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Report Warns Russia's 'Hybrid Warfare' In Ukraine Could Inspire Others

Members of a "local self-defense unit" man a checkpoint on the highway between Simferopol and Sevastopol in Crimea in March 2014.
Members of a "local self-defense unit" man a checkpoint on the highway between Simferopol and Sevastopol in Crimea in March 2014.

In a new report, a top defense think tank warns that Russia's destabilizing actions in Ukraine, including "sophisticated combinations of conventional and unconventional means of warfare," could inspire NATO's potential state and non-state adversaries elsewhere in the world.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) issued the warning in its annual Military Balance report, which was released on February 11.

The London-based group says Russia's application of "hybrid warfare" in Ukraine is "essentially an effort to wage limited war for limited objectives" and includes covert military action and social media campaigns.

The conflict between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 5,350 people since April and sparked the tensest standoff between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.

Russia denies it has sent troops or weapons to Ukraine despite mounting evidence.

The report says most armies around the world, including within NATO, are ill-prepared for the type of "hybrid warfare" employed by Russia in Ukraine.

It says such methods include "sophisticated campaigns that combine low-level conventional and special operations; offensive cyber and space actions; and psychological operations that use social and traditional media to influence popular perception and international opinion."

These tactics, the document says, represent a "grave threat" to NATO's collective security because they operate "in gray areas that exploit seams in the alliance."

"Western policymakers may anticipate that some current or potential state or non-state adversaries will also learn from these hybrid-warfare activities, potentially including states in East Asia or the Middle East," the document says.

It adds that campaigns against NATO states could begin with "efforts to shape the political, economic and social landscape through subversion, espionage and propaganda."

That could be "an appeal for the protection of ethnic minorities," similar to concerns expressed by Moscow over the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine, and "the rapid formation of pressure groups that might be locally staffed, but externally directed and supported."

And the IISS says the effect of such tactics could also spread further than Western states.

"These lessons might not necessarily be applied in conflicts with Western states, it says, but their potential to rapidly destabilize could, if applied in other zones of political and military competition, mean they have global ramifications."

In the Middle East, the study says, the "hybrid, adaptable nature" of the Islamic State militants proved "key" to its advances in Iraq and Syria.

Describing the group as "part-insurgency, part-light infantry and part-terrorist group," IISS says some of its media tactics display "some similarities" with those used in Ukraine, including the "employment of coercive information operation."

With reporting by AFP
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