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The hybrid “revolver” and its six bullets

fake
©EPA-EFE/HARISH TYAGI  |   A person scrolls the screen of a mobile phone while loading information on how to counter 'fake news' in New Delhi, India, 02 May 2019.

The study of hybrid impact tools and technologies for their application is now becoming a necessity for most European countries. It should be understood that their application lasts long enough to form the basis of the study, and the need for countermeasures will remain relevant for many years. 

The hybrid revolver

It is not only Russia that has adopted hybrid tools; the temptation to use similar technologies exists in other countries too, and here you can find an interesting relationship: the less power depends on the election results, the more likely it is to use hybrid technologies. That is why democratic processes are often the target of hybrid pressure.

Another obvious fact: hybrid activity is based on the experience of the Cold War, but today it is used more intensively due to the acceleration of information exchange. It is easy to see the desire of the Russian Federation to bring the international situation as close as possible to the format of bipolar confrontation in which the Soviet secret services were accustomed to work. As for special services, the use of hybrid influence is usually based on intelligence data. This fact only confirms the hypothesis that the use of hybrid influence is the prerogative of the state and an element of public policy.

Elements of hybrid influence are dialectical in nature. On the one hand, the most effective of them are only a few, and they resemble a revolver drum. It scrolls according to the customer's needs, and the application of technology resembles a shot. On the other hand, almost any sphere of public life can become a sphere of hybrid influence, the only question is how much information, financial and organizational resources will be used to achieve the goals. The relevance of the analogy is added by the fact that revolver technology is not new, but weapons based on it are still produced today.

What are hybrid drum sockets? What technologies fill it? Continuing the analogy with the revolver drum, I note that the nature of the tools of hybrid impact can be different - from a cartridge with a reduced volume of gunpowder inside to a bursting bullet, which can deal a fatal blow to a dangerous enemy. A state that uses hybrid influence technology sometimes resembles a dangerous armed criminal, and this should also be understood quite clearly.

Why is the example of Ukraine important in this context? My country felt the impact of hybrid technology even before the Russian occupation of Crimea and the start of hostilities in the Donbas. For almost 30 years after the declaration of independence, Ukraine was perceived by the Russian political elite as a temporarily lost territory, and its treatment was accordingly. One conclusion that can be drawn from the events of the last seven years is that in a democracy, countering hybrid influence is not only the responsibility of the state, but also a challenge to civil society, its ability to repel encroachments on the country's sovereignty.

The six bullets in the hybrid drum

Fake news and misinformation is the most powerful and versatile "cartridge" of a hybrid drum, as it is impossible to imagine a hybrid effect without the use of fakes. They can appear in any sphere of life, affect our emotions in the first place, and sometimes look as safe as pranks (telephone pranks) or purposeful satire against the authorities. However, the main threat of fakes is that they destroy the thin line between truth and fiction and they are able to create a parallel reality. Outbreaks of misinformation, which pose a significant threat to statehood, have been repeatedly recorded in the country's sensitive moments of challenges to national security. Perhaps the main danger of fakes is the underestimation of the level of their danger to the state and society.

Cyberattacks - they have been repeatedly encountered even by the United States, who is arguably the most powerful country in the world today. If the presidents of the United States and Russia, Joseph Biden and Vladimir Putin, spoke about them during the meeting, the problem is really global. Russia stubbornly denies its involvement in cyberattacks in the Western world. The Kremlin has not yet been caught hot-handed. It is fair to say that the technological possibilities for this are available in different countries, but they are all disguised by the creation of "independent associations" of hackers. Cyber-attacks need, first of all, a global response because of the threat to cause man-made catastrophes on a large scale.

Discrediting a country in the international arena - not every country can form an attractive image in the international arena. Its foreign policy image can be attacked at key moments (achieving integration goals, concluding large-scale contracts, etc.) of its diplomatic activity. However, in the region of Eastern and Central Europe there are many contradictions that have not been properly worked out in previous years. The Volyn tragedy of 1943-1944 for instance still poisons relations between Poland and Ukraine. It continues with the desecration of monuments, and in 2017 unknown provocateurs fired at the Consulate General of Poland in Lutsk, the administrative center of Volyn, from a grenade launcher.

Countries may also be discredited by accusing them of cooperating with states that violate the rules of conduct in the international arena. In August 2017, Ukraine was accused of cooperation with the DPRK in the field of missile technology, which turned out to be a well-thought-out manipulation. The prompt reaction of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry made it possible to extinguish the scandal, but there are no guarantees against the repeated use of such techniques. In fact, Russia itself is a testing ground for these techniques which it can then use abroad. The Kremlin's real hunt for the leader of the non-parliamentary opposition, Alexei Navalny, or the bacchanalia seen when the seizure of Crimea took place in 2014 are the most revealing cases.

Intervention in democratic procedures - it can be called a "cartridge" with a reduced volume of gunpowder, since they cannot always be determined. We saw this at work when the Netherlands organized a referendum on the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU to a negative result. Much more famous has become the manipulation of Brexit or interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

The facts of interference in their course were recorded, and the manipulators achieved, perhaps, the main result - trust in democratic procedures was undermined, which resulted, in particular, in the storming of the Capitol on January 7, 2021 by supporters of Donald Trump and a high percentage of those who believe that the results of the 2020 presidential elections in USA were falsified.

Dehumanization of the opponent - this technology is usually used during hostilities to increase the morale of your own army. However, in conditions of hybridity, it is actively used in the post-Soviet space. The story about the "crucified boy" in July 2014 was based on speculations about the circumstances of the death of a 5-year-old boy near Horlivka, in the territory controlled by the Ukrainian government. However, the dehumanization of the enemy occurs not only where there are hostilities of even a low degree of intensity - Lukashenko in Belarus willingly hangs the label “Nazis” on his opponents, knowing well how this word is perceived in the republic, he suffered greatly from the Nazi occupation during World War II .

Hybridization of historical events - in Russia they take literally the phrase "The winners write history", therefore they try to promote their own interpretation of the most tragic event of the twentieth century. Vladimir Putin officially accused Poland of collaborating with the Nazis and tried to promote his vision of the Holocaust just in the Yad Vashem Museum. His manipulations during a speech at the Holocaust Remembrance Forum were so obvious that the museum administration was forced to apologize. The Kremlin is well aware of the importance of interpreting historical events in the modern world, so Putin's participation in the information campaign was deliberate.

Infodemia - The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed humanity, becoming not only a problem for local health systems, but also causing infodemia - the spread of unverified information in the context of the heightened sensitivity of millions of consumers of news messages. Russia and China are trying to use the coronavirus and its consequences for their own purposes, primarily to strengthen their own global influence. Accelerating the spread of fakes, deliberately undermining the positions of well-known benefactors, promoting methods of increasing administrative pressure as a panacea in the fight against coronavirus - Moscow and Beijing have adopted all this.

How to dodge the hybrid bullets?

What are the measures to effectively counter hybrid influences? Obviously, it is impossible to quickly "discharge" a hybrid drum today, since significant resources were used to equip it, and it is used by the state, among the characteristics of which is the presence of an arsenal of nuclear weapons and the status of a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Therefore, it is necessary to resist not with prohibitions (they are not effective), but with an increase in the level of critical thinking in society, the spread of media literacy and the formation of a common narrative in the Baltic-Black Sea region. Russia views it as a zone of strategic influence, which is why it is here that hybrid strike technologies are most actively used.

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  • Elements of hybrid influence are dialectical in nature. On the one hand, the most effective of them are only a few, and they resemble a revolver drum. It scrolls according to the customer's needs, and the application of technology resembles a shot. On the other hand, almost any sphere of public life can become a sphere of hybrid influence, the only question is how much information, financial and organizational resources will be used to achieve the goals. The relevance of the analogy is added by the fact that revolver technology is not new, but weapons based on it are still produced today.
  • Fake and misinformation is the most powerful and versatile "cartridge" of a hybrid drum, as it is impossible to imagine a hybrid effect without the use of fakes.
  • Intervention in democratic procedures - it can be called a "cartridge" with a reduced volume of gunpowder, since they cannot always be determined.
  • Hybridization of historical events - in Russia they take literally the phrase "The winners write history", therefore they try to promote their own interpretation of the most tragic event of the twentieth century.
  • Infodemia - The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed humanity, becoming not only a problem for local health systems, but also causing infodemia - the spread of unverified information in the context of the heightened sensitivity of millions of consumers of news messages.
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