Mykhailo Honchar: Energy resources and infrastructure energy resources and infrastructure as the “engine” of Russian expansion and aggression in Europe.


The deep essence of the hybrid warfare is multidimensional purposeful political destruction, i.e. ruining of one state by another one with integrated combined use of military and non-military forces and means, but being concentrated on destroying enemy not only and not so much on the battlefield, but by undermining its vital potential from within, especially with certain external actions. 

The peculiarities of the Russian version of the hybrid war are studied in works of the Center for Global Studies “Strategy XXI” “Hybression of Putin. Non-military aspects of wars of the new generation”. Hybression is short for “hybrid aggression”. This is a part of our research project “Antares” in framework of which the expert group of the Center also carried out with IRF assistance the study of the energy component of the new generation war and under which we collaborate with the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies.

10 years ago, in February 2006, Emma Simpson, BBC, wrote an article “Russia wields the energy weapon”. She noted that energy resources give Russia significant political power and the world wants to see how this power will be used. 10 years later we can say that the Russian Federation uses energy resources and infrastructure for delivery thereof quite successfully to meet the challenges of the geopolitical and geo-economic nature. Energy reasons are also present in the actions of Russia, including those of geopolitical, geo-economic and military nature. That is not today, neither in 2006 when Emma Simpson drew attention to it that the weaponization of Energy Policy of Russia started. Conceptual origins must be sought in 2003 in the basic document - the Energy Strategy of Russia, which begins with a rather frank statement, what the energy resources are for Russia: “Russia has significant reserves of energy resources and powerful fuel and energy complex that is the basis for development of the economy, tool for conducting internal and foreign policy”.

Russian practice is a clear proof that the basic conceptual provisions of the Energy Strategy were the guide to action. If someone believes that everything is in the past, they are wrong. The latest edition of the Energy Strategy of Russia up to 2035 also contains rather clear statement: “As a responsible state Russia understands foreign energy policy not from narrow point of view of an exporter, maximizing short-term revenues, but as means of solution for not only national, but international problems”.

Analysis of doctrinal documents of the Russian Federation and its practical actions during Putin’s modern period allows making conclusions about the real, not declarative intentions of Russian energy policy:

- preservation and strengthening the status of the main supplier of hydrocarbon resources to the EU from the east;

- individual or in partnership, but still in dominant position, ownership of oil and gas transport infrastructure for delivery to the EU;

- controlling or, if impossible, destabilization of existing and potential projects of energy supplies to the EU from non-Russian sources and non-Russian routes;

- establishing control over hydrocarbon reserves of global importance.

         What is the engine of Russian expansion and aggression? Analyzing energy and economic statistics, we can get confident that Russian aggression is fueled by oil and gas dollars that Russia receives as income from energy exports.


Table. 1. Russian energy exports and its

share in the total exports of Russia, bln. USD

Export items







Oil and oil products






Natural gas












Electric energy






Total amount of energy export









Total amount of export of the RF





Note: Based on official statistics data of state bodies of the RF


Here you can find the answer why Western sanctions are not effective enough. Western sanctions against Moscow inhibit aggression of Moscow, but they do not hinder it. These sanctions have not affected the life-giving source of aggression – export of energy resources and the income hereof.

A number of EU and NATO Member States are “active contributors” to Russian oil revenues.



 In 2008, at the peak of oil and gas prices, Russia has carried out the invasion to Georgia. The new rise in oil prices and increased export revenues of the Russian Federation in the period 2011-2013 led to Russian aggression of hybrid nature (hybression) against Ukraine.

Hybression has certain sequence of actions and phasing. Analyzing the policies and actions of Russia, we introduced in our work the concept of a crypto-war. Conventional zero phase preceding the aggression is crypto-war. Crypto-war is a separate stage of hostile implicit actions, and the war is not perceived as such, being a kind of not real war. It is a mandatory stage preceding further ones, but it is not a phase of the hybrid war. Crypto-war is a hidden form of gradual, systematic and long-term damage to the enemy in order to maximize its potential exhaustion by the time a decision is made about aggression of classic or hybrid nature.

Russia is quite successful in leading crypto-war not only against Ukraine, but against the EU, as the weak link of the transatlantic community. Examples:

- large-scale Russian state propaganda in Europe of anti-Western nature and strategic communications with radical left and right groups;

- torpedoing the Association Agreement between the EU and Eastern Partnership countries (successfully in the case of Armenia and Ukraine in 2013)

- pushing gas pipeline mega-projects (South Stream, Turkish Stream, Bulgarian Stream, Nord Stream -2) to increase EU dependence on gas supplies from Russia and bypass Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic States;

- blocking the transit of gas flows from Central Asia to Europe via Russia as well as projects of supply gas to EU from non-Russian sources on independent routes;

- intervention in Syria as a catalyst of “migration generator” for Europe in 2015.

As for the latter, in passing, I shall note that even in spring of 1999 after the mass expulsion of Kosovo Albanians, Martha Minow, the dean of Harvard Law School said: “the nature of warfare has changed: now the war means refugees”.

It is possible to fight not only using refugees. Energy levers, goals and motives in the actions of the aggressor characterize the key stages of Russian hybression to different extent. The crypto-war in Ukrainian case is characterized by long-term use of gas lever. In the case of Ukraine, the basic element of crypto-war was the energy - or rather, gas lever. Using overblown dependence of Ukraine on gas supplies from Russia and increasing gas prices, Russia carried out a systematic and consistent financial exhaustion of Ukrainian economy. Along with that, non-transparent scheme of gas business with corrupt basis were imposed, and the corruption at the highest levels of the government was cultivated.


Escalation of gas prices for Ukraine





Another element of the crypto-war was an infrastructure one. Since the 2000s Russia has been implementing the course for the creation of non-transit oil and gas pipeline bypassing Ukraine. They built and put into operation the Baltic Pipeline System - 1 with terminal in Primorsk and the Baltic Pipeline System – 2 with terminal in Ust-Luga for transit-free oil exports. They implemented Pipeline projects “Blue Stream” through the Black Sea and the “Nord Stream” through the Baltic Sea, which reduced transit earnings of Ukraine. The need for a consortium to manage Ukraine’s GTS with the participation of “Gazprom” was constantly discussed; that would in fact establish control over key industrial assets of the country through the supply of gas and the corresponding escalating price policy.

The crypto-war is an important preparatory phase for the further deployment of hybrid aggression. It can take a long time, lasting for years (in the Ukrainian case, it took almost a decade), draining the economy of the enemy. Ukraine overpaid to Gazprom buying gas in large quantities and not getting sufficient income due to reduced transit through its territory. Herewith, in terms of propaganda Russia represented everything as if it delivers the cheapest gas to Ukraine, thus, supporting its economy.

Evaluation of energy activity of Russia was performed in Europe only in the system of business coordinates. Analysis of the behavior of Russia in the 2000s shows that it was consistently going to use the energy resources as energy weapons, carefully disguising it under the commercial disputes with buyers of Russian hydrocarbons in the post-Soviet territory. Energy weapons are effective in the monopoly of external supply, surplus of pipeline capacity, high energy resources prices, and low temperatures in winter, when the growing demand creates shortage of fuel.

If we refer to the period preceding the Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014, the actions of the Kremlin contained serious energy reasons. Given the traditional tendency of Russia to the creation of anti-competitive and monopolistic schemes, occupation of the Crimea gave Russia solution to a number of strategic issues:

- elimination of promising projects and large-scale gas production projects in the Black Sea, which Ukraine initiated with leading European and American companies that became a challenge for the Russian state-owned companies;

- exclusion from the northern sector of the Black Sea leading American and European oil companies that are competitors of Russian public companies;

- depriving Ukraine from access to the bulk of offshore gas fields and promising hydrocarbon reserves in the Black Sea;

- creating conditions for correction Trans Black Sea gas pipeline route (at the “South Stream”, then – “Turkish” and “Bulgarian”) with partial laying it near or even through the peninsula and offshore shallow area of the Black Sea.


Extrapolating these Russian approaches to relations with the EU, we can conclude what the Russian vision is in gas sector being critical to Europe. Russia is actively trying to discredit the historical route of gas transit to Europe through Ukraine, acting in various ways: propaganda of outdated and unreliable gas transport system of Ukraine, “civil war” in Ukraine, stealing gas and other nonsense. And in 2014, with the beginning of the hybression, there were some sabotage actions at the pipeline Urengoy - Pomary - Uzhgorod, which were disguised as technical incidents (Slide 14). Chemical analysis of soil in places of pipe breaks showed the presence of traces of explosives, which was installed in places of maximum corrosion wear of the pipeline. However, due to the uniqueness of the gas transport system of Ukraine, high level of interconnection, it did not lead to the interruption of gas supplies to the EU. It should be noted that according to our estimates for the full interruption of gas supplies to the EU from Ukraine, it is necessary to conduct a simultaneous disruption in 29 places of GTS objects that is almost impossible task in terms of hybrid war. Ukrainian GTS was and is being tested under “hot script” for three years, providing continuous transit of Siberian gas to Europe.

Subversive writing was manifested in another country - Turkey, which Moscow positions as a new route for the transit of hydrocarbons to Europe from non-Russian sources and bypassing Russia. “For some reason”, in summer 2015, the militants of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (KWP) decided to blow up all the major pipelines in eastern Turkey: pipeline Baku - Tbilisi - Ceyhan and Kirkuk - Yumurtalık, and pipeline Baku - Tbilisi - Erzurum and those from Iran. “Sudden” unfreezing of Karabakh conflict – 4-day war in early April 2016, as well as demonstrative missile launches in Syria from the offshore area of the Caspian Sea in October 2015 are the message to Europe and the Caspian region, as well as the leading Western companies investing there in gas and oil extraction; the message is about Russia’s readiness to take control or simply suspend the implementation of projects of oil and gas supplies from Central Asia and Azerbaijan to the EU at any moment.

Russia’s ambitions are of global nature, but they are primarily focused on neighboring regions and countries regarded in Moscow as competitors in the energy sector and having large hydrocarbons deposits. Moscow realizes bi-parallel strategy. On the one hand, Russia wants to increase Europe’s energy dependence on its hydrocarbons. This is achieved through pushing projects related to creation of transit pipeline systems. On the other hand, it is done by neutralizing competitors, especially if today’s competitors are former Soviet republics that by inertia are considered in Moscow as “their own” and that, although to different extent, but are within certain integration projects or have some dependence within bilateral relations.

Based on our research, I can say that such countries as Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are threatened by whether coup that can be initiated by the Russian Federation to establish full control over the competitor, or Russian aggression of hybrid nature with aim of making chaos on the territory of competitor and causing the decline of its mining sector and exports. Although Algeria is not a neighbor of Russia and is positioned in Moscow as anti-crisis partner in North Africa and the Middle East, however, Moscow is interested in the destabilization of Algeria, the third largest after Russia and Norway gas supplier to the EU, and reduction in gas exports, which it is ready to replace with its gas. Also we should not forget about the vulnerability of Georgia as a transit link for existing and perspective projects of transportation of energy resources to the EU from the Caspian region and Central Asia.

We should not underestimate the ambitions of Russia in the Arctic, which is traditionally, since the Soviet times, considered as its own. In terms of volume of hydrocarbon reserves, Arctic dominates the Persian Gulf, herewith the main gas reserves are in the Euro-Arctic region. Moreover, great importance is contributed to control over the Northern Sea Route in view of release of the Arctic Ocean from ice due to global warming. Today Russia has advantage in Arctic, and is implementing a program aimed at increase of its presence, both in military and energy dimensions. It is possible that Spitsbergen archipelago or Svalbard as it is called in Norway or Grumant as it is called in Russia may be the first territory of the Russian expansion in Arctic in the XXI century.

Back to the military aspect of the hybrid wars it should be noted in passing that Russia focuses on the use of civilian infrastructure, particularly, energetic one to address issues of non-traditional way of delivering weapons of mass destruction. We shall give only one of possible examples. Underwater pipeline systems (just underwater, not by land) can be used to deliver weapons of mass destruction. Under the guise of passing diagnostic device, it is possible to deliver both a container of bacteriological agents, or nuclear warheads to the enemy’s territory. Therefore, the attention should be paid not only to provocative show flights of Russian strategic bombers, but to the technological innovations developed in secrecy.


Hybrid technologies of mass destruction weapons in new generation wars



Sea pipelines can be used in “H” hour” to deliver secretly bacteriological weapons of nuclear warheads as diagnostic, gauging or purifying device. For example: time of delivery to the German territory constitutes 3-4 days in case of “Blue Stream” pipeline.


Conclusion. To stop the Russian aggression, a combination of low oil prices and tougher sanctions of Iranian model (EU restrictions for the purchase of Russian oil, disconnection from SWIFT, etc.) as well as the EU’s rejection of the politically motivated projects such as “Nord Stream-2” pipeline, which are not only projects of gas export to the EU, but also exports of corruption. Corruption is a very effective weapon that can successfully replace the tank corps and Air Force.

Returning to the Ukrainian situation, I can say that under the circumstances of a hybrid aggression, we have managed to neutralize the “gas weapon” of the Kremlin. Provision of Ukraine with gas has always depended on supplies from Russia or via Russia. And gas sector has traditionally been vulnerable point for Ukraine in its relations with Russia. Reduction of gas consumption and reverse supplies to the EU made inefficient use of Russian gas lever against Ukraine.


Dynamics of gas sector of Ukraine: more gas from EU, less gas from Russia, bln. m3


Annual consumption

Annual production

Annual import


The biggest risk for Ukraine in winter 2015-2016 was related to electric energy industry. The visible threat was a cyber-attack on Ukrainian UES facilities. On December 23, 2015 Ukrainian UES underwent a massive cyber-attack. It should be noted, however, that the stability of IPS was better than it seemed. I will not go into cyber details; I shall only note that in the opinion of American experts who evaluated the situation, “the hackers had attacked the Ukrainian electric power plants... have been carefully planning the attack for months. First, they explored internal networks, then got operators’ data, and made simultaneous attacks”. Therefore, cyber protection of critical energy infrastructure in terms of hybrid aggression of Russia against Ukraine becomes a high priority. This also concerns the EU and NATO, and especially Germany. Electrical networks in Germany are threatened by massive cyber-attacks, especially in the winter. Artificially created black-out can put an end to further development of the renewable energy in Germany. Instead, Russia is ready to offer more gas and implementation of “Nord Stream -2” that the German side has already agreed even without understanding the underlying reasons of Russia.



Russia will use the proxy methods for covert counter attempts to diversify European energy supplies to the EU and to implement projects of gas supplies from non-Russian sources.

It is necessary to undertake scrupulous monitoring of Russian activities in NATO countries and the EU. Following the new generation war logic Russia will largely operate from within, not from outside, including use of lobbying and corruption schemes elaborated during the last decade of hydrocarbon supplies to Europe.

Russia will act to defeat cyber-attacks to European energy networks, trying to cause a large-scale black-out. Scenario of artificially created blackout, which will look like logical consequence of the high proportion of a network of renewable energy, will create, according to the Kremlin, an additional interest in the supply of Russian gas for thermal generation to the EU.

Therefore, the EU and NATO should take care of the disarmament of Russian energy policy. This can be done in several ways:

- more gas to the EU from non-Russian sources (Iran, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan) through and non-Russian supply routes;

- gas from Russia to Europe, but not only from “Gazprom”, but also from independent gas developers;

- rejection of politically motivated projects of gas supplies to the EU from Russia (such as Nord Stream - 2), at least for the period until restoring the status quo by Russia (withdrawal of Russian troops from Crimea and ODDLR);

- more LNG supplies to Europe from North America instead of Russian gas;

- replacement of Russian Urals oil with similar oil from non-Russian sources.

Better security of South Caucasus, Caspian region and Central Asia is on the agenda. The question remains open whether NATO and the EU could do that.

This is not an exhaustive list of what can be done to enforce the aggressor to peace and withdrawal from the occupied territories of Ukraine. According to technology of countering hybrid-type aggression there is a need for alternative model of non-military peace enforcement or creation of a script of comprehensive crisis inside.


30.12.2016 13:16:00