Seven ways to make a state helpless in the face of Kremlin’s hybrid warSaturday, 20 April 2019
A successful resistance to the Russian hybrid war demands analysis of the facts and awareness of the consequences of the state institutions’ actions and inactions.
The Bulgarian Experience.
The first prerequisite to make the hybrid war successful is to ignore the problem. The longer the institutions and society stay ignorant and unaware that a hybrid war is waged against the country, the easier it is for the aggressor to achieve its goals. This is fundamental in the strategy of Russia in its hybrid campaign against Bulgaria –
Make the hybrid impacts against the state ignored and take no real actions in defence.
The most effective way to overwhelm any defence against hybrid attacks is to influence decision-makers so that the state does not build up any capability of awareness and counteraction.
Up to now, seven ways of impact can be outlined, aimed at keeping Bulgaria unprepared and defenceless against Moscow’s hybrid attacks.
- SILENCE (DO NOT MENTION IT)
The objective here is to maintain silence about the issue of the hybrid war – do not talk about it, do now write about it, neither at the state institutions nor in the media.
The hybrid war problem is bypassed and ignored as if it did not exist, despite the obvious signs of its existence. The aim is to achieve maximum media blackout on the issue. This effort is continuous, despite the fact that over time it is becoming increasingly difficult to play ignorant about the issue.
- ATTACK ANYONE WHO POINTS AT THE PROBLEM
It means attacking anyone who has spoken about Moscow’s hybrid war against Bulgaria.
The arsenal here ranges from threats to ridicule, attempts to discredit and labels (warmongers, Russophobes, Sorosoids, non-professional laymen etc.) to any politician or public figure who talks about it. This campaign has mobilized all agents of Russia’s influence in Bulgaria, with media and social networks being a key tool for compromising uncomfortable people.
- NIHIL NOVI SUB SOLE (Nothing new under the sun)
This tactic is to say that the hybrid war is not really new, it is not a unique new phenomenon, and has always existed in the history of mankind. It is only a new term has emerged to explain Russian action after the illegal annexation of the Crimea in 2014. And here comes the pretentions claim for academicism and references to the history and high theory of warfare, ending up in suggesting that the West has devised the hybrid war term to denote Russian politics and thus mobilize support against Russia. This is one way to downplay the significance of the hybrid war. It is presented as something already familiar, and therefore the implicit suggestion is that no particularly new effort is required and there are hardly any special strategies for counteracting. The result is that the real threat is neglected. By developing this logic further, it may even question the very existence of the hybrid war. And those who try to oppose the Russian hybrid war to be discredited as tilting at windmills.
- ONE-SIDED INTERPRETATION AND SHIFTING THE GEOGRAPHICAL FOCUS
If ignoring the subject cannot be sustained anymore, then the line taken is not to mention Russia in any way, as well as the hybrid challenges coming from the East.
If there is a talk about hybrid threats, then the geographical centre must shift, focusing one-sidedly only on threats coming from the South, such as terrorism, radical Islam, mass migration, etc. Hybrid challenges are thus mainly associated with countries in the Middle East and North Africa, but not with Russia. We can talk about Syria, or Libya, or the Islamic State, but not about Moscow. The debate may also include the topic of cyber-attacks as part of the hybrid war, but it must not be connected in any way with the Kremlin.
- A FORM WITHOUT SUBSTANCE
The hybrid war topic may at the end be allowed to enter the debate as a concept, because of the impossibility to remain silent anymore; the very use of the term “hybrid war” may be allowed, but without developing and explaining its content.
It is mentioned only in principle, without any specifics. Often, instead of hybrid ‘war’, hybrid ‘threat’ is used, as it sounds less harmful to the image of the aggressor (Russia). For example, many state documents may talk about hybrid threats, neither further developing the subject, nor giving explanations as to what these threats include, and most importantly – never mentioning who is the source of these threats. Not a word about Russia. Indicative in this respect are the annual reports on the activities of the civilian and military intelligence, and the State National Security Agency (DANS) 2017 Report, for example, does not mention at all the terms ‘hybrid war’ or ‘hybrid threats’.
In this sense, some state documents may mention the topic, probably in order to “give weight”, modernity and “legitimacy” to NATO and the EU, and to show that “we work” and “we are on the same sheet of music”. However, this is only in words and as a general principle. In essence, however, the hybrid threats are not considered in the content of the document. There is no hybrid warfare dedicated part – a chapter or a subsection, for example, unlike other threats, such as terrorism, illegal migration, cyber-attacks, etc., which are considered in great details and have their own dedicated sections, as is easily observable in the Annual Activity Reports of the Special Services for 2017.
- DO NOT NAME THE SOURCE OF IMPACT
Even if a governmental structure considers openly the problem of the hybrid threats, again any indication of the source of this threat is avoided. A state document may mention the hybrid war and even admit that Bulgaria is subject to hybrid attacks or impact, but without mentioning the aggressor. It is only considered in principle. And the language must always stay Russia-friendly. There is nothing specific that could lead to the conclusion that it is about a Russian intrusion.
All this renders ineffective any institutional efforts to effectively counteract the Russian hybrid war, if such efforts at all exist, on the first place, as the current coalition government involves openly-Russophile elements. When the source of the hybrid threats against Bulgaria is not mentioned, all institutional efforts for effectively countering these threats have no practical value.
This is yet another approach in the efforts to build a positive institutional image before NATO and the EU, to send a signal that Bulgaria is also working against hybrid threats, while however paying special attention not affecting Russia in any way. Such an approach reveals either an institutional ignorance, or a lack of will to address the problem in its real dimensions. Of course, institutions can always try justifying themselves with “political sensitivity” in naming Russia and a need to protect “classified information”, suggesting that, there are some classified documents in which the Russian threat is adequately considered. Let’s hope so! Nevertheless, this cannot be verified by the society at this time, at all.
What, however, cannot be hidden and is perfectly seen is that the state today is ineffective in its defence against the Russian hybrid war, and therefore – the quality of the state institutions’ work is unsatisfactory.
- DO NOT BUILD COUNTERACTION CAPACITY
Even if, at the end, it is inevitably recognized that hybrid warfare exists, and the hybrid threats are adequately detailed and specified in the government documents, and even in one form or another, directly or timidly, Russia is openly named as the source of the hybrid impact against Bulgaria, everything remains at the level of words only, no action.
Neither strategies nor tools are being developed to counteract the hybrid threats. Institutions can, at some point, start talking about the hybrid war, but they practically do nothing to counter it. Again the talking is an attempt to maintain a good image before the West. It is a fact that there is no national strategy adopted for countering the hybrid threats. Nor it is known to the society if the state is building any capacity to countering such threats. And if there is no effort to build such a capacity, what use is there in recognising the existence of the hybrid war?
The problem with the hybrid war against Bulgaria remains so far only in the radar of a small part of the academic community and the civil society in Bulgaria, who are trying to counteract with their modest public tools. They monitor the processes, analyse and alert the society and the state institutions that, unfortunately, still fail to take effective action, unlike a number of allies in the EU and NATO that have built up structures and capabilities for counteract, including within their defense ministries and armed forces.
Any delay in counteracting the hybrid war of the Russian Federation will have serious consequences for Bulgaria’s national security, intensifying disintegration processes and moving the country away from its strategic national goals of full participation in the most powerful world alliances – NATO and the EU.
In this way, Bulgaria would become an easy prey for the Russian Federation’s imperial ambitions to pull back into its sphere of influence, through political and economic control, the countries of Eastern Europe that chose the road to freedom and independence from the USSR after the end of the Cold War .
Editorial Team of the Press Center of the Atlantic Council of Bulgaria