Russian Hybrid Warfare: How to Confront a New Challenge to the West

Power abhors a vacuum, the old saying goes. And it is certainly the case in Eastern Europe, where President Vladimir Putin has shifted Russia to a permanent war footing to advance a long-term objective of regaining Soviet-era geo-strategic parity with the United States and its European allies, according to new study by my colleague Pasi Eronen at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Eronen, a Russia Project Researcher at FDD, chronicles how a nimble, opportunistic Putin is using the tools of hybrid warfare, particularly cyber capabilities, to undermine U.S. national security interests and reestablish a Cold War-like standoff with the United States that is likely to persist for years.

To counter this challenge, the United States and the European Union should improve offensive and defensive responses, including a stronger attack on state and non-state Russian corruption, which can lead to instability that Putin can exploit using hybrid tactics.

The study, “Russian Hybrid Warfare: How to Confront a New Challenge to the West,” is the first in a three-part series on the dynamics of the intensifying financial, military and geopolitical conflict between Russia and the United States and its European allies.

Eronen says the United States and its allies can take defensive measures to shield government, economic, and public infrastructure targets, and offensive methods to exact a high price from transgressors, including:

  • Build up dedicated national and international coordinating centers for hybrid defense, including permanent local and supra-national coordinating centers that are integrated within current agencies and organizations, such as NATO. These interagency centers should gather and analyze information on Russian hybrid activities, and propose defensive action and resilience against current and future threats.
  • Enhance a common defense against cyber-intrusion and information warfare, including military and civilian exercises and public-private partnerships. Western forces deployed to the Baltic republics and Eastern Europe should be equipped and trained to continue to operate even when lacking control of the information space or the electro-magnetic spectrum.
  • Tighten and expand economic sanctions and financial measures. The U.S. and the EU should maintain pressure on Russia to withdraw from eastern Ukraine and cease other hybrid attacks in Europe and the U.S., including cyber and information warfare. This would include prioritizing the identification of Russian hackers, organizations, and businesses engaged in or profiting from malicious cyber activity against key systems in the U.S. and the EU.
  • Step up the battle against state and non-state Russia corruption. In particular, Western authorities should coordinate targeted anti-corruption prosecutions, especially those tied to Russian influence; ensure that Western investment and interests are observing international anti-bribery and anti-corruption practices; and, using sanctions, exclude actors involved or associated with Russian corruption from legitimate financial and commercial transactions.

You can read and download the full report now.

Mark Dubowitz is executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where he focuses on Iran and directs its Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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