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Ioana Constantinescu: Hybridity in Europe - Shifting tactics against Russian warfare

Often used to describe Russia’s aggressive tactics against the EU, the term hybrid warfare defines military and non-military actions aimed at destabilizing one’s opponent (Matsumoto 2019; Schnaufer 2017). With Russia’s infamous disinformation campaigns (described by Ursula von der Leyen as the “Kremlin’s machines […] for toxic and harmful disinformation in Europe”), (Pollet, 2022), overt and covert military actions, and use of natural resources to achieve political goals, Russian hybrid warfare is at the forefront of European concerns (Eberle & Daniel 2022). Even before its military attack on the 24th of February 2022, Russia’s attrition strategies against Ukraine had already started, ranging from targeted cyber-attacks against the latter’s defense ministry and banking sector (PrivatBank and JSC Oschadbank) to hiring mercenaries and promoting state-sponsored internet “trolls” (Hoffman 2022; Blackburn et al. 2019).

Given the multifaceted nature of hybrid threats, the EU has recently taken novel measures on three levels to minimize the impact of possible attacks.

1. Cyber and information warfare

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth gets a chance to get its pants on”- Winston Churchill

What it is: The speed and accessibility of online communication have transformed the Internet into the ideal breeding ground for cyber-attacks, as it is a low-cost tactic and identifying its perpetrators is very difficult (Blackburn et al. 2019). Often connected to cyber-attacks, information warfare takes advantage of the uncertainty of the “post-truth” era, in which factual reality has become only one of the many available narratives (Hoggan-Kloubert & Hoggan 2022). As such, disentangling truth from fiction is becoming increasingly difficult for citizens and states alike.

What measures the EU and international actors have taken:

Private actors:

On the one hand, Google Analytics, Facebook Domain Insights and other marketing tools have withdrawn from RT, Sputnik, Ruptly, Ria Novosti and Tass–the main Russian state-owned news agencies. By doing this, the corporations have tried to minimize the number of new supporters, as state-backed media can no longer access the most popular social analytics services and marketing strategies (Scott 2022). On the other hand, social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, and Telegram have taken a stance in dismantling Russian fake news and banning its propagation (Scott 2022).

The EU:

The EU has put forward two new legislative measures aiming at promoting cyber resilience, while also strengthening the mandate of the EU Agency for Cybersecurity.

The East StratCom Task Force and various European agencies aim at strengthening societal information and resilience against misinformation campaigns.


Seeking to counter Russian cyber-attacks, Ukrainian hackers have formed the ”IT army of Ukraine”, which carried out attacks against Russia’s transport and power networks (Tidy 2022).

2. Natural resources as a political tool:

“The role of the country on international energy markets determines, in many ways, its geopolitical influence”.- Vladimir Putin, 2009

What they are: Russian hybrid warfare tactics entail the manipulation of export prices for products such as gas, oil and coal as a means of achieving political ends (Ratsiborynska 2018). By sanctioning non-compliance or resistance with increased gas prices and rewarding obedience with gas subsidies, Russian interests have manifested themselves in the form of manipulative international trade (Newnham 2011). This relationship is particularly noticeable between Russia and its unequal trading partners, which rely heavily on the former’s natural resources and lack feasible alternatives for their energy needs (Newnham 2011). For example,Russia increased its gas prices for Ukraine by 80% following its annexation of Crimea in 2014 (Hume & Terazono 2022).

What measures the EU and international actors have taken:

Despite OPEC’s skepticism regarding the EU’s ability to substitute Russian oil supply losses, the EU is soon to prohibit the import or transport of solid fossil fuels starting in August 2022 (Abnet & Lawler, 2022). Similarly, investments in Russia’s energy sector have been banned by the EU (ibid).

Other measures include increasing production of solar panels within the EU to decrease energy dependency on Russia. (Campbell 2022).

3. Traditional warfare: military approach

"War therefore is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will."- Carl Von Clausewitz

What it is: Traditional warfare is understood in relation to Clausewitzian definitions of war and entails overt conflict, casualties, and an incompatibility of goals among the actors involved (Dimitriu, 2020). Both Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the 2022 military attack against Ukraine fall under the realm of traditional warfare.

What measures the EU and international actors have taken:

The EU has offered 1 billion in military aid for Ukraine, while Germany has boosted its military assistance spending to €2 billion. The EU is supporting the supply of weapons and necessary equipment for Ukraine’s defense (Stevis-Gridneff 2022).

What is next?

The steps taken by the EU in countering Russian hybrid warfare complement the recent emphasis placed on increasing resilience towards the latter’s threats. Ranging from countering cyber and information threats to decreasing energy reliance on Russian resources and enhancing military spending, the EU’s aim to strengthen its defense mechanisms has become apparent.

Written by Ioana Constantinescu, Amsterdam Chapter of European Horizons

Source: Photo: ALEXEI DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images


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———. 2022b. “Russia’s Propaganda Machine Takes Another Hit.” POLITICO. April 14, 2022.

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