Russia’s hybrid doctrine: Is the west barking up the wrong tree?

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When NATO leaders meet in London from 3-4 December to celebrate the Alliance’s 70th birthday they will, apart from addressing some existential questions about the organisation, also discuss Russia. For sure, in this context the term ‘hybrid’ will be used more than once. But is this an apt concept to apply to Russia’s military, or general, behaviour? Or is this, ironically enough, conjuring up a mirror image of our own thinking?

The problem with catchy buzzwords is that once they have been coined they tend to stick around, even when they are unhelpful. Buzzwords in international security policy are no exception to this rule.

Already for over half a decade, the term hybrid accompanies most, if not all, discussions on Russia. ‘Hybrid’or, more ominously, ‘hybrid warfare’(gibridnaya voyna) has joined the ranks of other concepts such as siloviki (officials with a military or security background) and maskirovka (disguise) that are invariably used by Russia commentators to suggest in-depth knowledge about their topic.

But, as we will see, ‘hybrid’ is an inappropriate adjective, certainly in combination with the noun ‘warfare’. Why? Because it aims to describe something that is imprecise, hardly Russian and hardly new. Besides, unless in a metaphorical sense we should try to limit the use of ‘warfare’ to situations of armed conflict.


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