The current conflict in the East of Ukraine is a proxy war

November, 30, 2017, Member of the Board of the Institute for Social and Economic Research Oleg Pokalchuk spoke at the Lviv Security Forum. Why the term “hybrid war” is dangerous for Ukraine? What term should it be replaced with? What are the goals of Russia’s information operations against Ukraine? Here is the full text of the speech.

According to Dave Dilegge, for the last three years “the most satisfactory – or least unsatisfactory – organizing concept in the U.S. has been that of Hybrid Warfare” And at the Munich Security Conference Angela Merkel also was talking Hybrid Warfare. Wise heads point at ongoing events in Ukraine, nod sagely and say, ‘Hybrid warfare, don’t you know”. Hybrid Warfare is an as yet evolving concept. But worth looking at because it is shaping how we think about war and conflict. A mess in Ukraine is a regular, multidimensional war.

There are three reasons why we like to call it Hybrid:

a) Calling it hybrid war, and thus implying its not really a Russian invasion, makes it easier for many responsible people not to do anything about it.

b) Russian troops scrubbing their insignia just before they cross the Ukrainian border. It just invites the West to use the faux doubt it causes to take a less resolute response.

c) And it feeds the conspiracy nuts who are Putin’s accidental allies. But ultimately a proxy-war is a proxy-war. We acquired plenty of experience of them during the Cold War, its hardly a new concept.

Calling it Hybrid War rather than actual war makes it easier to deal with the fact the Russian’s are winning this part of game. As is the deep preparatory work they have been undertaking in Ukraine- and one assumes elsewhere. One can not help but notice that the West made a mess of both Afghanistan and Iraq whilst Russia has snatched Crimea without hardly firing a shot and just forced an armistice (bits of which it is ignoring as it sees fit) which essentially cements a Russian dependency inside Eastern Ukraine.

The current conflict in the East of Ukraine could be characterized as a proxy war. “Proxy warfare” is the most precise term to describe the current Russian-Ukrainian turbulent reality. A proxy war is when both or one of the participants represent the interests of other larger powers, and may have help and support from these powers.

The Russian proxy groups in Eastern Ukraine are used by Russians as a key driving force to meet this goal through the facilitation of political, informational, cyber, etc. operations in the field. It is a proxy war with the hybrid tactics.

The Russia’s “hybrid war” with its accent on alternative influences other than military is something so incomprehensible and illogical in a Ukrainian context, that Ukraine with its traditional outlook on conventional warfare, cannot efficiently explain it imposing “a victim behavior and suffering of a learned helplessness” . In reality, “the Kremlin does not seek to use hybrid strategies as a substitute for military action or as a precursor for war. Instead, it seeks to ensure that political outcomes in targeted countries serve Russia’s interests. Most vulnerable are countries with weak legal and anticorruption measures or where key domestic groups share Russia’s interests…”.

The current Russian “hybrid” tactics had been designed and developed far before the actual Crimean and East-Ukrainian invasion and “…seek to deceive, undermine, subvert, influence and destabilize societies, to coerce or replace sovereign governments and to disrupt or alter an existing regional order” . It is a proxy war with hybrid tactics and an information-centric approach to influence the people’s behaviour.

Every war is an informational war. The idiosyncrasies of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict are in a targeted usage of an information operations’ block as one of the key buttons of the current mega-war. It is a big and perpetually red button, though not the only one. An information component presents an important population-focused approach to the Russian variety of mega-operations in the region. Information warfare is “any action to deny, exploit corrupt or destroy the enemy’s information and its functions”.

Again, it is an action taken “in support of the national security strategy to seize and maintain a decisive advantage by attacking an adversary’s information infrastructure through exploitation, denial and influence while protecting friendly information systems”. The tactical tasks and operational plans of a Russian information campaign have two goals. The first is to draw Ukraine into an information “weapons” race. Russia as a country with still solid economic potential tries to engage Ukraine in a counter-information capacity building competition. It takes money, time, expertise and diverts attention of Ukrainians from the other important internal issues. The second goal is to create a strong and irreversible set of semantic influences on the psyche of the people in the occupied regions to acquire their new identity and consequently change their social behaviour. The first phase of this process is deprivation – a mental state where a person is unable to satisfy some of his/her basic mental needs for a long time.

The tragic circumstances of the Russian-Ukrainian war deeply affect people and drastically reduce their economic opportunities, traditional social perspectives and overwhelms their life plans. The deprivation creates a “negative pressure” on a person’s cognition, causing discomfort and gradual neuroticism. A “negative” information pressure leads to the search and absorption of “other” information that, according to its means of delivery, is familiar and similar to people. A rational component of choice is minimized since under the conditions of deprivation there is often no alternative to the circumstances people live in. Only some limited groups of Ukrainians are able to reject the “other” destructive information.

The current Russian info-operations are about to try to change people’s behavioural codes gradually. Ukrainians are persuaded to participate in a surrounding communicative process, even if such a process is passive and with a certain sense of distrust. It reminds a purchase of a low-quality, but “eatable” food. People know that their current economic situation makes them to buy a low-quality product, though they comfort themselves with a thought that the next time they will be able to buy something better. However, the “next time” never happens. Because others behave in the same way and suffer from the similar financial and social discomfort, there is no obvious sense for them to risk for the sake of an “imaginary personal comfort”.

This is a persistent change of a context-driven pattern, a basic unit of the unconscious, a self-repetition of one’s own behaviour in order to achieve certain results.

There are two aspects of a behavioural pattern change under the influence of massive Russian information operations: (1) change of a usual sequence of a social group actions and influence on the results of such actions; and (2) usage of texts and TV programs to guide and create false feelings. From a military perspective Putin is still attacking. So from a moral perspective he is a extremely dangerous maniac.

А source: ISER