The policy of Russia is an expression of internal processes of the Russian state and society. In concentrated form it reflects the vital interests of this country and the contradictions it faces in the international environment during their implementation. The main domestic concern of Russia consists in the need of preservation and consolidation of the post-Soviet development model based on authoritarianism of personalized power and paternalist society.
In the context of foreign policy, under the circumstances of globalization, civilization faults and formation of a multipolar world, the major vital interest for Russia is to achieve the status of a world power, one of the main centres of global influence. Given the current global transformations, in the national state format Russia is not able to achieve such status. Therefore, it is no coincidence that Vladimir Putin tries to represent Russia as a state-civilization. However, to comply with this status Russia lacks critical geopolitical weight that can be increased only by joining Ukraine to the so-called cultural space in the form of such projects as “Russian World” and the Eurasian Union.
Obviously, the international situation and the dynamics of Russian internal processes led to the transformation of Russian foreign policy into a form of war. Hybrid war unleashed by Russia is a continuation of its domestic and foreign policy.
The prerequisites for such a policy were the shift from a unipolar to a multipolar system of international relations. Such a transformation began with the financial crisis in the US in 2008 that has acquired a global character. As a result of the crisis, the centre of economic growth began to move rapidly to South-East Asia, and resulted in the weakening of the US influence on the world and European economic processes. Such a sudden change in the global balance of economic development has led to the revision of the balance of power in the world. The United States began to lose world leadership rapidly, and their geopolitical influence in the world began to decline sharply. The transatlantic relations of the USA and Europe weakened considerably; moreover, complicated contradictions emerged that led to the destruction of consolidation of the West. In turn, the European Union began to claim the role of independent geopolitical player in the world, although it has not reached any consensus on policy in relations with Russia.
In addition, changes in the geopolitical balance led to the revision of spheres of influence in the world between the old and new geopolitical centres. Russia was the first to declare such claims at the Munich Security Conference in 2007. The quintessence of the new foreign policy of Vladimir Putin is reflected in the following principles: first, the unipolar world is exhausted and its actions are pernicious, therefore, it should be replaced by a multipolar system of international relations. Second, the United States do not have the right to global leadership anymore. Third, the US and NATO have lost their ability to ensure the security of Europe and further act as a provocative (destabilizing) factor in Europe.
Thus, the multipolar world gave Russia the opportunity to review the results of the Cold War in order to regain the status of world power. Russia is unable to reach such a status through economic competition because of its economic backwardness. It also failed to achieve this by political and diplomatic means. Attempts to impose the European Security Treaty upon the West that was initiated by Dmitry Medvedev, the former President of the Russian Federation, that suggested building a bipolar regional security system in Europe, had no success.
The existing world order limits, including the international law and international security agencies, also did not allow Russia to meet its geopolitical ambitions. Therefore, without appropriate economic resources and political instruments to achieve its strategic goal, Russia has decided to destroy the existing system of international security and international law by unleashing war.
This war has global civilization, geopolitical and information components. The civilization dimension of this war is due to the fact that in the 21st century the world community is integrating based on certain cultural values, forming a large civilizational unity. This trend of world development translates the struggle for geopolitical dominance to the sphere of values, and the goals of war are the destruction of the enemy’s civilizational values and imposing its own values.
Another trend of world development is characteristic of the 21st century and consists in the transition of mankind from industrial to post-industrial society, the main feature of which is the transfer of the production method to the information sphere that certainly changes the nature of war. The main objective in this war is not the destruction of economic, demographic or military potential of the enemy, but achieving direct influence on it. It is not about direct destruction of the enemy, but its internal destruction. This comprehensive involvement of different elements and forms of war is called hybrid war.
The aim of hybrid war does not suggest forming fronts with large concentrations of troops to conduct large-scale military operations in the physical environment; alternatively, its environment is human consciousness, cyberspace and information space. In such circumstances, war loses its physical properties and turns into a war of perception, or the psychological war that is waged in the global information space. The main element of this war is the technology of information and psychological influence on society’s consciousness that makes it possible to provide voluntary subjugation of the population, and its support of the enemy country’s aggressive course. The global nature of this war is due to the fact that it is led in the global information space and allows political influence of the international community, both opponents and supporters of the aggressor, as well as the neutral environment and world public opinion in general. So, this is actually violence towards the consciousness of people and society.
Is the response from Ukraine and the international community to hybrid war appropriate? No, it is not.
The main scenario of the international community, namely the EU, US and NATO, consists in the achievement of a compromise with Russia and freezing the conflict in the Donbas. However, neither Ukraine nor the EU are able to freeze this conflict. First, such a scenario satisfies neither Russia nor Ukraine because none of them is able to realize their interests. In this scenario Ukraine loses its territorial integrity, sovereignty of Crimea and Donbas, a major part of its industrial and economic potential (20%), and 12 percent of the territory and a population of seven million people. It loses more than 400 km of its state border by land, not even mentioning the maritime border, and instead of all those things it receives a constant internal instability and external threats. This situation will force Ukraine to remain in the ‘grey zone’ and under Russian dominance and constant military threat from Russia. In the future, this situation will lead to the actual destruction of Ukraine as a state.
Such a scenario of frozen conflict in the Donbas region allows Russia to satisfy its local interests, but it cannot achieve the goals of hybrid war at the regional (Eastern Europe) and global level. This would mean the defeat in a global confrontation with the West and a repetition of the disintegration processes since the collapse of the USSR, and the degradation of the political regime in Russia.
For the EU and US, the frozen conflict scenario seems to be the only possible way to avoid confrontation with Russia and a return to the old formula of strategic partnership with it. However, the frozen conflict in the Donbas region does not eliminate inter-civilizational global geopolitical contradictions between Russia and the West. Even if the conflict in the Donbas region is frozen for some time, it will emerge in another part of the confrontation line between Russia and the West. Such a place can be Moldova, the Baltic countries and even Greece. The confrontation will inevitably arise in other strategic areas.
Secondly, the hybrid war as a special form of asymmetric conflict has a different nature than typical conventional conflicts that were standard for the late twentieth or early twenty-first century. Hybrid war has no clear boundaries as its beginning and end, because it is a combination of both an external (international) and internal conflict. In this situation, hybrid war can transform into a hybrid world and vice versa, when peace is fragile, war is volatile. The only stable thing in such combination of war and peace is just a situation of chaos. Hybrid war is led in many areas. This means that peace or consensus in one area will move the confrontation to another sphere that also prevents a final settlement of the conflict. The main object of Russia’s hybrid war is values, regarding which it is almost impossible to reach a compromise, and therefore, such conflicts cannot be settled. Traditional peacekeeping strategies, used by the UN, NATO, EU and OSCE, are inefficient in terms of hybrid war.
Is there a solution in this situation? The solution in this situation is to change the strategy of Ukraine’s and international community’s actions related to resistance to Russian policy. The strategy applied by the EU, US and Ukraine cannot be effective, since it aims to return in conditions of the post-bipolar world and to preserve its existing space that was allocated to it within the structure of the post-bipolar system of international relations. The inadequacy of the old strategy in the current reality led to the substitution of concepts in the perception of the international situation, where the Russian war is presented as purely a “Ukrainian crisis.”
Such substitution of concepts transfers the actions of Ukraine into the sphere of the virtual world, where we perceive the actions of Russian troops as phantom terrorist forces of the DPR and LPR, and the war is called an “anti-terrorist operation”. Thus, both Ukraine and the international community have chosen an erroneous strategy that is based on international mechanisms of settlement of internal conflicts, and not on the mechanisms of resistance to an open military aggression. The following principle expressed this false approach: “The military conflict in the Donbas region has no military solution” that is largely used by Ukrainian authorities. And this populist argument deceives the international community.
With this substitution of concepts both Ukraine and the international community are acting within the paradigm of hybrid war, imposed by Vladimir Putin, which allows Russia to avoid responsibility for aggression. Within this paradigm Russia significantly modified the content of aggression in accordance with the terms of the 21st century. Russian military aggression is multi-level, multi-faceted, and complex. The ultimate goal of the Russian hybrid war is also multi-level.
At the domestic level: Creating an imperial-type development model of the Russian state and strengthening the authoritarian pro-fascist regime through a policy of expansion and hegemony.
At the international level: Destruction of Ukraine as a state, as a Ukrainian nation, as an alternative to the authoritarian Russian state system, seizing the territory of Ukraine as a springboard for a geopolitical attack in Central and Eastern Europe.
At the global level: Restructuring of the global system of international relations through the destruction of the world order that emerged after the end of the Cold War and creation of a new system on its ruins where Russia will take the place of the “world power” as the main dominant force that is able to manage the global processes. This is about the admission of Russia to the global governance of the world.
At the regional level: Changing the balance of power in favour of Russia and review of the Cold War results, followed by the renewal of the Yalta-Potsdam system in Europe. For this purpose, Russia seeks to destroy the security architecture existing in Europe based on NATO, the EU, and OSCE. A revision of the Cold War results shall mean:
- Revision of borders in Europe;
- Refusal of Belavezha accords, meaning an actual refusal to recognize the state sovereignty of former Soviet countries;
- Review the legality of German unification;
- Illegality of NATO and the EU;
- Renunciation of the principles of the Helsinki Final Act and the Paris Charter of the OSCE;
- Destruction of the arms control regime in Europe, which manifests itself in Russian denunciation of the Adapted CFE Treaty and intention to denounce the INF Treaty in Europe;
- Discrediting NATO because of the provocation of its unwillingness to enter into conflict with Russia;
- Inspiration of radical pro-Russian parties and movements in Central and Western Europe;
- Neutralization of Visegrad Four (V4) through the formation of a group of pro-Russian countries therein.
Conclusions: Today we see a change in the world development cycles, accompanied by wars, ending up with changes in the world order and establishing a new system of international security at both the global and regional levels. This historical trend of world development gives reason to believe that the new security system, created after inflicting a decisive defeat upon the aggressor and the formation of a new balance of power, provides a stable peace.
To inflict defeat upon the aggressor Ukraine and Europe need to change the paradigm of relations with Russia in its hybrid war:
a) Instead of ATO it is necessary to admit that Ukraine is a victim of Russian aggression and is at war, which necessitates the immediate transition to the national defence organization;
b) On the international scene, the main strategy of Ukraine should be an international organization of anti-Putin coalition aiming to achieve the surrender of Russia in this war not only to Ukraine, but also to Europe and the US. Only on these conditions a new agreement on European security should be concluded.