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, Houston, 2017, pp. 2-3 (11)). The most famous example, however, is the January 2009 shutoff of gas supply for Ukraine that was also felt in other parts of Europe whose supply lines go through Ukraine.
3.2 гибридная война in Europe
The first and classical case of hybrid warfare is the Russian annexation of Crimea and its proxy war in Donbas to stop Ukraine’s approach to Europe and prevent the country from joining NATO. War plans are said to have existed since 2004, just after the first Maidan. In 2008 Putin openly threatened to dismember Ukraine and to annex the parts populated by Russians, if the country wanted to join NATO. “Project Novorossiya” even aimed at separating the whole southeastern half of Ukraine and to turn it into a Russian protectorate. According to the published war plan there were three scenarios of invasion, but they all were conventional: based on massive use of land forces and aviation. From 2008 on Russia has formed military units for a traditional war near the border with Ukraine. However, the Russian warfare there since 2014 was then a hybrid one. Probably to reduce the cost of warfare and to avoid an aggravation of relations with the West by presenting the war as a civil war.
On February 21, 2014 Russian friendly Ukrainian President Yanukovych fled Kyiv and his regime crashed. Two days later Putin ordered the invasion of Crimea. “At first, pro-Russian organisations in Crimea were activated, forming the so-called ‘self-defence’ squads and launched massive rallies in protest against the new government in Kyiv. In the next few days, pro-Russian marchers and rioters provoked clashes with pro-Ukrainian groups, yet were not able to force the then Crimean Parliament and government to declare independence from Ukraine or to address Moscow asking for unification with Russia. To turn the tide in favour of Moscow after February 24, Russian Marines stations in Crimea and the so-called ‘polite little green men’ in actual fact Spetsnaz task forces without insignia airlifted and transferred to Crimea, started taking control over governmental buildings, strategic locations and key points. On February 27, Russian Spetsnaz units seized the buildings of the Crimean Parliament and the government. On the same day, regional legislators who were held at gunpoint voted for replacement of the former prime minister by Sergey Aksenov, the head of one of the pro-Russian organisations in Crimea, for the referendum on the future of the Peninsula and for dismissal of the government. […] During early March 2014, Russian troops stationed at the naval base in Sevastopol, together with troops, armour and helicopters from Russia, encircled Ukrainian units in Crimea […] and exercised complete control over the Crimean Peninsula.” (Fedorov, Yury E.: Russia’s ‘hybrid’ aggression against Ukraine, in: Kanet, Roger E., 2019, pp. 388-398, p. 392). This way Russia forced a referendum in Crimea that resulted in March 2014 in a majority vote for joining Russia.
Similarly, Russia acted from 2014 on in other parts of southeast Ukraine where pro-Russian locals initiated anti-government rallies under separatist slogans, often guided by the FSB and the GRU and with strong involvement of Russian criminals, hooligans and nationalist organizations. This way regional legislatures should be made ask Russia for military help to protect the separatists against pro-Ukrainian groups. But in most parts of southeast Ukraine they had no success and the Ukrainian authorities were able to suppress the separatists, also because the people there had no intention to join Russia. Only in Donbas Russia succeeded as in spring 2014 pro-Russian separatists seized power with the help of mercenaries, paramilitaries and ‘advisers’ from Russia and proclaimed the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics – used now to show that the war in Ukraine was a civil war and not a Russian aggression although Moscow soon sent regular forces and modern armaments to prevent the defeat of the separatists. Since Russia has no interest in a solution of the conflict, it’s still ging on, despite of the Minsk agreements.
A study of the RAND Corporation treats Russia's hostile measures in Europe according to different regions: the Baltics, Southeastern Europe and the rest of Europe (Cohen, Raphael S.; Radin, Andrew: Russia's Hostile Measures in Europe. Understanding the Threat, 2019 (12)):
As for the Baltics, the study identifies as possible motivations for hostile measures there countering potential threats from the EU and NATO. But Russia’s interests and its willingness to commit significant resources there are lower than in other former Soviet states and the measures available to influence these countries are fewer. A big vulnerability of the Baltics are the large Russian-speaking minorities in Estonia and Latvia, where they represent a third of the overall population, who mainly use Russian medias. Falling back on covert military force as in Ukraine could be quite risky for the Russians as this could activate collective NATO defence. But they do use information operations, cyber attacks and military intimidation. Finally, they could exploit economic and energy dependence on Russia, although the Baltics have already diversified their relations.
In South Eastern Europe Russia is concerned about NATO military capabilities there, as the ballistic missile defence in Romania. Furthermore, it wants to undermine EU and NATO enlargement in the region that it regards as an own sphere of interest. And finally, it wants to maintain its economic relations with these countries. Opportunities for Russian influence could rise from historical, cultural and economic ties for example with Bulgaria and Serbia. It exploits ethnic and separatist conflicts in Bosnia and Transnistria. Moreover, there is a Russian military influence in the region resulting from its capabilities in the Black Sea. All in all, the authors consider Russian influence there more dangerous than in other European countries.
The rest of Europe seems less vulnerable. Russia could use its dependence on Russian energy supply; it tries to influence the public opinion by media as RT, but its viewership is quite low, and military shows of force haven’t resulted so far in intimidation but in increased NATO action. But there is a certain vulnerability in smaller Central European states that are poorer and have significant Slavic populations that are more friendly towards Russia, and a significant vulnerability poses Russia’s relationship with extremist parties, particularly with those of the extreme right that are against a unified Europe, like Marine Le Pen’s Front National /since 2018: Rassemblement National (RN), the German Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the Austrian Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ) and others. And these parties are on the rise (see also: Klasa, Adrienne: Russia’s long arm reaches to the right in Europe, Financial Times, 23.05.2019 (16)).
As for the Russian challenge, due to the nuclear deterrence by the US, it shows mainly as the so-called „hybrid warfare“. But the US is slowly shifting its focus to the South China Sea (Munich Security Conference: Munich Security Report 2019. The Great Puzzle: Who Will Pick Up the Pieces?, p. 8 (21)) and the pressure is rising for the EU to take over more responsibilities for its own security. So, the EU should build up its own nuclear shield to secure its eastern countries and deter the Russians. And, as European military forces securing Europe would surely not be considered as dangerous as the US ones, this would raise the probability that the Russians would totally rely on their conventional forces, above all, if the Europeans don’t show any interest in a massive invasion into the Russian sphere of influence in the former Soviet space. Furthermore, it's in Europe’s own interest not to increase the pressure by trying to integrate Ukraine or other eastern European countries into the EU, because this could raise Russian military activity there and with that European dependence on the US, whom the Europeans surely would call to help them against the Russians. As for the hybrid warfare, it seems necessary to deploy some international forces in Eastern Europe to make it quite risky for the Russians to try and intervene militarily like in Ukraine. In the field of energy dependence from Russia, more diversification would help to become less dependent on their supplies. The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline would only raise the dependence that's already high. For the Russian speaking population in the east, Europe could create its own media in Russian language to counter the influence from Russia. And the use of extremist parties throughout Europe as fifth column of Russian interests, who divide and weaken Europe, could be countered by a more responsible politics concerning the massive flow of migrants to Europe. All in all, Europe must be united vis-à-vis Russia, above all in the field of security. This way it could cope with the Russian challenge and, at the same time, be independent from the mood of the respective president in the White House in Washington.
In this respect the most likely scenario of Theodor Tudoroiu (Senior Lecturer at the Department of Political Science of the University of the West Indies at St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago) for the future of Eastern Europe after Brexit and considering the new foreign policy of President Trump, can be read as a warning: Although there are three more likely scenarios, Tudoroiu considers them less probable as they are based on either a successful grand alignment between the US and Russia or on the deepening of the European integration and the emergence of the EU as a strong international actor. In his, not wholly convincing, most likely scenario the US, assisted by the UK, remains a significant actor in Eastern Europe vis-à-vis Russia. The EU becomes irrelevant because, first, Brexit seriously endangers an already weak CFSP and CSDP, second, the Eastern European states don’t agree with a close partnership with Russia, that the Germans and French want and turn to the US, third, the rising populism in Europe makes the rich northern countries pay less to the poorer southern ones, what makes them turn away from the EU. All this leads to a renationalization of the foreign policies of the EU member states. Fourth, as France and Germany will disagree in the economic direction of the rest-EU, also the axis Berlin-Paris will fall apart. Thus, the main actors in Eastern Europe will be Russia, a Franco-German axis and later Germany, and the USA in alliance with the UK and some East European states. In this situation of European weakness Russia tries to expand its sphere of influence there using hybrid warfare and reigniting frozen conflicts. But the US keeps it in check. (Tudoroiu, Theodor: Brexit, President Trump, and the Changing Geopolitics of Eastern Europe, Cham 2018).
As far as Russia is concerned Fredrik Wesslau (director of the Wider Europe Programme and senior policy fellow at ECFR) and Andrew Wilson (senior policy fellow at ECFR and professor in Ukrainian studies at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) at University College London) assume that in 2030 it will pursue a more aggressive great power policy that will rely more heavily on military force, above all, towards Eastern Europe. The reason for this is that its leaders will be interested in distracting the population from economic problems and in wining legitimacy: “Putin is seeking to divert attention from these economic woes and gain legitimacy by reasserting Russian militarism.” According to the authors “[t]he good news is that Russia is not seeking a full military confrontation with the West. Russia needs mid-level conflicts or crises, enough to build up a siege mentality and galvanise public support, but not enough to risk serious confrontation. The bad news is that mistakes and miscalculations happen, and the tension is unlikely to reduce unless the Kremlin finds an alternative model of legitimacy.” (Fredrik Wesslau and Andrew Wilson: Russia 2030: A Story of Great Power Dreams and Small Victorious Wars, European Council on Foreign Relations, May 2016, p. 2 (29)).