The Development Of Russia’s Hybrid War Doctrine

Abstract: The Russo-Ukrainian war has shown that the Russian Hybrid War Doctrine, in its real essence, is not about military technology at all – it is a collection of covert special operations. This war is regional in terms of territory but not in terms of its influence on global geopolitics and the development of hybrid war theory. A principal feature of hybrid warfare is a paradoxical logic: it is the situation of neither war nor peace. Clausewitz’s formula of war is turned inside out: war is no longer the continuation of politics by other means, but politics is war waged by other means.

Problem statement: How to understand the innovation the Russian Military Doctrine has brought to the concept of hybrid war in the 21st century?

So what: It is critically important for governments, research organisations and lawmakers to prioritise protection against instruments of hybrid war of controlled chaos.

Forms and Methods of Application of the Armed Forces

In the midst of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, on January 11, 2023, Russian President Vladimir Putin replaced the commander of the Russian Army with General Valery Gerasimov. Gerasimov is one of the few Russian generals known around the world. In January 2013, in the presence of the country’s top military officials and leadership, General Gerasimov presented the report “The Main Trends in the Development of Forms and Methods of Application of the Armed Forces and the Current Tasks of Military Science for their Improvement.” The essence of how the Chief of the Russian General Staff understands modern warfare was clearly expressed in the very first phrase: “In the 21st century, there is a tendency to erase the distinction between the state of war and peace. Wars are not declared, and having started, they do not follow the pattern we are accustomed to”.[1] This contradicts the binding provisions of The Hague Convention (III), 1907, for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes (to which Russia is a party), which mention that a warning in the form of a justified declaration of war must necessarily precede a state of war.[2] Moreover, it contradicts the officially adopted Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, signed by Putin in 2014, according to which the legal base of the doctrine is the principles and norms of international law.[3]

In the 21st century, there is a tendency to erase the distinction between the state of war and peace. Wars are not declared, and having started, they do not follow the pattern we are accustomed to.

Many experts understood the Gerasimov Doctrine as an expanded theory of “New Generation Warfare”, a Russian approach to implementing the concept of unconventional warfare. Having emerged as a counterbalance to the Western idea of hybrid warfare, it was successfully tested during the confrontation with Ukrainian troops during the annexation of Crimea.[4] However, some authors believe that Gerasimov did not present anything new in military science.[5]

By the time the doctrine was formulated, Putin had already delivered the famous Munich speech of 2007, in which he declared that “for the modern world, a unipolar model dominated by Western countries is not only unacceptable but even impossible.”[6] This was not just a call for a multipolar world; behind its façade lay a call for a chaotic world order. Finally, in 2014, the Russian president signed the Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation. Since then, the Kremlin has waged hybrid wars in various countries, including Georgia and Syria, but mostly in Ukraine since February 2014.

According to the Russian Military Doctrine, the war begins not with an invasion of troops but with a “hidden genesis” during which the armies simply perform “military measures of strategic deterrence.” Meanwhile, political opposition is formed, coalitions are created, and information warfare is waged (in fact, information warfare is the only thing that, according to Gerasimov, is waged throughout all stages of the “new war”).[7] Gerasimov identified eight phases of war with the established goals. Each phase is a prerequisite for the success of the next phase. In the first five non-kinetic phases, only non-military means and methods are presented; in the last three (kinetic), only weaponised phases and methods are presented. However, the five non-kinetic phases identify military means of intimidating the enemy through false air attacks, temporary military exercises, and major manoeuvres near the borders of enemy territory.
The Doctrine’s Principles

Russian military expert Alexander Bartosh’s monograph “Issues of the Theory of Hybrid War” revealed some peculiarities of the Russian approach to this kind of war. In his opinion, the United States of America (U.S.) and NATO have already declared a hybrid war on Russia. The monograph emphasises the conflict’s global geopolitical, civilisational nature as the U.S. seeks to defeat Russia as one of its main geopolitical opponents — the only power to destroy the U.S. in a full-scale war.[8]

Bartosh refers to the principles of Russian hybrid warfare as a new type of interstate confrontation as follows:

using corrupt local political and intellectual elites as a tool for weakening and disintegrating the state;
formation of the grey zone as a theatre of hybrid war;
denial of the fact of hybrid war (plausible deniability);
multilevel deterrence;
secrecy of application of a complex of hybrid threats;
comprehensive coverage of any territory in hybrid warfare operations, including outer space and cyberspace;
anticipatory reflection in hybrid war strategy development;
prioritisation of operations to exert a cognitively destructive impact on the consciousness and psyche of people to accelerate the collapse of the state; and
specificity of the development of the military technological sphere of a hybrid military conflict.

These principles of hybrid warfare reveal the purpose of the Russian Military Doctrine — to create a permanent geopolitical front on the entire world territory, including outer space, while depicting Russia as a victim rather than the aggressor.
Demystifying the Nuances of the Doctrine

The Russian Military Doctrine should be considered broadly as a complex phenomenon comprising three main parts: military doctrine as an act of legislation; Gerasimov’s concept of non-linear war; and doctrinal studies of military experts on the principles of “New Generation Warfare.” The doctrine does not have a definition of “hybrid warfare,” but among Russian military experts, the definition of hybrid warfare is very broad. Most often, it is defined as the complex application of various methods, not only military but also economic, social, and political, to influence the enemy within the framework of interstate confrontation. In particular, Bartosh defines it as follows: “Hybrid warfare is a wide range of actions carried out by the enemy using military and irregular formations, with simultaneous involvement of civilian components.”[9]

The doctrine does not have a definition of “hybrid warfare,” but among Russian military experts, the definition of hybrid warfare is very broad.

In comparison, the NATO definition gives a more specific understanding of hybrid warfare as “broad, complex, adaptive, opportunistic and often integrated combinations of conventional and unconventional methods. These activities could be overt or covert, involving military, paramilitary, organised criminal networks and civilian actors across all elements of power.[10] The EU explains the hybrid threats as a “mixture of coercive and subversive activity, conventional and nonconventional methods (i.e. diplomatic, military, economic, technological), which can be used in a coordinated manner by state or non-state actors to achieve specific objectives while remaining below the threshold of formally declared warfare”.[11]

Russian understanding of hybrid war is close to the Chinese concept of “unrestricted” war, an alternative to the Western project of “hybrid warfare”. Generals of the People’s Liberation Army, Qiao Liang and Wang Xianxu, formulated it as a war “without rules” that “covers the entire sphere of society: to achieve their goal, the actors of war can use any tools to protect national interests”.[12] The Chinese concept of “unrestricted war” expands warfare to the extreme, which coincides with the Russian approach of weaponising any possible tool in the course of war. These aggressive, hybrid actions are always of a disguised nature, so a significant part of these tools are hidden and not recognised: conducting sabotage, operations under false flags, terrorist acts, political assassinations, bribing or intimidating officials, inciting dissatisfaction among the population, supporting the opposition with illegally abandoned armed groups, using so-called cloud or amorphous personnel, and privatisation of war, among others.
Postmodernism and the Hybrid War

The world is a globalised space for society to transition to a new world order, in which norms, values, and ideals are reassessed and new change factors are revealed. As J. Lyotard noted, postmodernism in the sphere of knowledge has changed “the rules of the game in science, literature and art”.[13] To this observation, one can add the rules of war too. The latest phenomenology of war and armed struggle emerges through the fog of postmodernism.

The postmodernist philosophy asserts no clear distinction between reality and simulation. Jacques Baudrillard wrote, “We produce an abundance of images, simulacra, which do not convey any meaning and thus appear as fakes, falsified copies that do not correspond to the original.”[14] Postmodernist culture becomes “responsible” for virtually all aspects of society, including war, which becomes an integral part of the culture.[15]

We produce an abundance of images, simulacra, which do not convey any meaning and thus appear as fakes, falsified copies that do not correspond to the original.

The use of postmodernist methodology to actively influence mass consciousness, constructing a reality wherein several contrasting truths can exist simultaneously (e.g., five versions of the downing of the MH-17 passenger airliner in 2014),[16], facilitates representing the good as evil (e.g., Ukrainians are aggressors and neo-Nazis),[17] ultimately increasing the effectiveness of modern information warfare. Facts can be deconstructed, and inhumane ideas can be imposed under the guise of humanism (e.g., saving the people of Donbas by killing thousands of civilians in Mariupol), which ultimately dramatically increases the effectiveness of hybrid wars.[18]
Gerasimov vs. Clausewitz

Carl von Clausewitz, a 19th-century Prussian general and military theorist, is primarily known for his theoretical work on the nature of war. Clausewitz and his theories are returning to the spotlight with the war in Ukraine. As the current war has shown, postmodernism did not change the essence of Clausewitz’s war. For Clausewitz, war is not an ordinary act of violence but an extreme degree of its application. An ideal Clausewitzian war leads to the destruction of the alien, the incomprehensible, and the unacceptable if it is defined as a threat to one’s existence.

However, in Russian interpretation, war is the destruction of order and the establishment of chaos; war is a pulsation of violence to which there are no limits.[19] Hybrid warfare spreads to all public relations, becoming global, universal, permanent, and endless. It is waged with the simultaneous use of conventional weapons and methods of unconventional violence in various operational spaces: military, political and diplomatic, economic, psychological and informational. The violence passes through a phase shift from states to quasi-state actors, local to global, public to private, and organised to chaotic. In this war, everything becomes a weapon: civilians, social networks, corrupt political elite, refugees, starvation, nuclear power plants and nuclear blackmailing.

This does not fit the postmodernist deconstruction theory, which is at least looking for something new. As mentioned previously, in Russian interpretation, war is the destruction of order and the establishment of chaos, thus concealing the true purpose of the war in Ukraine: the destruction of the state, seizure of territory, and extermination of Ukrainian identity, history and language.[20] For this purpose, children on occupied territory are taken away from their parents for proper “Putin-style” re-education, which has already led to the issuance of an arrest warrant for Putin by the International Criminal Court.[21]

Meanwhile, Clausewitz sees war as a political act, a genuine instrument of politics, a continuation of political relations and their realisation by other means; according to him, war is subordinate to politics. Politics determines the objectives, scale and scope of the war. Clausewitz’s approach rejects the notion of war as an independent phenomenon of social development. Outside of politics, war is impossible. For Clausewitz, war is only an instrument of politics, a special form of political relations; politics determines war’s nature. War is part of the whole, and the whole is politics.[22]

Accordingly, Clausewitz fights against all attempts to subordinate the political point of view to the military one. He says: “political intention is the end, while war is only a means, and one can never think of a means without an end.” Consequently, it is only possible to subordinate the military point of view to the political. War can in no way abolish politics.[23]

One of the consequences of Clausewitz’s linear approach is the separation of politics into categories as something external to the war itself. In the relationship between parts of the whole, politics is assigned the role of a hierarchically superior controlling element that determines all aspects of war. However, the non-linear hybrid war of the postmodernist world feels cramped in the frame of that linear, hierarchical approach. Involving non-state actors, multimodal and total hybrid war does not fit into the existing theoretical framework and does not have clear boundaries. If war expresses the will of the state, it does not involve other irrational aspects, non-state actors and motives that influence war.

The non-linear hybrid war of the postmodernist world feels cramped in the frame of that linear, hierarchical approach.

Military history gives us examples of conflicts making politics an instrument of war; once started, war always tends to generate its own politics, create its own momentum, and render obsolete the political goals in the name of which it was started by putting forward its own political goals.[24] The goals of the war are not defined but rather concealed; for example, Putin calls the war of aggression against Ukraine the “special military operation for denazification and demilitarisation of Ukraine” instead of “armed international conflict.”[25]

War is no longer an extreme situation and a tear in the fabric of ordinary social existence. Instead, it has become quite a stable form of public relations. The political consciousness of the ruling elite is replaced by military consciousness, and the paradigm of war has overcome the paradigm of politics.[26] The Clausewitzian “trinity” of war in Russian interpretation penetrates the postmodern world with military hysteria of population, military thinking of “siloviki” (military and enforcement elite) and ends in total violence. Politics and war in a non-linear world spill over each other; politics may dominate in a hybrid peace period, but war is dominant during a hybrid wartime. Under the new conditions, Clausewitz’s formula is turned inside out: war is no longer the continuation of politics by other means, but politics is war waged by other means; politics is one of the instruments, one of the embodiments of war.
War, No Peace

Clausewitz sees war and peace not only as two alternative means of politics but also as the enduring values of human existence on which politics must ultimately be oriented to determine strategic goals. In the ideal Clausewitzian war, the new peace order defeats the chaos of war. The state of peace is any war’s starting point and ultimate goal. Clausewitz gives a detailed description of an ideal war, which would necessarily have to begin with a declaration of war and end with the conclusion of peace, once again emphasising the priority of peace over war as politics’ starting point and final goal.[27]

On the contrary, the Russian Military Doctrine supports the concept of undeclared war and ignores the role of peace contrary to the provisions of international law. A principal feature of Russian hybrid warfare is a paradoxical logic: it is a situation of neither war nor peace when the state of war is simultaneously a state of peace. This is because, unlike ideal wars, hybrid wars focus on creating a situation of uncertainty and chaos. In the Russian version, hybrid war does not need order; it is always uncertain and chaotic. At any given moment, war is not war in its pure form, and peace is not peace.

The Russian Military Doctrine supports the concept of undeclared war and ignores the role of peace contrary to the provisions of international law.

Many talk about hybrid war, but few about the opposite concept — hybrid peace. If there is a hybrid war, it can be transformed into hybrid peace. Analyses of the Russian hybrid war against Ukraine since 2014 show that a state of peace is temporary and can, at any moment, turn into a state of war. Two peaks of “kinetic” war phases (2014-2015 and 2022-present) existed.[28] The hybrid peace between these phases was filled with hacker attacks, sabotage acts, military exercises, and major manoeuvres near the borders of Ukraine. So, hybrid peace is the same as hybrid war but in its “non-kinetic” mode. It is the state of an active volcano before the next eruption.

Russian hybrid war is not declared, and therefore, neither has a beginning nor an end; a peace agreement is impossible in the process of war formation because hybrid war is in the media, social networks, social movements, and other areas of hybrid confrontation. The main problem with hybrid warfare is that it is easy to start and even accelerate but hard to stop because it is waged in all spheres with different states, quasi-states, and private actors; therefore, the war can only dry up due to lacking resources or will. The world was created for Kantian eternal peace but has become a theatre of the eternal hybrid warfare of chaos.
War of Chaos

Clausewitz defines war as a chameleon, easily changing its appearance with environmental changes.[29] The peculiarities of the current wars should be sought in the peculiarities of modern societies. Today, hybrid warfare is acquiring a new quality, given unprecedented interdependence and the development of information technologies. Globalisation has facilitated the achievements of technological progress but also new uncertainties and risks tied to the interdependencies of states and societies.

Clausewitz also mentioned the uncertainties of war. Nonetheless, two hundred years ago, there were no vulnerabilities such as nuclear or hydroelectric power plants, telecommunication cables that connect billions, social communication networks, pipeline networks, or space technologies. Perhaps the most efficient way of creating chaos is the atomisation of society. One of the social characteristics of the new wars is the violent spread of particularistic identity, which is fuelled by monstrous brutality. The main victims of such wars are civilians.[30] Injecting chaos in social life to catalyse destructive processes in society has become a combat weapon.

One of the social characteristics of the new wars is the violent spread of particularistic identity, which is fuelled by monstrous brutality.

Hybrid warfare creates a space of uncertainty. In ideal warfare, information and psychological confrontation accompany military operations, providing the appropriate motivation for fighting and justifying its necessity. In hybrid warfare, the emphasis is shifted to imposing one’s vision of reality and one’s world order and interstate relations model. This makes it possible to carry out tough (forceful) operations under the cover of attractive slogans to construct certain simulacra and introduce them into public consciousness to justify the need for further forced actions. Therefore, armed and other force operations are presented as aimed at protecting the offended and traditional values, fighting against the “oppression” of the Russian language and the Russian Orthodox Church, and overcoming the world evil of the Anglo-Saxons.[31].

In some sense, hybrid warfare is waged with the simultaneous use of conventional weapons and methods of unconventional violence (i.e., soft power) in various operational spaces: military, political and diplomatic, economic, psychological, and informational, among others.[32] The globalisation of war illustrates the essence of warfare: it knows neither spatial nor temporal boundaries. It is the violence passing through a phase shift from state to quasi-state actors, local to global, public to private, organised to chaotic, and real to virtual.
Information Warfare

In hybrid war, psychological confrontation acquires dominant significance. According to Clausewitz, the centre of gravity in battle is always found where the mass is concentrated most densely. It presents the most effective target for a blow; furthermore, the heaviest blow is that struck by the centre of gravity.[33] The centre of gravity of the hybrid war is shifting from its power component to the psychological one, with human consciousness as the battlefield. In the information sphere, there are invisible but fierce battles for the possession of information. In this war, new means have been added to the theory, such as “electronic warfare,” “internet troll,” and “cyber war.”[34] Hybrid war is waged in conditions where intensive communications help overcome geographical distance. The denser nature of interactions between peoples contributes to the growth of contradictions between them. The Russian hybrid information war would not make sense without social networks outside the global communication space. To achieve an information advantage, Russia has settled several so-called “troll factories” that used Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram under the guise of Ukrainian identities to criticise authorities and spread panic rumours.[35] This space of social networks engenders the formation of a mass consciousness, according to certain ideological clichés, to tune the population to the desired emotional state.

Russia has settled several so-called “troll factories” that used Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram under the guise of Ukrainian identities to criticise authorities and spread panic rumours.

Everything becomes a weapon of spiritual violence: religion (the need to “save” the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine), ideology (traditional political myths of Soviet times), and quasi-electoral technologies and technologies of manipulation (the so-called referendums and elections on occupied territories).[36] As a dismembering and annihilating mechanism, war turns into an uncompromising crusade — destroying the old, not to build new, but to immerse everybody in the pleasure of Soviet-style decay, to succumb to the charm of the ruins.
Controlled Chaos Tools

The special characteristic of the Russian-Ukrainian war is that the chaos factor has increased tremendously. This applies to all sides of the war, both the enemy and Ukrainian society. In physics and philosophy, chaos does not refer to systems that are impossible to calculate and in which there is no regularity. Chaos can be calculated, influenced, explained, and modelled.[37] However, according to the doctrine of chaos based on Putin’s rules, chaos must not be eradicated but comprehended and partially deepened when implementing the doctrine on the socio-political level. That is, Russia aims to control and moderate, not overcome, chaos – this is the instance of war of “controlled chaos”. Since the level of chaos was far from being advanced everywhere, chaos had to be artificially provoked.

A hybrid war of chaos is more complex than armed aggression against a particular country. The war of chaos is a total war penetrating deep inside societies. It is waged everywhere through information networks and people’s mental states. Everybody is close to each other and infinitely far away simultaneously. The war does not disappear but is placed within the individual.[38]

The war of chaos is a total war penetrating deep inside societies. It is waged everywhere through information networks and people’s mental states.

As Russian aggression has shown, “controlled chaos” is not an end in itself but rather a means used by Moscow. Therefore, “controlled chaos” should be regarded not as a strategy but as a method. By implementing this approach, the state, as a political organisation of society, can be weakened and destroyed, following which external control is exercised over the weakened state. “War of controlled chaos” is not strictly an academic or professional term but rather a layman’s term, emphasising the characteristic essence of a new type of war. In this war, everything becomes a weapon: civilians, social media, corrupt political elite, refugees, starvation, and nuclear power plants, to name a few.
“Cloud” Adversary Method

Today, a new approach in Russian warfare is the method of the “cloud (amorphous) adversary.”[39] It involves creating organisations capable of identifying and structuring socially active groups of people who can oppose the existing political regime in a country for religious, social, and ethnic reasons. Before participating in the conflict, these forces exist in their own circuits in the cloud, sometimes without knowing about each other. At the right moment, they are brought together within the framework of one common military project; hierarchical links and command are built between them, after which they begin functioning as a single entity to create chaos.

At the end of the mission, all components of the armed power of the participant in the conflict disintegrate and return to the cloud until the next point of assembly for the next task. The goal sought by the cloud adversary is to achieve the victim state’s internal collapse, the fall of the ruling regime, or a situation that may qualify as a humanitarian catastrophe.
Privatisation of the War

In hybrid war, the two traditional sides of a military conflict are joined by other actors, criminal gangs, volunteer battalions, and other armed formations, most often of an irregular type. Acting independently, these formations actively contribute to the additional escalation of chaos and confusion, leading to unjustified and unjustifiable casualties among civilians and other war victims. They are often called “warriors” rather than soldiers.[40]

Unlike soldiers, warriors follow no rules other than their own and do not obey any orders they dislike. It was reported that, during the war against Ukraine, about 100,000 Russian murderers, looters, and rapists were released from Russian prisons in exchange for participating in the war as mercenaries of the Private Military Company “Wagner”.[41] Wagner had played a key role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as in Russian operations in Syria and African countries, including Libya and Mali. However, as the legal status of private military companies is not defined in Russian law, their involvement in international armed conflict using all kinds of armament, except air forces, should be regarded as privatisation of war by illegal warriors. Putin himself declared that Wagner had no legal basis because there was no law in Russia relating to private military companies.[42]

Wagner had played a key role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as in Russian operations in Syria and African countries, including Libya and Mali.

The Wagner “warriors” have been accused of several crimes, including killing and torturing Ukrainian citizens. The mercenary organisation was proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the UK government on September 15, 2023.[43] Eight months prior, the U.S. Department of Treasury sanctioned Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organisation on January 26, 2023.[44]
Terror against the Civilian Population as Weapon

Unable to wage modern warfare, Russia, in the course of its invasion, has extensively used the entire arsenal of weapons available to it, ignoring the norms and principles of International Humanitarian Law. Missile strikes on power plants, water supply, and heating systems in peaceful cities and villages are intended to return society to the dark and cold ages.[45] Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, stated that Russia considered civilian infrastructure (i.e., bridges, transportation stations, roads, energy facilities, factories, etc.) as acceptable “legitimate military targets” in the war with Ukraine. The goal is to force the civilians, through the creation of an atmosphere of total fear, to put pressure on the political authorities in Ukraine to stop resistance.[46] Thus, Russia demonstrated that it intentionally violates the provisions of the Geneva Convention concerning the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of August 12, 1949, to which it is a party.[47] The Russian side, however, has not acknowledged a single war crime committed against the civilian population and other victims of the war. The Kremlin always uses the “false flag” approach, blaming the Ukrainian side for Russian crimes.[48]

The covert operations, directed against the civilian population, include sabotage of critical infrastructure facilities of other countries. The damage of an underwater telecommunications cable between Sweden and Estonia in October 2023[49] – and an underwater gas pipeline between Finland and Estonia are examples of such actions.[50]
Refugees as a Weapon

Before the war, Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev told the press that Ukraine would soon become so chaotic that it would cause a tsunami of refugees that would overwhelm Europe.[51] According to UN statistics, in the course of the war, European countries have received and accommodated almost 6 million Ukrainians.[52] Refugees have become a factor in the domestic political life in many Central European EU countries. Right-wing radical and eurosceptic political forces use the issue of economic security for Ukrainian refugees and equal access to social benefits to instil distrust in national governments and EU institutions.[53] Russia follows the trends of European right-wingers as part of its informational influence strategy on the EU audience. Thus, Kremlin propaganda has made discrediting Ukrainian refugees in the EU one of the main areas of its external information operation track since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. The tools Russia employs for distorting information about Ukrainians in Europe are quite diverse. Fake news, public statements by Russian officials, and manipulative comments by pseudo-experts are all used by pro-Kremlin media outlets. Ukrainians’ image in the EU is being distorted as part of disinformation campaigns involving Russian media and European pro-Russian media activists, experts, and individual political forces.[54]
Natural Resources as a Weapon

After failing to occupy Ukraine and capture Kyiv in three days, the Russian leadership began to look for new strategies to create chaos. One of these was to exploit the dependence of European countries on Russian energy resources, notably oil and gas. Unlike Russian oil and coal, natural gas has been exempted from any formal sanctions; however, Russia stopped supplying gas to the EU through the Nord Stream pipeline to hurt the bloc for its overwhelming support for Ukraine. Rapid reduction of supplies was aimed at freezing the EU in the winter of 2022/2023 but failed. Leaders of EU countries saw this as a fundamental national security concern because “Russia does not hesitate to use gas as a geopolitical weapon against Ukraine and its European allies”.[55] The weaponisation of gas supplies has ended up hurting Moscow more. The EU energy expert has concluded that the whole Russian strategy has been self-destructive.[56]

Unlike Russian oil and coal, natural gas has been exempted from any formal sanctions; however, Russia stopped supplying gas to the EU through the Nord Stream pipeline to hurt the bloc for its overwhelming support for Ukraine.

Some countries have replaced Europe as the largest buyer of seaborne Russian crude oil after the West imposed sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine. Russia sold almost all of its oil to China and India by the end of 2023. India’s share has grown from almost zero to 40 per cent in two years of war. Media reports say that after the war in Ukraine began, India began buying crude oil from Russia at a discount, refining it and selling it to European customers. While these purchases are considered legal, critics say they are being used to circumvent Western sanctions, undermining the unity of the democratic world by the world’s largest parliamentary democracy.[57]
Human-Made Famine as a Weapon

Ninety years ago, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had already used human-made starvation as a weapon against Ukrainians. In the autumn of 1932, troops were used to confiscate all food supplies from Ukrainian houses while residents of villages and cities were forbidden to leave their homes. While it is impossible to determine the precise number of victims of the Ukrainian genocide, most estimates by scholars range from roughly 3.5 million to 7 million.[58]

In this war, human-made starvation is again used as a hybrid warfare method against Ukrainians. According to the U.S. Congress report, in 2022, Russia stole almost 6 million tons of Ukrainian grain.[59] Experts from the international human rights law firm Global Rights Compliance have collected evidence for the International Criminal Court, showing that even before the military invasion, Russia had begun preparations for inducing famine in Ukraine by confiscating grain stocks to deprive the Ukrainian population of food.

Back in December 2021, a Russian defence contractor engaged in the supply of defence products to the Russian Army suddenly began purchasing trucks for transporting grain and ordered three new 170-meter sea grain carriers, which indicates preliminary planning for the robbery of Ukrainian food resources on an unprecedented scale. This is evidence that Putin can be prosecuted for the war crime of starvation.[60]

Back in December 2021, a Russian defence contractor engaged in the supply of defence products to the Russian Army suddenly began purchasing trucks for transporting grain and ordered three new 170-meter sea grain carriers.

In addition, the Kremlin is provoking a global food crisis with continuous rocket and drone attacks on grain storage facilities and the seaport infrastructure of Ukraine. In 2021 and 2022, Ukraine supplied more than half of the wheat grain to the most food-insecure regions of the globe under the UN World Food Program.[61] The U.S. Congress noted that this war’s direct and indirect effects were “the main drivers of one of the most devastating periods in recent decades for global food security.[62]
War Fatigue as a Weapon

Having failed in its previous plans, Russia is trying to gain a foothold in the occupied territories, turning the war into a protracted conflict. This fully aligns with the hybrid warfare policy of “neither war nor peace.” Their efforts intended to exploit the fatigue of the Ukrainians and their allies throughout an exhausting war.[63] In the Kremlin’s view, the weakening of the international community’s interest in the war may lead to a decrease in support for Ukraine, primarily from the EU and the U.S.; and, as a result, increase diplomatic pressure on the Ukrainian authorities to force them to make territorial concessions (the entire occupied territory has already been annexed by Russia).[64]

While the West’s support for Ukraine since the beginning of the war has surprised the world, the longer the war drags on, the more fatigue grows. The weapons and ammunition that the U.S. and European countries can transfer to Ukraine are running out.[65] The inability of the U.S. Congress and the White House to agree on allocating money for military aid to Ukraine has become a kind of symbol of the indecisiveness and slowness in supplying arms to Ukraine. Unity inside the European Union and NATO is beginning to erode, with almost every major decision delayed and under veto threat.[66] War has become a gruelling duel in which Putin tries to exhaust Ukraine and its allies. The remake of Trotsky’s permanent revolution approach has now been changed to the concept of permanent war according to the Russian Military Doctrine. This is what Putin promised the Russian people in his 2024 New Year’s address – permanent war.[67]
Nuclear Blackmail as a Weapon

The threat to unleash World War III has been successfully used by Russia a long time ago. Russia got a very moderate international reaction to the annexation of Crimea and the unleashing of war in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Declaring the full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022, Putin threatened the world: “Whoever tries to prevent us should know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to consequences that you have never felt in your history.”[68]

It was reported that, since the beginning of the war, Putin’s closest official, Dmitry Medvedev, has voiced more than fifty nuclear “warnings.” He said Ukraine’s desire for NATO membership was “accelerating the beginning of World War III.”[69] In April 2022, Medvedev also threatened Sweden and Finland for their intention to join NATO.[70]

Putin’s closest official, Dmitry Medvedev, has voiced more than fifty nuclear “warnings.”

On October 30, 2023, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that Western attempts to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia had increased the risk of a direct clash between nuclear powers.[71] Putin likes to repeat successful practices, and, in the current conflict, the Russian approach has not changed: if conventional forces cannot win it, the threat of nuclear weapons can be used. Experts from the Atlantic Council think tank have concluded that Moscow irresponsibly brandished the threat of nuclear fire to try to force Ukraine to capitulate to its demands and dissuade NATO countries from aiding Kyiv.[72]
New Generation Warfare

The current era of globalisation, the development of information technology and the revolution in management has been marked by serious changes in the world and society, particularly in economic and military affairs. Military science is looking for new theories and concepts that reflect new realities: resisting the new warfare technology in the old ways is impossible.

When the Russian Military Doctrine was adopted, many experts estimated it as Russian “New Generation Warfare.” The war against Ukraine has shown its true nature. Russia has failed to implement new warfare technologies on the battlefield. Initially, Russia’s strategic goal of occupying the whole of Ukraine’s territory has not been achieved.[73] As of November 23, 2023, the UK government estimated over 300,000 Russian military casualties.[74]The military organisation in Russia is a self-limited, centralised, hierarchical system based on subordination to directives from above, which does not correspond to the autonomous principle of modern network-centric warfare.[75]

The Russian Military Doctrine, in its actual, not declared, content is not about military technology – it is a collection of covert special operations that ignore the ethical and normative constraints of war. Russia uses resources that are not weapons as such but are used as weapons with a real destructive effect. Everything can be a weapon: civil population, social media, corrupt political elite, refugees, criminals, natural gas, nuclear power plants, starvation, and even children.

Russia uses resources that are not weapons as such but are used as weapons with a real destructive effect.

Russia has used a lot of controlled chaos operations against Ukraine and the world. Anyhow, the covert tools on which the Russian Military Doctrine is based cease to work when the target begins to understand the degree of threat, its goals, and the mechanism of such threats. Controlled chaotic technologies are highly dependent on initial conditions: any minor change in the initial state leads to disproportionately divergent negative consequences, and chaos becomes a boomerang. In this war, Ukrainians’ ability to fight was clearly underestimated; on the other hand, Russia’s own ability to perform a complex military operation was overestimated.

Hybrid (non-linear) war is the main idea of a broad doctrine. Russian version of war may be called a hybrid war of controlled chaos. “War of controlled chaos” is not strictly an academic or professional term but rather a layman’s term, emphasising the characteristic essence of a new type of war. The war has shown that chaos technologies also have vulnerabilities.

However, the danger the doctrine still poses should not be underestimated. Instead of seeking constructive ways to resolve crises as a nuclear-armed country and permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia, under the sway of destruction, is only picking at the painful boils of the international community. Here lies the true power of hybrid warfare: resisting an adversary you cannot predict is very difficult. The Russian hybrid war has shown how easily vulnerabilities can be transformed into weapons of hybrid warfare.

Hybrid wars are replacing the traditional armed conflicts of the 20st century. Their characteristic features are asymmetrical confrontation and the lack of clear distinctions between a civilian and a military person or object and between organised violence, terror, crime, and war. The hybrid war of the 21st century has become cramped within the framework of the classical ideal war; it has escaped from the tight embrace of classical postulates into the expanse of absolute chaos and uncertainty. Although the world was created for Kantian eternal peace, it has become a theatre of the eternal hybrid warfare of chaos. The chameleon of the ideal Clausewitzian war has turned out to be the hybrid one.

The hybrid war of the 21st century has become cramped within the framework of the classical ideal war; it has escaped from the tight embrace of classical postulates into the expanse of absolute chaos and uncertainty.

The threats of New Generation Warfare can be eliminated only through efforts by the international community. The extant regulatory framework of the International Law of Armed Conflicts based on 20th-century military theories cannot protect global security. Privatising war and other hybrid threats cannot ensure International Humanitarian Law principles, which only provide binding obligations for state actors. Therefore, the international community should develop common approaches and innovative international principles and norms to address these new hybrid challenges.

Leonid Davydenko is a Doctor of Philosophy in Law and Senior Researcher at the State Scientific Research Institute of Armament and Military Equipment Testing and Certification, Armed Forces of Ukraine. He is a Fulbright Scholar Program Alumni (USA); his research interests include various aspects of International Law of Armed Conflicts: military theory, military doctrines, and hybrid war. The views contained in this article are the author’s alone.

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