A green light for Putin? Germans say West hasn’t found way to block ‘hybrid’ war

In a hybrid war operation, Russian "little green men", heavily armed soldiers without insignia, annexed Crimea from Ukraine

In a hybrid war operation, Putin's "little green men", heavily armed cadres troops disguised in unmarked uniforms without insignia, annexed Crimea from Ukraine. February 2014.  

Analysis & Opinion, Russia

Moscow has been encouraged not only by the failure of the West to do more than impose economic sanctions in response to its invasion of Ukraine but also by the repeated declarations of Western leaders about what they won’t do, how unhappy they are to have had to do even what they have, and how much they would like to restore good relations.

But now Moscow has yet another reason to be encouraged: German analysts are now saying publicly that the West has not yet found an effective way to counter Vladimir Putin’s hybrid war strategy, a statement that will discourage those in Ukraine fighting back, increase support for appeasement in the West, and encourage Moscow to use this strategy elsewhere.

Yesterday, the Russian Service of Germany’s Deutsche Welle reported that on the basis of an analysis of Moscow’s strategy and tactics in Ukraine, German experts “have come to the conclusion that the West still has not found an answer” to them.

According to German experts, the West was surprised by what Moscow has done in Ukraine not only because it was focused on problems elsewhere but also because after the Cold War, the number of specialists in the West following developments in Russia and Eurasia “sharply contracted.”

As a result, they say, “certain processes in Russia and the reports of Russian commanders remained almost unnoticed in Germany” and elsewhere. Had the West been paying attention, it might have been possible to alert national political elites and “take preventive measures.” But that did not happen.

Russian thinking on how to conduct hybrid wars had been clearly and very publicly outlined by General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, more than a year before Moscow moved in Ukraine, according to Margarete Klein of the Berlin Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik.

In February 2013, Gerasimov said that the line between war and peace was being obliterated and that major powers must make use “not only of traditional means of armed force but also political, economic and information-technology measures.” That is exactly what Moscow has done in Ukraine, Klein says.

Dustin Dehez, the director of the private research Manatee Global Advisors Institute seconds Klein’s view and says that Russia’s new method of conducting war has put the West in a situation where it has not yet articulated a strategy to counter it effectively.

That strategy, he says, consists of using “little green men” and other means that conceal what Moscow is doing or at least confuse the situation and thus “deprive the opponent and his allies of the possibility of rapidly and decisively reacting to the intervention.”

Moreover, and perhaps even more important, the Russian approach has “in fact neutralized” NATO’s nuclear deterrence doctrine because what Moscow is doing does not appear to rise to the level of a threat that NATO would conclude it had no choice but to respond with such weapons.

During the Cold War, this problem did not exist, Dehez says, but now, it very much does; and he asks how would the alliance likely react “if in some railway station in Estonia or second-tier sports airport in Lithuania suddenly appeared ‘little green men’ without identifying marks.” Few would be willing to push the nuclear button to stop Russia.

According to the German analyst, Moscow learned its lesson in this regard in Georgia in 2008 when it suffered much greater political harm than it expected when it directly intervened. And it concluded that “if there is the possibility of avoiding direct military confrontation, then that is how it is necessary to act.”

In support of this new military strategy, Dehez says, Moscow also worked to affect public opinion in the West and “in the first instance in Germany” by using “paid trolls” who could respond to any criticism of Moscow and increase the number of those in Western society who would oppose taking action against the Kremlin.“And the West,” he concludes, “has still not found any way to respond to the new military strategy of Russia.”

Edited by: A. N.

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