Volodymyr Horbulin at the conference "The Hybrid War Decade: Lessons Learned to Move Forward Successfully," which was held over 7-8 November 2018 in Kyiv. Photo: Natalia Borysova
The conference “The Hybrid War Decade: Lessons Learned to Move Forward Successfully,” was held over 7-8 November 2018 in Kyiv. During it, Volodymyr Horybulin, Director of the Institute of National Security Problems at the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, former Head of the National Space Agency of Ukraine and expert on hybrid war, told about the key features of Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine and the West. We provide a transcript of his speech in full.
The title “Hybrid war decade” gives a feeling that we’re studying the issue since the war in Georgia. But for Ukraine, the hybrid war decade started even earlier, since the 2000s. The fight for Tuzla island, Russia’s gas wars in 2006, the trade limitations during Yushchenko’s presidency – we had more than 40 trade limitations – all follow the logic of a hybrid conflict.
The events of 2014 in Ukraine became possible in many ways because the international reaction to 2008 resembled the events in Munich in 1938 than those in Potsdam in 1945
However, indeed 2008 became the key element in Russia’s military aggression.
The events of 2014 in Ukraine became possible in many ways because the international reaction to 2008 resembled the events in Munich in 1938 than those in Potsdam in 1945. Maybe it’s because of this that in the last five years we are forced to speak about hybrid aggression so much. But what does this really mean?
- A high degree of uncertainty. A hybrid war erases the dividing line between war and peace, war and politics. Uncertainty is one of the key features of this war. It’s unclear who is fighting whom, and it’s difficult to identify the sides of the conflict. And the aggressor always tries to increase this uncertainty, changing his rhetoric about the conflict. From “there is a civil war in Ukraine” to “Russia is fighting against the USA in Ukraine.” But all this is done to hide the key issue: Russia is at war against Ukraine. This uncertainty leads to another consequence: attempts to solve the conflict diplomatically are complicated, as illustrated by the Normandy format and Minsk accords. That is why I, as the author of many articles on the hybrid war and the supervisor of a creative group which wrote a monography titled “The world hybrid war: Ukrainian forefront,” can say that this war won’t end while the current Russian authorities hold power in the Kremlin. However, I’m not totally sure that the war with Ukraine will end when the current Kremlin authorities will go.
- Usually, when starting a war, the aggressor has specific goals which he wants to bring forward to the world community; usually, they are masked with clever rhetoric and serve to justify the undertaken steps. There is nothing similar in the relations between Russia and Ukraine. Everything which Russian officials said in 2014 – defending the Russian-speaking population (however, it’s unclear from whom), restoring the “historical Russia,” preserving a “Russian world,” creating a “Novorossiya” out of eight Ukrainian oblasts – all this serves one goal: to hide the real goals of aggression.
There are two such goals:a) Destroying the Ukrainian state and statehood
b) Returning Russia’s global geopolitical leadership.The first goal is intermediate, the second – strategic. But reaching the second goal without the first is impossible.
That’s why I think in the strategic perspective, as long as the current Russian revanchist politics are preserved, Russia will continue to be not only an aggressor for Ukraine but the main detonator the security environment. Russia for Ukraine has become a lesson which we are required to learn if we want to remain a sovereign state. But for our western partners, it has become a test for the strength of alliances and unions. A test for NATO and its 5th article – this article is the basis of the alliance; but today, it is placed under doubt. I am confident that NATO will withstand this test, but the appearance of doubts on the applicability of the 5th article in Eastern Europe is alarming.
- Hybrid conflicts are able to transform regional conflicts into global ones. The underestimation of their features can lead to terrible strategic mistakes, like the annexation of Crimea. Now, on the 5th year of war in the context of the militarization of the peninsula, it’s enough to recall that the Iskander complexes capable of carrying nuclear weapons are situated there and are capable to lead to a military confrontation in the Black Sea region. So, it’s no longer a regional problem.
- The hybrid war has changed everything in the information and humanitarian space. Never before were the Russian media infected with such a rabies virus.
Aggression in the information space and conflictogeny is one product which Russia tries to export not only to Ukraine but to European countries and the USA. To support the spreading of destructive narratives, directed against Ukraine and western countries, Russia is actively using the benefits of the Internet, using mass attacks in social media, like though the Olgino factory. In Ukraine, to spread animosity and conflict, the sensitive religious sphere is used.The problem is that people don’t die in information wars, and that’s why this war is seen as socially acceptable. The population doesn’t see the threats to itself; that’s why we are returning to a battle of ideas and meanings which was an intrinsic part of the Cold War.Unfortunately, in the sphere of information and meanings, we are often losing to Russia. As well, Russia tries to transform Ukraine into a cyber-testing ground of sorts, attacking the critical infrastructure, financial, energy, transport sectors. Prykarpattia Oblenergo, the Financial Ministry, the NotPetya virus are the spheres where we learned our lesson. In this year, we prevented at least two heavy cyberattacks. I hope that this is only the beginning of our success.
Aggression in the information space and conflictogeny is one product which Russia tries to export not only to Ukraine but to European countries and the USA.
Each element of the hybrid war is not new and has been used in the wars of the past. However, the situation is unique due to the consistency and interconnection of these elements, their dynamism and flexibility of application. And Russia constantly enhances its possibilities in this sphere. For instance, the Kremlin recently raised the question of creating a General Staff for information security. The world has never heard of this. This is all in line with the confrontation which the main initiators of the hybrid war, Putin and Surkov, are so fond of. And this is the lesson of the hybrid war which we have to learn, we and our allies. The methods predominantly remain the same; only the context and implementation differs.
In conclusion, in its time, the cessation of the Cold War did not bring peace to the planet. After it, there was a number of small and average bloody conflicts. I don’t exclude that the hybrid war will join the other wars of our epoch. Maybe the concept of the hybrid war will join the concept of the limited nuclear war, a war which was widespread during bipolar times. The main goal of this concept was the socialization of nuclear weapons, i.e. returning them to world politics as an acceptable, not only restraining factor of foreign policy. The concept of hybrid war also envisions the socialization of weapons, but it goes so deep that the weapons component is lost among the other non-military factors. That’s why we can’t neglect the possibility of a dangerous synthesis of these two types of wars and their concepts.
The Cold War didn’t become a nuclear one only because all the participants knew that any provocation will be answered. As a person who worked 30 years on creating strategic nuclear warheads, I can tell that the people creating them carried a great responsibility. Today we can’t say this about Russia’s leaders.
First, Russia is doomed to have Putin. Second, Putin’s Russia is doomed to a confrontation with the West. Third, Russia is doomed to fail in this confrontation. And what about Ukraine? It is doomed to reform its security sector, develop its economy and rebuild its defense industry. And finally, uphold the unity of its nation as the most important guarantee of our sovereignty and independence.