Hybrid War In The High North: Finland Responds To The Russian Threat



19 April 2017

Hybrid War In The High North: Finland Responds To The Russian Threat

Talking about hybrid threats—the toxic cocktail of force, money, propaganda and spycraft—is one thing. Actually doing something about them is another. So the new center on hybrid warfare being set up in the Finnish capital Helsinki is a welcome, if belated and modest development.

So far Britain, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden and the United States have signed up to the Finnish initiative. So have the European Union and NATO. (Oddly, neighboring Estonia has not—sparking a political row in Tallinn.)

The Finnish foreign minister, Timo Soini, said at the signing ceremony last week that hybrid threats are a European and a transatlantic priority. That is true, but would be news to most people.

Western efforts against hybrid warfare have so far been low-key to the point of invisibility. There is a little-known EU Hybrid Fusion Cell within the (also low-profile) EU Intelligence and Situation Centre (EU INTCEN) of the European External Action Service. It liaises, apparently, with its (unnamed) NATO counterpart. In most countries, efforts against Russian hybrid warfare are run by the intelligence and security agencies.

Secrecy at this stage is not necessarily a bad thing: Russia’s espionage agencies are an essential part of the Kremlin’s hybrid-war offensive against the West. It makes sense to keep a large part of our initial response secret. Even from my limited viewpoint, it is clear that our services are hurriedly brushing up their expertise on Russian mischief-making; they are bringing back long-retired experts, and even asking outsiders for their advice.

Those efforts are already paying off. Russia has for years enjoyed the advantages of stealth and anonymity. Not any more: we can start tracking their efforts, infiltrating their networks, and running deception operations to confuse and distract them.

Our intelligence and security agencies should do all that, and advise our decision-makers. But they should not lead our efforts. The best way to defeat hybrid attacks is by developing a strong, resilient security culture which pervades the whole of society. Russian influence can crop up in the media, in finance, in government, in academia, in NGOs—in fact, almost anywhere.

This is mostly not territory where spies tread easily. Nor should they. We will not defeat Putinism by ‘Putinising’ our own societies. We don’t want university administrators, businessmen, newspaper editors or politicians taking instructions from spookdom. At most spies can give tips and warnings—but the resulting decisions must be taken autonomously.

We had this problem well under control in the Cold War era, when Kremlin money aroused an allergic reaction in most parts of society, and Kremlin propaganda was a laughing stock. By the end of the Cold War, Soviet influence was confined to a few fetid corners of academia, to ideologically driven trade unionists in some European countries and to the dusty husks of the international communist movement. Similarly, we should drive Putinist influence back to its natural habitats: the extremes of right and left, and the shamelessly greedy.

Finland is the right place to share and hone these skills. As Mr. Soini noted, his country specializes in a “whole-of-government approach” based on cooperation between state agencies, business and civil society. That model dates from the Second World War and its aftermath, when Finland had to tread a careful path between avoiding Soviet tutelage and provoking the Kremlin with overt resistance. Finland’s core institutions survived unpenetrated, even during decades when the Soviet Union regarded Finland as its most docile capitalist neighbor.

The new venture gets going later this year. Its annual budget will be a modest €1.5m ($1.6m). I wonder if it takes donations.

Europe’s Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the Center for European Policy Analysis.



TECHNOLOGY NEWS | Tue Apr 11, 2017 | 10:18am EDT

EU, NATO Countries Kick Off Center To Counter ‘Hybrid’ Threats

Several EU and NATO countries on Tuesday signed up to establish a center in Helsinki to research how to tackle tactics such as cyber attacks, propaganda and disinformation.

The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Finland, Latvia and Lithuania signed the Memorandum of Understanding for the membership, and more countries are due to come on board in July.

Host Finland – a militarily non-aligned EU member – has a 1,300-km (800-mile) border with Russia, which has been accused of mounting so-called hybrid campaigns in the Ukraine conflict as well as of interfering in the U.S. presidential election.

Russia has denied interfering in the vote.

The center will be based in Helsinki and will form a network of experts for the participating countries. A steering group is due to hold its first meeting on Wednesday. It is expected to have a team of 10 people working there by later this year.

“The center is a real boost for the cooperation between the EU and NATO … Hybrid activities have become a permanent part of the European security environment,” Finland’s Foreign Minister Timo Soini told a news conference.

Finland last year voiced concern about what it sees as an intensifying propaganda attack against it by the Kremlin. Germany has also reported a rise in Russian disinformation campaigns and targeted cyber attacks.

Soini said the new center was aimed at raising awareness of hybrid threats and societies’ vulnerabilities that can be exploited in hybrid operations.

“The use of hybrid strategies puts the internal cohesion and resilience of our societies to the test … What is needed in response is not only state, but societal resilience, a comprehensive approach to security.”

The annual budget of the center is initially around 1.5 million euros ($1.60 million), with Finland providing half the funding and the rest covered by members.

(Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl and Tuomas Forsell; Editing by Alison Williams)





AUTHOR: Piotr Kościński

Russia’s Zapad-2017 military exercises, set to take place in Belarus on 14-20 September 2017, will be much smaller than many foreign observers have predicted, Belarusian Defense Minister Andrei Ravkov stated 20 March. Up to 13,000 troops will participate, he said, adding that Russia also plans to contribute 3,000 soldiers and 280 pieces of equipment. These numbers suggest exercises on a significantly smaller scale than expected by many observers in recent weeks. Speculation of much larger maneuvers have raised concerns in the West and among Russia’s neighbors that Moscow would use Zapad-2017 as a pretext to invade Belarus or widen its military involvement in Ukraine. 

 Claiming to rely on official information, Belarusian independent media in November 2016 cited preparations that contradict Ravkov’s more recent claim the exercises would be small. Those reports suggest Russia’s Defense Ministry will use 4,162 railcars to transport soldiers and military equipment to Belarus during the exercises. They cited a huge contract between the army and the rail company as evidence of this. Denis Melianov, a respected analyst at the Belarussian Institute for Strategic Research, pointed out that this amount of equipment is way more than needed to transport the 1st Guards Tank Army—already publicly scheduled to take part in the maneuvers—from Russia’s Western Military District to the staging area. That army alone is enough to take control of all of Belarus, Melianov said; its main military asset is the powerful 4th Guards Kantemirovskaya Tank Division, consisting of about 310 T80U tanks, 300 BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, 130 self-propelled artillery units and 12 multiple rocket launchers.

 Russia, meanwhile, claims the West has organized a disinformation campaign to falsely show that Moscow wants to occupy Belarus.

  • On 25 February, Sputnik cited Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, who described the drills as “preparations for war with the West. She said: ‘We’re seeing different threats, and they are rising. In particular, we are concerned about the Zapad-2017 drills, which will concentrate various aggressive forces. Demonstrated preparations for war with the West are underway.’”
  • Sputnik quoted Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko as saying that “the Kremlin is mounting pressure on Belarus.”
  • According to RT military expert Vadim Soloviev, “We will see many articles with unfounded conclusions about preparation for the occupation of Belarus, Ukraine and other countries. It is possible that journalists will draw inspiration, also from statements by [Western] officials.” In his opinion, the purpose of this “informational embezzlement and speculation” is to spark a quarrel between Moscow and Minsk. “Of course, the West does not benefit from the close military alliance that has developed between our countries. Our ill-wishers cannot oppose it and therefore opened a front in the information field.”

 The changed Kremlin message about the size of the exercises appears calculated to lessen Western concern and put pressure on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has sought to pursue a more Western-oriented foreign policy in recent months. Indications at the end of 2016 that Zapad-2017 would take place on a large scale provoked alarm both in Belarus and in neighboring countries that the maneuvers might be a pretext for an invasion. Now, the Kremlin appears to have shifted course and to have begun spreading the narrative that the maneuvers will not be as big as expected, in order to show—both at home and in Belarus—that NATO, not Moscow, is the aggressor, and that Russia is only defending itself.  This would weaken Lukashenko’s rationale for flirting with the West.

 Indeed, the pressure on Lukashenko seems to have had some effect. In the past several days, he has toughened his rhetorical line and claimed the current social unrest in Belarus is being provoked by “agents of the West.” This could mean the end of the thaw in Minsk’s relations with the West and a possible turn back to Russia without Moscow having to resort to military force, which in any case remains unlikely.

Photo: Sputnik/ Vladimir Chuchadeev

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