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CE Conference 2022 - Soft Power - Hybrid war blog

What does Russia stand to gain from hybrid interference in Central Europe?

Quido Haškovec, 9th Feb 2022
Disclaimer: the opinions of our writers do not reflect the opinions of the conference as a whole.
Quido Haškovec, one of our Panels and Workshops Executives, describes Russia’s potential gains from hybrid interference, and the response required from the West.

It is an undeniable fact that the European Union is in a hybrid war with Russia. We may not like it, we may try to ignore it, we may ask President Putin politely to refrain from committing further acts of open aggression, however, none of this will make it go away. The EU has to accept that it is in a war and act accordingly.

To efficiently engage in this undesired clash of forces it is of utmost importance to understand what exactly the country of the little green men has to gain from it. Hybrid war, as the title conveniently suggests, is an expansive way of military development which aims to forward Russia’s geopolitical aims in multiple different areas. There are three key tenets to how this exactly is done. Firstly, by capturing territory without committing full official scale invasion (like in Georgia 2008 or Ukraine 2014). Secondly, by creating pretext for military invasion through inciting discord in Russian speaking minorities in the countries (this has been the case mostly for Baltic states) and lastly through using information manipulation to influence politics in the West (infamously during the 2016 US elections). The question is whether there is any explanation for it beyond Mr. Putin being an exceedingly violent aggressive man.

One such explanation is quite obvious; the Russian Federation is trying to maintain its status as a global superpower. It has faced devastating domestic problems with “sluggish growth, weak investment and underwhelming living standards” which had precluded it from making the impact worldwide it would have liked. This position of a retired superpower that just cannot keep up with its competitors is the most bitter for the past greatness of the Soviet Union still on the mind of many of the citizens. This longing for past greatness has been beautifully put at full display during the recent Euro Hockey Tour match against Finland during which the national team donned the “throwback” jerseys with CCCP written on them. The means of hybrid war are not only indicative of Russia's power abroad, but also at home, as they can serve as a distraction to its citizens from the dreary domestic situation.

Another explanation, which goes hand in hand with the first one, is that Russia seeks to protect what they perceive is their national interest. Particularly having influence in what once used to be the soviet bloc can thus be perceived as a search for security. With Russia prying countries away from the EU and NATO, it increases its footing on the international stage by undermining the power of its enemies. This has been on full display of course during the Crimea invasion, as it practically precluded the country from realistically joining any of the defensive Western organisations any time soon.

When we realise that the acts of hybrid war are deliberate strategic moves by Russia to maintain its protective sphere of influence and increase its international standing as a superpower, it also signals problems for countries of Central Europe. As due to their history as well as geographical position, they are viewed as natural potential partners of the Federation. This has manifested so far by the Russian Lukoil paying for the presidential campaign of Czech president Miloš Zeman or by the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán repeatedly breaking Russia’s diplomatic isolation to cooperate with Vladimir Putin.

These connections still only seem to be just a wind before the storm, as the region can face much more intense Russian attention in the near future. Russian behaviour should serve as a warning to the governments, the citizens and the EU as a whole that worse is yet to come and that we all should be ready for it. It is time to realize that war is happening around us, even though it does not cost us any lives yet. It is time to acknowledge that Putin has a deliberate strategy that he will pursue as far as we will let him.

It is time to wake up.

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