Summary of the International conference
Social Resilience and the Future of Russia’s Hybrid War on the West
On March 28, 2018 the National Defence Foundation together with partners and supporters held the annual international conference Social Resilience and the Future of Russia’s Hybrid War on the West.As in the previous year, the event took place at the Hall of the Act of 11 March of Seimas (Lithuanian Parliament). Among participants were Members of Lithuanian Parliament, international security and defense experts, decision makers, members of academia, students, Vilnius-based diplomats and the civil society representatives. In addition, over 1000 viewers watched the conference livestream via DELFI TV.
Four panel discussions and keynote session featured honorary speakers and guests from the EU member states, the United States, Russia, and representatives of such international institutions as NATO.
The conference was opened by Col (Ret.) Vaidotas Malinionis, Director of National Defence Foundation, who greeted the participants and introduced following honorary guests for welcome remarks: Mr. Vytautas Bakas, Chairman of the Committee on National Security and Defense of Seimas and Mr. Raimundas Karoblis, Lithuanian Minister of Defence.
Mr. Vytautas Bakas expressed his joy, that this event is becoming a tradition offering an opportunity to express and discuss security-related concerns and threats, and how to comprehend them in cooperation with partners. He noticed that during the last couple of years Lithuania changed its views towards security. This is evident by the fact that the country increased its funding for national security and is currently meeting the NATO set standard of 2% of GDP. Of course, as Mr. Vytautas Bakas mentioned, apprehensions that due to this there will be less funds for other expenditures, including social services, remain among Lithuanian politicians. However, creating and maintaining a capable welfare state is only possible when safety of citizens is ensured.
He also stressed that Russia is still considered to be one of the main threats, especially when its actions are difficult to predict. Therefore, it is reassuring that NATO members are increasing their own and others security not only by words, but action as well.
The welcoming remarks were succeeded by the key note address by Mr. Raimundas Karoblis, Lithuanian Minister of Defence. In his speech, just as Mr. Bakas, he affirmed that according to the recently published Lithuanian national threat assessment, Russia is a key threat. According to, Mr. Karoblis, Russia bases its influence on two principles: first, it looks for various vulnerabilities in other countries and tries to exploit them; secondly, its strategies differs country to country, in other words, it makes a tailored approach to each of its possible targets. That is why the key question is - how to respond to these distinct attacks? Lithuanian Minister of Defense underlined that the response should also be tailor-made and most importantly they should be adequate to the attacks implemented by Russia.
Mr. Karoblis specified that when it comes to the Baltic region, Russia still has a desire to maintain and also gain a significant sphere of influence over the region. Russia seeks to dominate not only by establishing a military presence, but also by manipulating the Baltic societies. Russia tries to break Lithuanian social fabric and to set doubts, escalate tensions and encourage distrust by using traditional media and social networks. In order to contain this Russian influence, it is crucial to enhance societal resilience of the Baltic societies.
According to Lithuanian Minister, when discussing Russia and its intentions it is important to have in mind that conventional military capabilities still play a huge role in Russia and without these means it cannot reach its’ goals. Deployment of NATO forces is one of the ways how to deter Russia. Recent NATO deployment in the Baltic States has proved that. In order to ensure proper movement of military units within the European Union, development of military Schengen should be resolved.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Karoblis focused on the societal resilience, where he noted that currently resilience in Lithuania is quite strong, for example, the society strongly supports NATO. He shared his concern that Lithuanian ethnic minorities remain highly influenced by Russian media. The cyber threats are yet another rising issue and Lithuanian is already planning to establish the cyber defense units. He closed by noting that threats come in various forms, including the economic ones.
The first panel discussion was titled Weaponization of Corruption and its Impact on National Security and included following panelists: Ms. Molly McKew, Information Warfare Expert, Foreign Policy and Strategy Consultant (USA), Mr. Sergejus Muravjovas, Executive Director of Transparency International Lithuania, Mr. Marius Laurinavicius, Senior Expert from Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis, Dr. Pavel E Felgenhauer, Defence Analyst and Columnist (Russia). The session was moderated by Mr. Michael Carpenter, Senior Director at Joseph R. Biden Centre for Diplomacy and Global Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania (USA).
Mr. Carpenter opened the discussion by stressing a point on corruption and how huge weapon it might be, especially when it comes to altering the decisions and decision-making processes in numerous countries. Mr. Laurinavicius argued that Russian corruption is not a direct one, usually it influences a way of life of various countries by offering lucrative deals for business people and other members of the society. It should be noted that the biggest export of Russia is not oil and gas, but corruption. It is the main weapon of capturing individuals, companies, entire sectors of economy, institutions, and, ultimately, capturing the states. Russia takes these corruption-based steps all over the world, the same strategy is applied in all Western countries. This process of corruption is a way to reach particular goals. Frequently, the end goal is not to buy pro-Russian parties, but to instill people who would put forward Russian interests. Routinely this process starts when Russia begins to finance some beginning and promising politicians and after a while these politicians start fighting for Russian interests.
Ms. McKew stressed that the right word for understanding Russian corruption is capture. In the beginning of the capture process one rarely looks up close into this practice of capturing individuals, organizations, etc., the slow nature of capture is most threatening and in most of the cases are too slow to respond. It should be noted that Kremlin’s money is devoted to buy ones’ values and interests. When Kremlin starts buying people or parties, it can slowly enter targeted country’s system and in time to influence the whole thinking of that particular country. The slow nature of capture is what Kremlin is investing in. Gaining influence in various business groups is a key for Russia.
Following Ms. McKew’s remarks, Mr. Felgenhauer stated that systemic corruption in Russia is the way of life. He even joked, that if to take out corruption from the Russian system, it would most definitely implode. Russian corruption is based on the strategy of buying and offering money to foreign government’s officials, in order to create incentives for them in turn to buy Russian weapons, agricultural products, etc. According to Mr. Felgenhauer, Russian business model is based on exporting corruption. As a consequence, this exported corruption, corrupts foreign countries. It should be stressed that Russia does not desire to fight corruption, but actually it uses it for its’ own benefit.
After introductory remarks, moderator asked a following question: how to stop Russian money from getting in?
Mr. Laurinavicius said that first of all the fact that we are dealing with a so-called “mafia” state has to be taken into account. This state can be easily involved in drug trafficking, money laundering charges. Only, after understanding this fact, we can start thinking about solutions how to prevent this “mafia” state from integrating into our systems.
Mr. Muravjovas, an NGO representative, focused on possible ways for fighting corruption and presented the experience of the Nordic countries as exemplary. The latter successfully implement the justified decision principle, which indicates not only transparency, but also rational thinking. This simple thing is a key in tackling corruption and even preventing it. As, Mr. Muravjovas said “Whom we meet and why we meet them” is the most essential thing. By increasing the societal trust we can in turn tackle and eliminate corruption.
According to Ms. McKew, when talking about possible solutions, it is worth noting that Russia is exporting the mindset of corruption. Money related to corruption is “bleeding” into our systems and we cannot know their real impact. Currently, we are just beginning to holistically look into this problem. It should be noted that there is no “clean” Russian money. When someone touches this money they become corrupt, they become caught. It is necessary to understand what does this money mean. In the United States Russian money is not devoted in catching people, but in ensuring that well-educated and influential people would not work against them. The element of capture is critical in not only understanding the whole corruption as a weapon, but also in tackling its created problems.
The second session titled Societal Resilience as the first line of Defence in Modern Warfare featured following panelists: Lithuanian journalist Ms. Indre Makaraityte, Mr. Jeffrey Edmonds, International Affairs Group, CAN (USA), Mr. Giedrius Sakalauskas, Director of Res Publica (Lithuania), and Ambassador Eitvydas Bajarunas, Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The session was moderated by Mr. Michael Malm, Strategic Advisor and Programme Manager, Institute for National Security Studies at Swedish Defence University.
Mr. Malm opened the session by noticing that usually similar conferences are more reactive than proactive, we often think that the “other” is much stronger than us. The key in coping with these problems is to promote trust not only within the society but with foreigners as well. Of course the trust between the citizens and the government is equally important. He stressed that everything is about trust, especially when one wants to promote its values and democracy. Values cannot be taken for granted, they need to be fought not only externally, but also internally. They have to be not only defended, but also promoted.
Journalist Ms. Makaraityte expressed media’s point of view. She mentioned that media has moved to the Internet and essentially changed its core. Now media is more vibrant and with a lot of media outlets. Nowadays we do not expect Russian tanks to cross our border, we are more concerned about the ongoing fight for people’s minds and ideas. Media is one of the main sources of information and it has a capacity to promote values, as well as to disseminate fake news and propaganda. Ms. Makaraityte noted that the problem that people believe in fake news stories, etc., is not directly related to the media itself. In her opinion, Lithuanian society lacks critical thinking skills, which would allow to properly understand different stories and to assess their true nature and possible impact.
Mr. Sakalauskas, continued on the lack of critical thinking by mentioning a so-called “elf” phenomena in Lithuania. In short, elves or active Lithuanians, try to debunk and identify any fake news and messages in Lithuanian informational space. This is a clear example on how the society can be involved in the process of societal defense. Elves work on voluntary basis, the state support for the initiative is very minimal.
Mr. Edmonds continued by arguing the term - hybrid - and the threats it proclaims. According to him, the problem with the term hybrid is that it refers to everything and in turn it means nothing. After some time of discussion, it becomes unclear what it is and, furthermore, it can be misleading when it comes to tackling the threats. It is obvious that Russia studied the Western wars (Afghanistan, Libya, etc.) where the West aimed to promote democracy by using media and other informational platforms. Now it is clearly evident that Russia is using the same methods to promote its own interests and to seek dominance over other countries.
Ambassador Bajarunas agreed with the previously expressed ideas, including the complexity of the term - hybrid. He clarified that the whole essence of hybrid is to set doubt in our societies and to create a grey zone situation, which could be easily exploited. The most important fact is that hybrid is not a new concept, according to Bajarunas, it was here for centuries. The term – hybrid - sharpens our senses; before the events in Ukraine security measures were sidelined. After what happened in Ukraine, our eyes got opened. He agreed that when it comes to tackling hybrid threats, the society is a key. Also, it is really important to coordinate actions within the institutions, including private and public sectors, local and foreign ones. This type of cooperation helps, not only to prevent but also to identify the threats more clearly and faster.
The third panel discussion was dedicated to the topic Future and Courses of Action of Hybrid War.” The session included following presenters: Mr. Eric Povel, Program Officer, NATO Public Diplomacy Division, Mr. Zbigniew Pisarski, President of the Board, Casimir Pulaski Foundation, (Poland), Professor John Louth, Royal United Services (RUSI) & Senior Research Fellow and Director for Defence, Industries and Society (UK), and Ms. Dovilė Šukytė, Eastern Europe Studies Centre, Acting Director (Lithuania). It was moderated by Mr. Hans Binnendijk, former NSC Senior Director for Defense Policy, Tufts University (USA).
When opening the session Mr. Binnendijk noted, that hybrid war can take many forms and new forms of this phenomena is constantly emerging. The recent attack against Skripal family in the UK is an example of attack on liberal democracy and the established world order. During such security challenges the transatlantic authorities have to demonstrate a clear determination and willingness to stop Russia. According to him, there are no perfect solutions, but there are some steps that can be taken. What additional measures should we take? Do we have the means to discourage Russia? – asked the moderator. He noted that the hybrid war also requires non-military deterrence. As an example, he mentioned Lithuanian efforts in solving its energy dependence problem.
Ms. Sukyte, concurred and stressed that although the Western allies are on the right track, many challenges are still ahead and they need to be addressed in a timelier manner. Ms. Sukyte explained why, in her opinion, the Western community is on the right track: it reached the consensus on identifying the main perpetrator and the threats it poses. Also, such goals as energy independence, cyber security, establishment of the hybrid center, were formed. Furthermore, institutions as NATO has started engaging the civil society, including NGOs, in order to obtain a better understanding about the threats beyond military level.
Why are we too slow? According to Ms. Sukyte, the enemy is very quick to adapt and with relatively small resources make huge damage. Not like the military they are not limited by instructions and a long-taking decision-making process. Furthermore, in the case of non-military attack, it is unclear how to respond, because there are still no clear instructions.
What to do? Ms. Sukyte noted that “we often know what to do, but we do not do it”. First of all, there has to be investment into non-military deterrence. There is a number of threats that can be put under an “umbrella” of hybrid threats, which brings either a risk of over-expansion or over-simplification of the problem. It is fashionable to talk about hybrid security, but what is needed instead is defining and understanding areas that are most vulnerable to hybrid attacks, including economy, informational space and cyber. Authorities should play a decisive role in coordinating all security-building actions, as well as executing responses to the threats. However, institutional approach alone cannot solve the problem of hybrid threats. Businesses and civil society must also actively contribute to developing societal resilience Therefore, one of the must do things has to be cooperation among the public institutions, business and the civil society. The other important action is investing into the civil society and supporting its activities.
Ms. Sukyte concluded by stressing upon importance of leadership. She noted that very often Western leaders are indecisive, avoiding responsibility to act. According to her, there is a need of leaders who by their example could motivate and inspire their respective societies, to increase their awareness level and understanding about the importance of civil activism and resilience. Such leaders are needed not only on the central, but also on the local levels.
Mr. Povel noted, that Russian actions in 2014 were not essentially new. It was a use of variety of tools, both military and non-military, economic, informational and other. These measures seek to identify the weak spots of the states and exploit them. Therefore, it is crucially important to be ready to react not only to military threats, but also to a wide range of hybrid threats. It is also important to have the anti-hybrid instruments that operate in a wide range of ways. Furthermore, he stressed upon importance of a collective response.
Mr. Povel draw a three-step plan for building a resilient society. According to him, first of all, the society must prepare for a threat, then deter it and, if deterrence is not working, to defend from it. Preparations must take place in all levels of the society: security structures, civil society, national and above national level. It is necessary for the government and the society to investigate and assess what measures and to what extent need to be taken.
Accordingly, an action plan has to be prepared. Preparedness to react and deter threats must be developed before threats develop into a political conflict. Threats must be exposed and deterred at national level, but the allies must be prepared to deploy forces for collective defense, if deterrence does not work and escalation continues. In such cases, international organizations, the UN, the EU and others, must be ready to cooperate with NATO. If the national level fails to handle the threats, NATO must be prepared to react in accordance with the Washington Treaty.
Mr. Pisarski stressed that from the perspective of Russian hybrid war, civil society is the No. 1 target and various forms of societal manipulation are already familiar for the Western world. So, it is important to realize that the society is a target and a potential victim. This perception makes it easier to identify the problem and to get actively involved into solving it. When there is a clear realization about the threat, the society naturally starts to organize its own defense. In Lithuanian case, the most prominent example is previously presented so-called “elves”, who are reacting to so-called pro-Russian “trolls”. However, the role of government is important in providing necessary education for the society, so the deterrence would be sophisticated and effective.
By raising a rhetorical question - are we winning or losing a conflict with Russia? - noted that there is no clear answer, because the conventional war is not taking place and in hybrid conflicts there are no clear results right away. However, there are still clear areas that require advanced capabilities for effective deterrence. Although, communities like the “elves” are there is no organized and institutionalized response from the society. With the absence of an institutional response, the result is unavailable. For example, how to respond to the so-called “troll factories”? It is not necessary to create similar, but it is necessary to allocate funds for measures to counter their influence. Also, in order to understand the necessity of these measures, one needs to learn to accept inconvenient truth about being a potential victim. It is a challenge that requires a strong leadership.
According to Mr. Pisarski, one of the biggest issues that Russia is trying to exploit is corruption. It is a big problem that can be addressed, first and foremost, by leaders. First of all, the funding of political campaigns from foreign sources, especially Russia, must be limited. The most prominent example of such problem is Marie Le Pen’s election campaign in France. It is necessary to study and learn how to control various schemes that can be used to laundry money and to make illegal transfers.
Another issue that requires a strong leadership is an ongoing polarization of the society, which is very convenient for Russia to intervene and influence.
Finally, leadership is needed to enhance NATO-EU coordination. We should not fear to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each organization and to admit that there are many things NATO and the EU could do together if they would start specializing on their strengths.
Professor Louth noted that one often forgets about the courage and capabilities of its society. Defendants can be not only military, but also citizens. The example of January, 1991 events that took place in Lithuania proves this point. This and many other examples of the region proves that young Western democracies have the ability to defend themselves as a society.
He estimated that in the near future Russian hybrid attacks against the West will not disappear but will become a norm. We can either openly respond to these threats or ignore them, which would eventually lead us into failure. This would not happen in the near future, but definitely within a course of several generations. It is important to remember, that 30 years ago most of people had access to the information through several TV channels and newspapers. Today, there are uncountable sources of information, everyone with a smartphone can be a journalist and commentator.
Throughout the recent history role of media and business in political conflicts rapidly increased. For example, during the Gulf War (1991) the involvement of the conflict was almost 100 percent from the military side. 10 years later, the conflict in Afghanistan was completely different. There was a lot of business and media involvement without which nothing would have been achieved. Information became not just a matter of photography or fact. It is now a matter of the narrative to be shaped by the story we are telling. Non-military technologies play an increasingly important role. Many world countries already understood it. For example, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur are full of companies that are based solely on the purchase of intellectual property. Many of us still consider buying a weapon, but not an intellectual property. And technology is becoming more and more complex, making patents more and more valuable. It is precisely because of technological patents that the state will fight about in the future, especially in terms of defense technology. Today we can see many hybrid threats arise from AI and DNA engineering. Artificial intelligence becomes increasingly capable to manipulate human consciousness. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to involve scientists of different spheres into developing societal defense capabilities.
The last panel discussion was dedicated to the Global Threats and the Baltic Region. It featured two honorable guests: Lieutenant General (Ret.) Ben Hodges, Expert at Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), former Commander of United States Army Europe (USA) and Mr. Raimundas Karoblis, Lithuanian Minister of Defense, and was moderated by Dr. Margarita Seselgyte, scholar and the Studies Director at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science at Vilnius University.
Dr. Seselgyte started the panel by noting that the Baltic region faces new security challenges related to technological advancement, radicalism and populism. Accordingly, she raised number of questions regarding the main factors that would potentially affect region’s security situation in the near future: what other measures are needed in order to further deter and contain Russia? Is 2% of GDP spending on defense enough? What are the main challenges concerning Suwalki Corridor? How to further develop the Baltic air-defense capabilities.
By answering to posed questions Mr. Hodges stressed upon the importance of the decision-making speed when response to the threat is needed. On the other hand, cohesion and integrity of government, society and allied forces’ actions is necessary.
Mr. Hodges expressed hope, that the recent tragedy in Kemerovo will cause a lot of questions to Russian citizens regarding its authorities. On the other hand, the attack on Skripal family in the UK will definitely force some people in the West to take Russian threats more seriously.
According to Mr. Hodges, NATO has to assume more responsibility in ensuring security of the Baltic States, especially in the fields of air defense and development of anti-missile systems. For national authorities it is necessary to strengthen civil infrastructure for it to be suitable for military transportation in the event of crisis.
2% of GDP for military spending is nothing impressive and Lithuania goes the right path without limiting itself with this amount. Two percent is a good limit to keep the pressure on the member states so they won’t lose defensive capabilities. But it’s clearly not enough for national defense. NATO members always tend to remember the Article 2, but often forget about the Article 3, which states that countries must take care of their own defense. And 2% is obviously not enough to defend against Russia. History teaches that every time the state reduces its defense spending, it sooner or later gets attacked or dragged into a conflict that it is not prepared for. So, it is necessary to invest into defense before the conflict. However, authorities need to convince the public that it is necessary; and that’s why leadership is a vital trait for politicians.
The Suwalki Corridor must always remain open for allied forces, said Mr. Hodges. There is a number of important transport and infrastructure connections going along the corridor. The corridor is short and doesn’t require large military capabilities to occupy it. Therefore, intelligence and military units must be very active in the province. A very important role in this case plays military logistic and air defense capabilities. This is an ideal opportunity for the US to contribute, as its Air Force has helicopters suitable for such tasks. Mr. Hodges expressed a regret that when he was the US Army Commander in Europe, he was not able to provide enough logistical support for the Baltic States.
Finally, Mr. Hodges elaborated on the subject of air and missile defense. He noted, that there is no single missile system that would solve air defense problem. In the event of an attack, many types of different drones and other types of air force would be used. This requires several types of defense. Mr. Hodges agreed with recent General Breedlove's statement that it is time to move from air policing to air defense in the Baltic region. He also stated that for effective air defense constant exercises are critical.
Minister Karoblis, when speaking about global threats, distinguished three main sources: in the short term, North Korea, in the medium term, Russia, and China in the long run. As far as Russia is concerned, there are two specific aspects: conventional and hybrid threats. Conventional is more related to the challenges of the region. Meanwhile, hybrid threats are global in its nature. For example, Russia’s attempts to influence the elections throughout the World, not only in the Baltic region.
NATO Summit in Brussels, will these issues be addressed? According to Minister, recent events in the UK are an opportunity to deepen NATO cooperation and to better understand the dangers posed by Russia not only in the Eastern European countries, which already perceive Russia as a source of threats, but also within the Western European societies, as well as the US, which still do not possess a full understanding about Russia-posed dangers. Mr. Karoblis expressed his hope that these changes within NATO will be smooth, especially as the Baltic States will be the place for testing NATO cooperation practice.
Reacting to Mr. Hodges comments, Mr. Karoblis expressed pessimism regarding the tragedy in Kemerovo by saying that the tragedy most likely will not affect public feelings regarding the current regime and President Putin.
Talking about regional security, Mr. Karoblis admitted that Suwalki Corridor is one of the main challenges in the security structure of Lithuania. He promised, that this year there will be a strengthened protection and deployment of more troops. However, he noted that this should not be the responsibility of only national but also of NATO security. Minister said, that the whole defense plan of the Suwalki Corridor must and will be reviewed in the near future in accordance to recent dynamics of security challenges.
Minister Karoblis concluded by admitting the shortcomings of the Baltic States’ missile defense capabilities and that it requires an immediate attention and improvement.
The conference was concluded by Col (Ret.) Vaidotas Malinionis, Director of National Defence Foundation, who thanked to all participants, panelists, people who worked to organize the event and to all supporters.