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This month marks the fourth anniversary of Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea, an event that shocked the world and shook European faith in the post-Cold War security order.

In retrospect, it has become clear that, for Vladimir Putin, annexing the peninsula was not so much an end goal as a declaration of future intent, an early escalation in a broader and more ambitious effort that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko recently termed with little obvious exaggeration Russia’s “World Hybrid War” on Western democracy itself.

In an unusually bellicose speech on Thursday (Mar 1), Russian President Vladimir Putin put Moscow’s re-militarisation and its confrontation with the West at the heart of his pitch for re-election.

His approach to this confrontation, which many now term “hybrid warfare,” mixes nuclear posturing and cutting-edge technology with covert action, and was deliberately designed so as to make it very difficult for the West to respond.

HYBRID WARFARE NOT NEW

President Vladimir Putin’s Russia did not, it must be said, invent hybrid warfare.

 Combatants have always looked for innovative ways around the rules and conventions of conflict, and Israel, Iran and the Gulf states have employed common hybrid tactics – including cyberattacks, and the use of armed proxy groups – for years.

China’s leaders, too, have found increasingly unorthodox ways to push back against the United States and its allies in their immediate neighborhood.

It recently emerged that, while Western nations were distracted by North Korea’s nuclear programme, China artificially expanded islands in the South China Sea in support of its territorial ambitions.

What Moscow has successfully done, however, is to refine a variety of old and new techniques to a higher level, and to employ them in a wider range of ways.

WEAKEN THE US WITHOUT SPARKING WAR

As with China and Iran, Russia’s aim in developing and perfecting its hybrid warfare capabilities is to weaken and undermine the United States and its allies without sparking all-out war.

Russia is now far more closely intertwined with the West, through investments and business deals, and this gives it new vulnerabilities – to sanctions, for example.

Mueller’s prosecution of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort – who has a long history of business interests to the former Soviet Union – has drawn attention to just how convoluted some of these dealings have become.

 

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