Hybrid warfare – people as weapons and tanks as bargaining chips – News


Putin and Lukashenko are exploring the gray area between war and peace – but the West is also skillfully playing the keyboard, says a peace researcher.

Lately, the probability has seldom been so great that a conflict in Europe could turn into a military dispute. According to Kiev, there are currently around 100,000 Russian soldiers on the Russian-Ukrainian border.

Background: Ukraine has been aiming for NATO membership for some time and has received military aid from the USA. For its part, Russia sees its security threatened by NATO activities – and marches up with its troops. Muscle games or the Kremlin’s intentions to go to war?

Somewhere between war and peace

SRF correspondent David Nauer believes that Putin could be serious this time. But military dangers are not always so vividly visible in the form of soldiers. Sometimes it is also people who are used as weapons – recently, for example, migrants on the EU’s external border with Belarus.

We are then talking about hybrid warfare. This is exactly what the security expert Hans-Georg Ehrhart from the University of Hamburg is researching. “The term describes that the classic war of the past – states against states and military against military – has changed.”


The classic “declaration of war” between nation states has been a rarity since the Second World War. The material battles from back then are also history. Today one struggles for supremacy by more subtle means.


Trench warfare and trenches were replaced by asymmetrical warfare, a gray area somewhere between war and peace. Military means can alternate with non-military, civil means. “Ultimately, it always depends on what political purpose the whole thing serves,” says Ehrhart.

Both sides accuse each other of waging hybrid wars and wanting to destabilize their own political system and society.

And hybrid warfare is by no means reserved for autocratic states: Because Beijing and Moscow are also repeatedly accused of resorting to such means against the so-called West.

A question of perspective

“Both sides accuse each other of waging hybrid wars and wanting to destabilize their own political system and society,” explains Ehrhart. “From this point of view, the western actors are also the bad guys.”

Hybrid war between Russia and the West

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Russian military exercise in Rostov in southern Russia, December 10, 2021.


With a view to the conflict between the West and Russia, Ehrhart speaks of a classic hybrid war – from both sides: “Both military and economic means are used.”

While Russian-backed separatists are fighting in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin creates a threatening backdrop on the border with the neighboring country. But from Moscow’s point of view, the West is also acting in two directions: the Western military alliance has expanded with the Baltic states to the Russian border – and is also regularly demonstrating strength there; Ukraine’s rapprochement with NATO continues to anger Moscow.

“And mutual sanctions are imposed, the propaganda machines work on both sides and the worst imaginable is imputed to the other – that is the most unfavorable prerequisite for a conflict settlement,” said Ehrhart.

Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin repeats again and again that Russia is only reacting to the aggressions of the West. With regard to the Russian state of mind, the conflict researcher says: “Even if nobody here likes to hear that: the West is just as hybrid as Russia – at least from its perception.”

The great powers in the echo chamber

An example: The decades-long Western commitment to the democratization of its eastern neighbors could, in our view, be a “very legitimate event”. “From Moscow’s point of view, the whole thing is an attempt by the West to undermine Russia’s sphere of influence.”


One difference to classic warfare: it usually ends with a winner and loser and a peace treaty. Not so with hybrid warfare: It continues to ferment, for example with disinformation, arms deliveries and cyber attacks.


The statements of the security expert show that mutual resentment has solidified into an immovable view of the world: “Both the West and the East are firmly convinced that they are on the right side of history,” said Ehrhart. “That is extremely dangerous because then no more compromises are possible.”

The researcher also considers the comparison to the echo chambers that exist in social media to be appropriate in the intrigues of the great powers: “Nobody is prepared to even question their own position or to engage in some other argument.” Which are the worst possible prerequisites for de-escalating the situation.

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