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Russian hybrid warfare: what are effects-based network operations and how to counteract them


The strategy of a hybrid or irregular war followed by real war was developed in the USSR.  The same scenario was used by USSR during the ‘liberation’ of Poland, Bessarabia, Bukovyna, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the attempt to ‘liberate’ Finland in 1939-1940.  This liberation is now being justified as a Soviet attempt to secure its borders against Hitler, which is the same justification Russia uses now, 75 years later:  “to secure its borders against NATO”.

Since its formation in 1922 following communist doctrine the USSR has made accusations against every country in the world with the deliberate intention of concealing its own role as the instigator.

Vladimir Lenin, the first leader of the USSR established the Comintern to be, in the definition of its own name, the world communist party, and gave it the objective of setting up a world Soviet socialist republic.  The declaration that accompanied the formation of the USSR in 1922 included four republics;  the plan was to increase this number until the whole world formed part of it.  The declaration behind the formation of the USSR is an official document with the principal objective of this vast state being the destruction and subjugation of all other states in the world.  Europe was the first target.  This ideology was inherited by second leader of USSR, Joseph Stalin, who needed crises, wars, destruction and hunger in Europe.  The worse for Europe the better.  It would create opportunities for Stalin and provide justification for him to send the Red Army into Europe as its liberator.

In 1939, the Soviet Union started actively pursuing the reconquest of the provinces of Tsarist Russia lost during the chaos of the October Revolution and the Russian Civil War, after the agreement with Nazi Germany in August 1939.  The same rhetoric is used by Putin to back up his claim that in returning Crimea to Russia he is correcting not just a historical injustice, but an outrage.

History is being repeated and it seems that a similar strategy to the one described in US NSDC (National Security Council) Report 68 “United States Objectives and Programs for National Security” (April 14, 1950), a Report to the President Pursuant to the President’s Directive of January 31, 1950 should be reconsidered in respect of Russia.  The President, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense undertook a reexamination of US objectives in peace and war and the effect of these objectives on US strategic plans, in the light of nuclear bomb capability of the Soviet Union.  The challenge which faced the USA and the West at that time involved preempting the destruction of not only the US but the civilization itself.

“The fundamental design of those who control the Soviet Union and the international communist movement is to retain and solidify their absolute power, first in the Soviet Union and second in the areas under the Soviet sphere of influence. The means employed by the Kremlin in pursuit of this policy were limited only by considerations of expediency. Doctrine is not a limiting factor; rather it dictates the employment of violence, subversion, and deceit, and rejects moral considerations.  The only apparent restraints on resort to war are, therefore, calculations of practicality”, stated the report.

Russia has not changed its mentality much from its predecessor USSR with its communist ideology.  The mistakes and misconceptions of the West were explored in the article “A need to contain Russia” by Anne Applebaum in The Washington Post on March 29, 2014:  “Openly or subconsciously, since 1991, Western leaders have acted on the assumption that Russia is a flawed Western country.  Perhaps during the Soviet years it had become different, even deformed.  But sooner or later, the land of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, the home of classical ballet, would join what Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, so movingly called “our common European home. For the first time, many are beginning to understand that the narrative is wrong: Russia is not a flawed Western power. Russia is an anti-Western power with a different, darker vision of global politics”, concluded Anne Applebaum.

In the 1990s, many people thought Russian progress toward that home simply required new policies:  with the right economic reforms, Russians would sooner or later become like West.  As it turned out Russia is not a flawed Western power. Russia is an anti-Western power with a different, darker vision of global politics.

Edward Lucas, UK journalist in ‘The Economist’ author of the books “New Cold War” and Deception: “Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes the West”, has similar point of view. He argues that Russia is a revisionist power:

  • It has the means to pursue its objectives;
  • Itiswinning ;and
  • Greaterdangerslieahead.

He recommended that the United Kingdom (but it applies to US and NATO countries) and its allies:

  • Give up any hope of a return to business as usual;
  • Boost the defense of the Baltic states and Poland;
  • Expose Russian corruption in the West;
  • Impose sweeping visa sanctions on the Russian elite;
  • HelpUkraine; and
  • ReboottheAtlanticAlliance.

Edward Lucas supposes that Putin is tempted to destroy NATO via Baltics: “Putin has seen the West weakness in Ukraine, and he wants to exploit that. I fear very much that he will try something in the Baltic states because he can see that if he destroys NATO’s credibility in the Baltic states, then he destroys NATO, and this is a very tempting target for him.”

Let us have a brief look at the Eurasian ideology and Russian Doctrine and then go the application of these doctrines to current hybrid warfare and network operations. There is practically no difference with its precursor’s Communist ideology, which promoted a continuous program of expansion and world domination.  The terminology is slightly different, but the final goal of world domination in the communist doctrine and the Russian doctrine is virtually identical.  It was too early to assume that Russia changed and could potentially become part of the West.

The Russian Doctrine and Eurasian ideology are unofficial documents, they have not been approved by the Russian Parliament.  Elements of the doctrines are present in political programs or in theories of the “Russian National Idea.”  It seems that the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church perceive both Russian Doctrine and Eurasian ideology as an essential worldview, the spiritual foundation for the entire Russian nation.

The doctrine’s major goal is to carve out Russian civilization as a separate world phenomenon and to lay out the Russian Global Project.  There isn’t much difference with the communist ideology where communism was considered to be a separate world phenomenon,  in essence a Red Global Project.

The Russian Doctrine is a collection of different scenarios, each of which not only describes one variant of the future and warns against possible threats, but at the same time lays out strategies outlining the vision of the desired Russia, the Russia that should be.  It is a voluminous document, which is why we will only  highlight some points relevant to the current situation.

Picture: Vladimir Putin speech to Valdai Club, Sochi, Russia, October 24, 2014

In the introduction to the Russian Doctrine, we find quotes from different speeches by Vladimir Putin:  “The Russian Federation is doomed in today’s world.”  “The collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”

The Russian Doctrine sees the “final and irreversible overcoming of the US and Western hegemony by ousting them from the geopolitical arena” as Russia’s only chance for survival in the 21st century. “Only those countries will be successful in the first 20 years of the 21st century which are hard, severe, persistent, and consistent.”

“The Russian empire has revived several times. Based on the values of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium), even after the long-lived Tatar-Mongol yoke, the renewed mighty empire-successor of KyivanRus of King Sviatoslav has arisen in Eastern Europe.”  Moscow is described as the Third Rome, the sole successor of Rome.

The Russian Doctrine presupposes that the crisis of Western civilization will inevitably lead to an urgent search for a new world leader.  The international potential of Russian civilization is again on the agenda of history.

The Russian Doctrine defines three major principles of foreign policy:

  •  Concentration: The return and re-unification of all territories of historical Russia, first of all Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, followed by reunification with the rest of the Russian world
  • Fight ‘terror-globalism:’  Russia shall declare openly that Russia does not recognize the civilizing missions of the USA and the West;
  • ‘Big Clench,’ ‘Alternative globalization’:  Strategic cooperation with China, India, and Iran, resulting in a military union between Russia, China, India, North Korea, and Syria.
  • Possible further extension to other Arab countries and countries from other regions, such as Africa and South America.

Alternative globalization, ousting the US and the West from the geopolitical arena, will start from ‘the near abroad,’ from countries like Ukraine.  The initial territories initially would include Ukraine’s Tavria region (Crimea, Mykolaiv Oblast, and Kherson Oblast) and the Donbas (Donetsk Oblast). Please note that the Russian Doctrine was published in 2005, not in 2014.

The Soviet Union started actively pursuing the reconquest of the provinces of Tsarist Russia lost during the chaos of the October Revolution and the Russian Civil War in 1939, after the agreement with Nazi Germany in August 1939.  The same rhetoric is used by Putin to back up his claim that in returning Crimea to Russia he is correcting not just a historical injustice, but an outrage.

We will return again to US NSDC (National Security Council) Report 68 “United States Objectives and Programs for National Security” (April 14, 1950). The document’s summary of Soviet priorities is equally applicable to Putin’s Russia:

“The fundamental design of those who control the Soviet Union and the international communist movement is to retain and solidify their absolute power, first in the Soviet Union and second in the areas under the Soviet sphere of influence”.  “The means employed by the Kremlin in pursuit of this policy were limited only by considerations of expediency. Doctrine is not a limiting factor; rather it dictates the employment of violence, subversion, and deceit, and rejects moral considerations.  The only apparent restraints on resort to war are, therefore, calculations of practicality”, stated the report.

Ukraine is learning not only how to fight an undeclared hybrid was against Russia; some ‘humanitarian’ aspects of this hybrid war were not left without attention either.

Many questions exist why the worldview and history (more precisely, the distortion of historical events and wrong interpretations of history) are so important for Putin’s Russia as integral part of information and network operations.  The issue is that Russian extremists consider worldview and history as warfare tools in this hybrid war as well.

Russian extremist theories of world dominance see the warfare from a perspective which could be unusual for Western audiences.  Russians have a far broader conception of warfare than you might expect.  They see 6 major priorities in warfare (the more potent is to create an irreversible result and the more sustainable, but slower in time are at the top, the less potent to create sustainable result but faster are at the bottom).  This conceptis known as the Social Security Concept of the all-Russian political party “Truth and Unity Course”.  Hearings of this concept in the Russian Paliament (State Duma) took place on November 28, 1995 (text of the hearings can be found here).  It was at the time when the West considered that democratic developments in Russia were irreversible and that Russia would be an allied country with Western democratic values.

6 PrioritiesofWarfare

  1.  Methodological priority:  World view and methodology – changing the worldview and methodology of the individual as a means of warfare method (how a person sees the world) is the most potent from the sustainability point of view.  That is why the Russian Orthodox Church and the creation of the “Russian World” as an all-encompassing worldview is of utmost priority for Russia in order to achieve its long-term goals.
  2.  Chronological priority, the warfare of history – to distort history and chronology in order to justify claims on new territories both for external and internal users as well as to brainwash external and internal victims with propaganda for them to regard Russian claims as legitimate.
  3.  Priority based on facts and their interpretations:  ideology, technology, methodology.  The examples:  Russian Doctrine, ideology of Russia as Third Rome,AlexandrDugin’s ideology and hisEurasianism,Panslavism based on distorted historical interpretations (see above – 2nd chronololgical priority).
  4.  Economics priority:  eсonomics and finance warfare (example – trade wars against Ukraine, use of the unjustified gas price as an instrument of war against Europe and Ukraine, Russian banking and finance system as warfare tool against Ukraine, currency speculations and throw-in of counterfeit local currency in order to destabilize Ukrainian currency and the Ukrainian monetary system, strategy to buy sovereign debt of victim country and then to request immediate debt re-payment etc.)
  5.  Ecological priority, “Genetics” warfare (alcohol, tobacco, environmental pollution e.t.c.) – to promote in the victim country a tolerance to abuse of alcohol, narcotics, to support environmental pollution,  deliberately destroying the infrastructure and industrial capacities of the victim county e.t.c.  In line with this priority Russia is making efforts to destroy the infrastructure of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblast.  The terrorists mined the Stirol chemical plant, threatening to cause an environmental catastrophe in the Donetsk Oblast.
  6.  Military priority:  conventional warfare.  Military warfare was used by Russia in a new form of an undeclared hybrid war with a wide application of newly created Special Operation Forces (SSO) in combination with use of local residents brainwashed by the ‘higher’ priorities of warfare described above.

As we can see that information and network operation strategies are key and cover 5 priorities of 6 (Methodological priority, Chronological priority, Priority based on facts, Economics priority, Ecological priority) and only one priority is a conventional military priority.


Until recently not much attention was paid in US and EU to Russian doctrines and strategies, but fortunately situation is changing. Mark Galeotti in his article “Moscow’s Spy Game. Why Russia Is Winning the Intelligence War in Ukraine”, published in Foreign Affairs concludes: “Russia has long been preparing for the kind of conflict underway in Ukraine—one that combines espionage with firepower, economic pressure, information warfare, and political maneuvering. The Russian intelligence services use all these tools effortlessly—a skill that they inherited from their Soviet predecessors and further refined for today’s world, in which influence is as much about economic leverage and the ability to spin the story as about actual facts on the ground. It is telling that even the head of the Russian army, General Valery Gerasimov, admitted last year that “nonmilitary means” have become indispensable to Russia and sometimes even exceed traditional firepower in importance.”

In fact conventional warfare, the military priority was not the topic of this article. However one of the recent novelties in terms of Russia’s concept of war was the creation of full scale Special Operations Forces in Russia.

The Special Operations Forces of the Russian Federation (SOF or SSO in Russian) is a highly mobile group of trained and equipped forces of the Russian Ministry of Defense designed for specific tasks abroad and domestically.  The Russian SOF is new unit in Russian army.

Valery Gerasimov, Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia announced the creation of the Special Operation Forces on March 6, 2013.  Speaking to foreign military attachés, he said, “We created the command of the forces which is engaged in routine work and conducts planned activities within the framework of the preparation of the Armed Forces”.

The Special Operations Forces are troops designated to achieve Russian political and economic goals in any geographical part of the world which is of interest to the Russian Federation.  These troops are fighting in peacetime.

The Russian SOF, besides such acute operations, usually solve the most incredible and ‘delicate’ tasks.  They come into action when diplomatic methods are no longer useful.  They can distract the energy and attention of ‘certain’ countries from external problems, creating problems inside these countries, shake the political system of these countries, destabilizing the political situation within these countries, including the use of third parties and local residents of the victim country.  Special operations forces are designed to create, train and supervise foreign guerrilla movements, eliminate unwanted leaders on foreign territory without any UN sanctions.

The first drill of the Russian Special Operation Forces (SOF) units

The first drill of the Russian Special Operation Forces (SOF) units was conducted on a mountain range in the Kabardino-Balkaria region in April 2013.  During the drill, an airlift of SOF units by military transport and army aviation occured, landing groups and cargo to the special assignment area.  As described by the Russian military journalist AleksandrSladkov (video + article in Russian) during this drill, the SOF demonstrated variants of their possible actions in nieghboring countries.  Drills were an imitation of the redeployment of SOF units to the territory of a neighboring country.  As Censor.net[block]32[/block], the same Russian military journalist, AleksandrSladkov, was seen fighting with terrorists against the Ukrainian army (perhaps learning more about Russian SOF fighting in Ukraine)

The first baptism of these forces tool place in Ukraine during the seziure of the Crimean Parliament on February 27, 2014 (video with the Crimean report of unit No. 090900, February 22-28, 2014) and then in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.

Besides USSR experience and practical concepts Russia has watched closely the development of military doctrines in the West in the late  1990s to early 2000s, especially after 9/11. Some concepts are in further development or reconsideration now: Effect-Based Operations, Network-Centric Warfare, Chaos Theory in the Social Sciences, Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age, Network-Enabled Operations, Effects-Based Information Operations.

Western approaches on effects-based operations and network-centric warfare were in active development in mid-1990s . One of them is “Five Rings for Strategic Warfare concept” of John A.Warden,. III, published in his work “The Enemy as a System” in 1995.

Clayton K S Chun in his overview mentioned that “Colonel John Warden believed that nation-states operate like biological organisms composed of discrete systems. In a perfect world these systems function in harmony and the organisms survive and flourish. However, certain systems controlled other systems and were thus significant, while other elements might appear to be vital, they were actually not important for sustaining the organism. Warden believed that like a biological organism a nation could be stunned. Military action could produce strategic paralysis. Strategic paralysis in Warden’s terms would make an enemy incapable of taking any physical action to conduct operations”

“Every state and every military organization will have a unique set of centers of gravity or vulnerabilities. Nevertheless, our five-ring model gives us a good starting point. It tells us what detailed questions to ask, and it suggests a priority for the questions and for operations from the most vital at the middle to the least vital at the outside. These centers of gravity, which are also rings of vulnerability, are absolutely critical to the functioning of a state.”

Five Ring Model: Enemy as a System

Leadership was at the center of Warden’s ring model. In his biological system analogy, leadership equated to the brain of a living organism. Leadership targets can include executive, legislative, judicial, and other functions. Campaign planners could target physical governmental facilities

Organic essentials: sources of energy, food, and financial resources to maintain its existence

Society’s infrastructure includes among other things road and rail networks, airports, power grids and factories.

The fourth ring is the population. Attacking the population does not focus solely on bombing civilians, but could also include using psychological warfare or other activities to reduce a populace’s morale.

The last ring comprises fielded military forces. Fielded military forces represent the “fighting mechanism” that protects the state from attack.

All these rings could be targeted and approach could be both inside-out as the case with information and network operations and outside-in as in case of conventional wars.

Russians have modified this model in accordance with their needs of information and network warfare. They modelled nation-state as six rings each of which could be targeted  by different means. This model was published in a book by ValeriyKorovin “The third World Network War”

Russian Six Ring Model: State as a System

National state is made-up in accordance with following model. Leader of the state, political elites around the leader, an expert community forming political meanings and interpretations, undertaking mass conversion of  these meanings and interpretations and bringing them to the masses (Russian terminology) – society and population. The outer ring isthe  armed forces.

We can see from current developments that Russia tries to wage a so called “inside-out” war which starts from attempts to influence first of all EU leaders, then the EU expert community followed by mass media with adding social networks and Internet blogs as new forms of communications. The tools used for this are effect-based operations.

The reflection of the application of this model we can clearly see now. “A strategy for damaging Russia’s propaganda machine” by Stephen Komarnyckyj, published in Euromaidan Press, showed  the mechanisms which Putin has deployed for his attack:

  1. Agents of influence including politicians, businessmen, corporations with a stake in Russia’s localization program, energy sector etc.;
  2. Networks of journalists who may be sectarian Communists (such as Seumas Milne), or social conservatives attracted by Putin’s superficially Christian agenda (such as Peter Hitchens);
  3. Sectarian left wing sites (such as Counterpunch and Global Research) which exploit a linguistic disconnect to create a sanitised Russia and a conversely stigmatised Ukraine;
  4. Political proxies (such as Stop the War and numerous politicians);
  5. PR Agenciesandconsultancies;
  6. The Troll army of paid internet commentators, all working to a script.

The sad life of Putin’s “Troll Army”, article in Euromaidan Press

Confirmation that the command operates a network of paid pro-Kremlin commenters appeared on May 31, 2014. Anonymous International exposed the activities of the Russian Internet Research Agency, which feeds itself from Russia’s state budget. The goal of this organization is to create, through comments on the internet, the illusion of support for the Kremlin regime.

Interestingly, the owner of the agency, Eugene Prigozhin, is the founder of the holding company Concord, known as ‘Putin’s chef.’ The company’s direct management includes Maria Kuprashevich, who is known for having taken a job in the liberal media to commit espionage.

It was revealed that there is a staff team who are working with strict accountability to the curators. These staff writers are paid for writing pro-government comments on the internet.

The average salary of such a ‘commenter’ writing ‘politically correct’ posts is from thirty to forty thousand rubles (approx. 1,000 USD). Propaganda warfare is conducted on two fronts, on both the Russian and international internet. Each department has its ‘experts’, on which total spending for the last month amounted to 33 million rubles (1 million USD).

To confirm these facts, it is enough to compare scanned passports discovered through hacking email accounts with real people on social networks. A list of hacked correspondence, as well as some names and details on people, can be found in this publication (in Russian). Many more confirmationswere published.

As highlighted by Stephen Komarnyckyj, an analysis of Russian propaganda content suggests that Russia: :

  • Disseminates conspiracy theories tinged with anti-Semitism to erode public trust in Western governments, and also to use support for Israel to inflame anti-Western sentiments. The core of the conspiracy theory is a narrative which suggests the USA is controlled by Zionists who in turn organised 09/11;
  • Influences politicians, often marginal figures, by granting them air time to gain support for Russia’s hostile actions towards other countries. However, this simultaneously boosts the image of extremist politicians promoting anti-Western views and political disengagement;
  • Promotes a narrative for the war in Syria favorable to the Assad regime. In turn, Assad, in exchange for the support of Oboronservis and Russian specialists, blocks the establishment of a pipeline from the Qatar gas deposits to the EU;
  • Incentivizes journalists who spread misinformation according to a centrally produced agenda. There are journalists who are directly employed by Russia Today and receive a script, and others who work as freelancers but produce material which conforms to the channel’s agenda;
  • Forms a climate of  opinion in the West to allow an invasion of Ukraine to take place and boost tolerance for subsequent genocide/ethnic cleansing by stigmatising Ukrainian national identity.

The tools used to implement such mechanisms are derived from the concept of effect-based operations. Effects-based operations (EBO) concept was developed by Dr. Edward A. Smith. His book “Effects-Based Operations: Applying Network Centric Warfare in Peace, Crisis, and War published” was published by US DoD Command and Control Research Program (CCRP) in 2003. Effects-Based Operations (EBO) is a United States military concept that emerged during the Persian Gulf War for the planning and conduct of operations combining military and non-military methods to achieve a particular effect. In 2008, US Joint Forces Command stopped using the term “effects-based”, but the concept remains valid in the US Air Force.

“Effects-based operations (EBO) are coordinated sets of actions directed at shaping the behavior of friends, foes, and neutrals in peace, crisis, and war. The concept of effects-based operations focuses “coordinated sets of actions” on objectives defined in terms of human behavior in multiple dimensions and on multiple levels, and measures their success in terms of the behavior produced.”

“Effects can occur simultaneously on the tactical, operational, military-strategic, and geo-strategic levels of military operations, in domestic and international political arenas, and in the economic arena as well. Effects cannot be isolated. All effects, at each level and in each arena, are interrelated and are cumulative over time. And lastly, effects are both physical and psychological in nature. Effects-based operations can be described as operations in the cognitive domain because that is where human beings react to stimuli, come to an understanding of a situation, and decide on a response.”

As we can see in essence not much difference with the concept of 6 priorities discussed in Russia since 1995. It does not mean that Russia was early in understanding of some concepts. Effects-based operations are not new. Good generals, admirals, and statesmen have focused on using military forces to shape the behavior of friends and foes for centuries.

New warfare concepts related to information age developments reflected in the new approaches. Direct approach of attrition based warfare  changed with asymmetric warfare approaches.

Attrition warfare is a military strategy in which a belligerent attempts to win a war by wearing down the enemy to the point of collapse through continuous losses in personnel and materiel. The war will usually be won by the side with greater such resources. Attrition warfare is the key element of conventional warfare.  Conventional warfare is a form of warfare conducted by using conventional weapons and battlefield tactics between two or more states in open confrontation. The forces on each side are well-defined, and fight using weapons that primarily target the opponent’s military. It is normally fought using conventional weapons, and not with chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.

In modern world where national states can not use obviously conventional war against opponent or where the networks appeared and developed the concept of asymmetric warfare which is element of non-conventional warfare comes in foreground.

Asymmetric warfare is war between belligerents whose relative military power differs significantly, or whose strategy or tactics differ significantly. Asymmetric warfare can describe a conflict in which the resources of two belligerents differ in essence and in the struggle, interact and attempt to exploit each other’s characteristic weaknesses. Such struggles often involve strategies and tactics of unconventional warfare. Unconventional warfare (abbreviated UW) is the opposite of conventional warfare. Where conventional warfare is used to reduce the opponent’s military capability, unconventional warfare is an attempt to achieve military victory through acquiescence, capitulation, or clandestine support for one side of an existing conflict.

On the surface, unconventional warfare contrasts with conventional warfare in that forces or objectives are covert or not well-defined, tactics and weapons intensify environments of subversion or intimidation, and the general or long-term goals are coercive or subversive to a political body.

The impact of means upon the outcome tends to vary arithmetically, while that of will varies geometrically. The more determined the foe, the less means he will require in order to succeed in the contest. The more constrained the task is, the greater the probability is of success with the means available. However, obviously if the means fall to zero, no amount of determination will suffice to make up the difference.

The general objective of unconventional warfare is to instill a belief that peace and security are not possible without compromise or concession. Specific objectives include inducement of war-weariness, curtailment of civilian standards of living and civil liberties associated with greater security demands, economic hardship linked to the costs of war; hopelessness to defend against assaults, fear, depression, and disintegration of morale. Two original definition are claiming: “The intent of U.S. Unconventional Warfare efforts is to exploit a hostile power’s political, military, economic, and psychological vulnerabilities by developing and sustaining resistance forces to accomplish U.S. strategic objectives.” or according to John F. Kennedy: “There is another type of warfare—new in its intensity, ancient in its origin—war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins; war by ambush instead of by combat, by infiltration instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him. It preys on unrest.

The ultimate goal of this type of warfare is to motivate an enemy to stop attacking or resisting even if it has the ability to continue. Failing this, a secondary objective can be to debilitate the enemy before a conventional attack.

Attrition warfare was based on symmetry of Means and Will

Symmetry of Means and Will = Symmetric Warfare

If a symmetric contest may be said to pit one adversary with great means and great will against another that also has both great means and great will, then an asymmetric contest might be expected to involve different combinations. The possibilities can be outlined in terms of a simple quadratic diagram.

Asymmetry of Means and Will

Key in understanding of hybrid warfare concept is conflict is between one power that has great means and limited will and another that has limited means but great will. The result is likely to be far from being either certain or swift.

Asymmetric Conflict

The success lies in attacking your opponent’s weaknesses and not his strengths and by extension, that warfare revolves about the creation and exploitation of asymmetries. There are really two different symmetries that might be exploited. One side has an advantage in means. Logically, we would expect that side to exploit its advantage by attacking and destroying the other’s more limited physical means, e.g. by pressing an essentially attrition-based approach. The other side has an advantage in will. Therefore, we would expect that side to exploit its advantage by attacking its opponent’s will to continue the struggle, e.g. an essentially effects-based approach focused on shaping the opponent’s behavior.

The impact of means upon the outcome tends to vary arithmetically, while that of will varies geometrically. The more determined the foe, the less means he will require in order to succeed in the contest. The more constrained the task is, the greater the probability is of success with the means  available.

Probability of Success Equation

Does this mean that asymmetric forms of conflict have replaced the old attrition-based warfare driven by a symmetry of means and will?  Actually no. This is mistake to think so. Asymmetric forms of conflict could serve to prelude of old attrition-based war after the goal of behavior shaping resulting from successful effect-based operations is achived. That is why for Western leaders it is naïve to believe that asymmetric conflict Russia with West can not grow to conventional conflict once the will as a key component of resistance has been suppressed. That is why the first and ultimate goal of Russia at this stage is the will of Western countries to resist. For this purpose the information and network operations is the key Russian strategy. That means that far more is behind Russian RT and informational operations.

There are many analytical reports of Russian think tanks on organization of network and informational operations. Many case studies and practical tools how to do efficiently information and network operations have been developed. In hybrid war news agencies, blogosphere and social networks are military tools (“actors” and “sensors’) in battlefield. ThesoonertheWestunderstandsthisissuethebetter.

Alexander Dugin, the ideologist of the creation of a Eurasian empire

Pilosophic, theoretic and strategical approaches for informational and netwars have been formed among other authors by Alexander Dugin, the ideologist of the creation of a Eurasian empire that would oppose the “Atlantist interests”. Dugin, who is known for his fascist views, expounds his theory of warfare in his work – “Netwars – the threat of new generation”.  Special portals have been established in order to  exchange information and experience in informational and netwars (it contains also closed restricted part) exist. For example: Portal of netwar, Eurasia netwarsubportal.

Another example,  just one of many, can be used to illustrate  the detailed and planned preparation of Russia for the conduct of network operations in social networks. Nikolay Starikov is an active proponent of information and netwars. He created schools for Russian “patriotic” bloggers and created a substantial volume of  content for propaganda purposes and for the  purpose of  attacking “anti-Russian” views. He created the so-called Internet militia with blog for the  exchange of  information and experience. His latest books are used for brainwashing of “patriotic bloggers” including extracts  from such works as “Ukraine, chaos and revolution – weapon of Dollar” and “Russia, Crimea, History”. An example of the resources developed by Nikolay Starikovcan be found here: Nikolay Starikov blog; Nikolay Starikov Internet Militia: Nikolay Starikovtraning for Russian “patriotic” bloggers (2011) – Video in Russian.

This is only one example. There are many similar organizations and authors working for Russian think tanks in this sphere.

What actions are possible to oppose Russia both symmetrically and asymmetrically and counteracting Russian information and network aggression?

First of all a shared vision of both West and Ukraine. This vision shall be based on understanding that Russia have been waging a war against not only Ukraine, but also the West using a wide array  of means and tools. One of the most important elements is to strengthen and protect the will of the West and Ukraine  (key target for effects-based operations) to stop Russia. Russia, by targeting the West’s will, will be able with lower resources to efficiently target the West,  and first of all the  EU until it reaches the  point of compliance with Russia.

Ukraine is the first country to face this type of total hybrid war and has developed conclusions regarding how to fight a well-prepared enemy using new warfare tools and among them informational and network warfare. An understanding of the military priority is growing rapidly  in Ukraine, but regarding the  information and network priorities there is still a lack of understanding and action. In order to withstand this hybrid war  efficiently Ukraine needs help from the West including non-governmental organizations.

Another point of concern is that volunteer efforts in the area of information and network activities could decrease as as the economic factor started to prevail and some volunteers are returning to business or to self-employment. Ukraine as a state provides no visible support and investments to NGOs and similar organization in the informational sector of Ukraine both for internal audience and for Western audience. The help from Western foundations and NGOs are not visible too as major point of application of projects and grants are conventional journalistic and mass media and not blogs and social networks.

If NGOs and groups supporting Ukraine and Ukrainian NGOs and groups will not coordinate their activities, not efficiently cooperate and will not get sufficient resources then they unfortunately will lose and remain at the best a nice intellectual passive discussion clubs. The question is just when it happens if not to change current approaches. One of the myth of network and information operations in peace time or hybrid wars  that they apply only to a peer competitor (in this case Russia). This myth seems to be in minds of the Ukrainian defense ministry and government: if Russia spends so huge resources and funds on network and informational warfare that Ukraine is simply helpless and can do nothing. This is a very dangerous delusion. They forgot about being smarter and more efficient networking, coordination and efficient investments and fundraising. However even if we manage to be smart and possess huge will without investments, fundraising and resources (means) the information war against Russia could be lost Obviously if the means in asymmetric warfare equation (means*will2 ) fall to zero, no amount of determination will suffice to make up the difference.

The actions within mass-media and conventional journalistic domain have been discussed widely, but Internet informational resources were left  without attention. What shall an organization or set of organizations do  to efficiently counteract Russian information aggression against the West and Ukraine. The action shall be symmetrical compared to what is Russia is doing otherwise information and network war will be lost.

The actions described below proposed by “A strategy for damaging Russia’s propaganda machine” by Stephen Komarnyckyj,were intended as a starting point for discussion. Themainprinciplesonwhichtheyarebasedare:

  • mapping Russia’s propaganda resources- we need to develop a conceptual framework to do so which breaks the resources into categories such as
    a) directly financed media agencies
    b) directly paid agents of influence
    c) Soviet legacy political parties who are still Russian centric in orientation
  • a shift away from uncoordinated initiatives towards pooling resources and coordinating actions;
  • a move away from reacting to the material produced by the propaganda apparatus to a focus on coordinated action to destroy the apparatus itself;
  • a focus on undermining Putin’s virtual world and its hired creators by exposing its – and their – dishonesty;
  • an emphasis on non-violent action. The strategy must adhere to best practice in terms of being anti-discriminatory. It is likely that the traditional ploy of depicting Ukrainians as Nazis will be utilised against any organised campaign. It is also possible that attempts will be made to discredit the campaign by planting agents who will make provocative, inflammatory statements. Indeed, Ukrainian politics has been affected by a number of right wing parties who may have been sponsored by Russia.

The document was only an initial outline of a strategy. Thekeymessagesare:

  •  a planned campaign focusing on the structure of Putin’s propaganda apparatus and involving a coordinated effort will be more effect than sporadic, uncoordinated campaigns;
  • such a campaign could permanently and decisively ruin Russia’s propaganda apparatus;
  • the campaign must be part of a programme to decolonise the West’s perception of Ukraine;
  • the campaign must adhere to the principles of transparency, equality, and diversity both as a matter of principle and because this will neutralise several means by which Russia might attempt to discredit the attack on its propaganda apparatus.

In development of this initiative EuromiadanPress following discussions and exchange of opinions defined preliminary set of action to efficiently counteract Russian information aggression against West and Ukraine

  1. Build up and maintenance of Internet informational resource for:
  2. coordinating of activities in social networks in Ukraine and abroad to present truthful information on Ukraine;
  3. presenting truthful information on Ukraine by translations
  4. exposing Russian propaganda directed against Ukraine
  5. exposing the links of Western organizations, foundations, agencies, NGOs, journalists, politicians with Russia (shall be based only based on proved information obtained through investigational journalism)
  6. referral of information to Western journalists involved in presenting information on Ukraine
  7. contacting Western think tanks with presentation of information on Ukraine
  8. closing the gaps in analytics about Ukraine (cultural, historical, day-to-day life, news e.t.c. )
  9. exposing Russian doctrines and strategies which were not covered by Western NGOs, agencies, consultancies, think tanks and Western mass media
  10. presenting position of Ukrainian government in informal way through social networks on topics related to counteraction of Russia
  11. presenting the views and information which government can not express directly due to diplomatic restrictions by the way of assumptions and analytics
  12. Placing the information in order to study public reaction (“feeler”) to possible scenarios and actions
  13. Networking
  14. a planned campaign focusing on the structure of Putin’s propaganda apparatus and involving a coordinated effort
  15. Build up and maintenance of Internet informational resource for (separately from news and informational project)


  • PsychologicalwaragainstRussia
  • Positive commenting in Western mass media and in social networks of selected topics and points (“Ukrainian trolls”)
  • presenting the views and information which government can not express directly due to diplomatic restrictions (in contrast to points in topic 1 – more radical views)
  • Placing the information in order to study public reaction (“feeler”) to possible scenarios and actions (in contrast to points in topic 1 – more radical views)
  • Disinformation for creating uncertainties for Russia to plan efficient actions against Ukraine
  • a planned campaign focusing on the structure of Putin’s propaganda apparatus and involving a coordinated effort
  • Academicactivity
  • Study and presentation of Russian doctrines, strategies and motivations which were not adequately covered by Western NGOs, think tanks, agencies, consultancies and Western mass media
  • Study and presentation of new strategies and tactics employed by Russia in hybrid war against Ukraine (could be used by Russia further to destabilize the situation in Europe)
  • Cooperation with Western think tanks with purpose for them to better understand current Russian ideology and motivations
  • Research of current situation and moods in occupied territories
  • Psychological studies of refugees from occupied territories, Ukrainian servicemen participants of war against Russia and Russian – backed terrorist with the aim to develop optimal rehabilitation approaches
  • Investigationaljournalism:
  • Exposing Russian politicians, Ukrainian politicians working against Ukraine
  • Exposing the links of Western journalists and politicians with Russia (shall be based only based on proved information)
  • Exposing Russian involvement in activities against Ukraine
  • Exposing war crimes committed during hybrid war against Ukraine
  • ExposingWesternlobbyistsofRussia
  • Educationalsupport, training

·         For Ukrainian NGOs, think tanks and activists:

o Efficient work through social networks, internet resources

o Trainings on software (wordpress, php, seo etc.)

o Sharing experience on particulars of hybrid war warfare

·         For Western NGOs, think tanks and experts:

o Russian ideology, doctrines and strategies and their applications

o Ukrainian culture and history

o Sharing experience on particulars of hybrid war warfare

  1. Build up and maintenance of Internet popular educations resource explaining complicated topics in simple and entertaining format targeted for wide public and busy people (examples: http://www.vox.com/) for younger audience even comics could be used. Humor could be used (perhaps  on a separate site) as an emotional means  for exposing Russian propaganda (information connected with positive relaxing emotions is effective in engraining perceptions while avoiding critical evaluation).

In order to make these actions a reality Ukraine needs the  help of Western non-governmental organizations and foundations to provide a coordinated network activities which will facilitate the destruction of Russia’s propaganda machine.


Written by:  Dr. Vitalii Usenko, MD, MBA, expert of the Center of Military-Political Studies in the sphere of psychology of communications, and by Dmytro Usenko, student at Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. Edited by: Steve Komarnyckyi and Edmond Huet,  Euromaidan Press armament and military questions specialist, consultant to French TV and radio

Special thanks to Steve Komarnyckyi and Edmond Huet,  Euromaidan Press armament and military questions specialist, consultant to French TV and radio for their review advice and comments which were very valuable during preparation of this article


Article was published in Euromaidan Press on November 5th, 2014


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