VILNIUS SECURITY FORUM 2019
(dedicated to NATO’s 70th anniversary)
Western Readiness to Answer Russia’s Hybrid Warfare
22 March 2019
Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, Gedimino pr. 53, Vilnius
The conference began with welcome addresses by Vytautas Bakas, Chair of the Seimas Committee on National Security and Defence, and Linas Linkevičius, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania.
In his welcome address, Mr. Bakas expressed his appreciation for this impactful international event organised by Lithuania on the initiative of active citizens and experts. He was grateful for the opportunity to discuss an array of important issues on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of NATO and the 15th anniversary of Lithuania’s membership of NATO.
Mr. Bakas stressed that one of today’s pressing goals was to respond to Russia’s ongoing hybrid warfare, a significant threat to the stability of Western democracies and their political systems. He highlighted that Russia was waging its hybrid warfare through use of a full arsenal of wide-ranging measures, including ‘economic and energy pressure, attempts to exert influence through information and propaganda, cyberattacks, and intelligence operations.’ Energy blackmail and interference in domestic policies were but a few of the many instruments identified by Mr. Bakas that were pursued by the Kremlin through corporations and enterprises under its control. These measures are employed in an attempt to change the geopolitical vector of sovereign states.
According to Mr. Bakas, these attempts can only be foiled by enhancing the resilience of society and their educational systems, building trust between the people and the government, and promoting civic engagement. Lithuania is a country that has suffered energy manipulation - which entailed price manipulation, the forced selling of energy infrastructure, and the bribing of political elites, civil servants, the academia and the media. Mr. Bakas maintained that Lithuania, having learned from the lessons of the past, was seeking to reduce its energy dependence on its eastern neighbour.
Mr. Bakas underlined that Nord Stream 2 was to be treated as an instrument of hybrid warfare and that its geopolitical aims were beyond a doubt. ‘The project is aimed at breaking Ukraine and ruining its prospects forEuro-Atlantic and European integration,’ he said. Nord Stream 2 promotes a problematic Russian regime and mitigates the effect of sanctions on it. Mr. Bakas pointed out that the NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence, based in Lithuania, had identified 23 cases where Russia had resorted to energy blackmail against other states. He emphasised that we have to resist similar projects which weaken our community, and that we have to diversify energy resources and alternatives of energy supply; these had become matters of security.
‘We have to protect the cyber space while ensuring a collective response to cyberattacks,’ Mr. Bakas outlined. He pointed out that the growing number of cyberattacks demonstrate their integral part within Russia’s aggression. ‘We must step into this new era and admit to ourselves that the current threats are of a hybrid nature. Hence, we must deliver a cross-cutting and coordinated response,’ Mr. Bakas said.
Linas Linkevičius, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania, appreciated the fact that NATO’s anniversary provided a wonderful opportunity to discuss hybrid and evolving threats. ‘We had very few of such discussions on these threats before. The fact that we are having one today represents a positive change, indicating our better understanding of the changing security situation. After all, what we are discussing today goes beyond military equipment. It includes communications, energy, and many other issues.’
Mr. Linkevičius observed that Lithuania had previously been an energy island. However, with the launch of the LNG gas terminal, the situation changed for the better, a beneficial experience we could share with others. He also added that Lithuania has historically undertaken to sign treaties on arms control, but when a neighbouring country fails to respect them, this makes us question the value of these treaties and the sufficiency of such actions.
Mr. Linkevičius also spoke about the transatlantic union and its unity as a recent challenge and said that we all were rocking the boat. As he put it, we heard talks that the U.S. was leaving NATO, which was nonsense, but the difference of views in Europe was a cause of concern, too. According to Mr. Linkevičius, the rocking of the boat itself was a huge challenge. Therefore, despite the diversity of ideas, which were not always helpful, we had to engage in very close cooperation and include hybrid threats within our agenda.
In relation to the defence budget, the Foreign Minister pointed out that it was not normal that out of the 29 members, only 7 were honouring the commitment to allocate 2% of their GDP to national defence. According to Mr. Linkevičius, it was quite natural that the U.S. President took this issue so seriously, and that he was right in this criticism. Earmarking of 2% alone was insufficient and coordination of efforts and cooperation among the allies was necessary.
The Minister continued that we really had to be concerned about the situation in Ukraine and collectively think as to what had to be done about the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of a significant part of the territory of Georgia; otherwise our talks about values were pointless.
Panel discussion I: The future of the NATO transatlantic relations
Dr. Margarita Šešelgytė, Studies Director of the Institute of International Relations and Political Science, stressed that the topic discussion was very relevant and although Lieut. Gen. (Ret.) Ben Hodges had assured that the U.S. would continue its presence in the region, some challenges still remained. Dr. Šešelgytė underlined that the U.S. and the EU still disagreed on economic policies, trade, and the international framework. This caused a feeling of anxiety that in the long run, we might be left on our own. She also inquired what had to be done to prevent that.
Lieutenant General (Ret.) Ben Hodges, expert at the Center for European Policy Analysis, and Former Commander of the United States Army Europe, noted that the U.S. was really committed to Lithuania, and which he attributed partially to the contributions of U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania Ms. Anne Hall.
The General acknowledged that throughout the entire Forum he had heard a lot of criticism against U.S. President Donald Trump, who was criticised by Americans too, but that such criticism was an unnecessary waste of time. He pointed out that President Trump would be replaced at the end of his term, several years later and that thanks to the American political system, checks and balances were in place to ensure that decisions were taken not only by the President.
General Hodges stressed that Europe often criticised the U.S., but Europeans themselves did not display any united position. It was time, therefore, to search for leadership in the alliance and in the EU. He also said that as governments had changed and we had experienced different yet common problems within the Middle East over the history of the alliance, Americans were still actively engaged in Europe. The General assured that U.S relations with the EU were of particular significance. Although U.S relations with China might develop over time to reach number two in size, China would never be a significant equal to the EU. He continued to say that U.S. economic security would depend on security in and with the EU. An EU which was stronger than ever before was therefore needed to deter Russia from its opportunistic actions. According to Gen. Hodges, the U.S. needed its allies since its capabilities were insufficient to take all necessary actions unilaterally.
He nevertheless pointed out that millions of Americans did not understand why major European countries failed to fulfil the requirements enshrined in Article 3 of the North Atlantic Treaty, providing that they themselves had to do their utmost to defend themselves. This was what really mattered and what half of the US electorate was focusing on. General Hodges stressed that it was easy to blame President Trump for breaking the unity of the Alliance. This was not, however, the case. General Hodges emphasised that the US was simply encouraging its partners to do more.
Mr. Pranckevičius, Head of the Representation of the European Commission in Lithuania, expressed his satisfaction in being part of the forum. He recalled that, apart from important NATO’s anniversaries, we were also marking the 5th anniversary of the annexation of Crimea. Moreover, liberal democracy was facing ever more challenges, making it a challenge both in and beyond the region. Mr. Pranckevičius noted that democracy had been weakening globally, thus representing a major concern. He stressed that the transatlantic relations were of crucial importance to Europe and that it was impossible to survive without them.
Mr. Pranckevičius took note that although Brexit represented the main challenge for the European Union, the Union had become even more united as a consequence. The EU 27 had engaged in Brexit negotiations as a single bloc and had proven to be remarkably disciplined. He also emphasised that despite all the turmoil, the EU was trying to demonstrate that it was not merely a source of problems but rather the key to the solution. Mr. Pranckevičius stated that the EU was enhancing its trade and trade-agreements with Japan, Canada, Australia and many other countries. ‘The EU wants an agreement on trade that is free and fair, as it wants to ensure the protection of its strategic infrastructure and strategic values,’ the Head of the Representation said. He also added that the EU had managed to address the problems related to migration and protection of EU borders within a very short period of time.
Moreover, he took note that the majority of EU initiatives were intended to supplement NATO and that current cooperation was very active. Mr. Pranckevičius emphasised that a number of strategic documents concerning cyber security and hybrid threats had been drafted at the same time.
The Head of the Representation maintained that the European Defence Fund was needed not only for strengthening defence at the European level, but also for avoiding duplication and ensuring a coordinated and effective defence. ‘I believe that cooperation and mutual inter-institutional understanding is stronger than ever before,’ he said. In conclusion, Mr. Pranckevičius stressed that it was crucial for the US and the EU to stick together.
Dr. Christian Mölling, representative of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), stressed that the new government of Germany would introduce certain changes with regards to Nord Stream 2. He highlighted that the German foreign and defence policy had a clear course, in that the country was committed to its partners in Europe, and NATO in particular. Germany had sent 10,000 troops to take part in a military exercise in Norway as proof of its pledge to enhance the efficiency of its armed forces. Dr. Mölling emphasised that Germany, given the current context, was rethinking its role within war and peace. He highlighted that a window should be left open for Germany instead of consigning it to isolation. Any accusations supporting the idea that Germany was Russia’s partner may backfire, thus forcing Germany to actually embark on that path. ‘In any case, we cannot be considered as good partners, for we sometimes fail to deliver on our promises. This trend should be reversed in the longer term perspective,’ he said. Dr. Mölling outlined that even though Germany may well lack top military strategies, it still remained a key partner. Thus communication with the country played a crucial role.
Dmytro Khrystoforov, Deputy Director of the Department of Military Policy, Strategic Planning and International Cooperation of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence began his intervention by thanking Lithuanian colleagues for inviting the Ukrainian delegation to the Security Forum. He observed that Ukraine had been fighting the threat from Russia for several years and that the fight was not a mere exercise but rather a reality. Mr. Khrystoforov regretted that since the beginning of 2019, his country had lost 1,300 troops in eastern Ukraine. He also highlighted that Ukraine was willing to become a full-fledged member of NATO, and that the decision was prompted by the current reality.
Mr. Khrystoforov emphasised that the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted constitutional amendments enshrining the aspirations thereto. As an example, he noted that previously approximately 40% of the people supported Ukraine’s membership of NATO, while at present the initiative was backed by over 60% of the population. The Ukrainian representative stressed that his country was facing major challenges, as Russia was constantly increasing its offensive capabilities at Ukraine’s borders, doubled the size of its contingent in Crimea, violated agreements, and posed multifaceted threats. ‘In such cases, our relations with NATO become vitally important in our attempts to preserve the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,’ Mr. Khrystoforov emphasised. He also stressed that Russia was drawing a strategic line of confrontation with the West and was doing it quite well. According to Mr. Khrystoforov, Russia was doing its utmost to bring Ukraine back to its sphere of influence. In conclusion, the Deputy Director said that we were responsible for both the future of our own countries as well as Europe, and that Ukraine was part of Europe. He went on to say that Ukraine was more than aware that the threat was emerging from the east.
Panel discussion II: NATO/EU readiness to cope with Hybrid threats, the challenge of interoperability
Eitvydas Bajarūnas, Ambassador-at-Large for Hybrid Threats from the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs underlined that hybrid threats were no longer the problem of solely the Baltic region. They were increasingly becoming a widespread phenomenon. It was no longer a regional but rather a general threat against liberal way of thinking and the rule of law.
Mr. Bajarūnas noticed that both NATO and the EU were stressing that resilience to threats was a national responsibility. However, in his opinion, from the perspective of a small country, NATO should also contribute in this field.
Eric Povel, Program Officer from the NATO Public Diplomacy Division, noted that it was encouraging to see the growing preparedness to counter hybrid threats, and that debates of this kind strongly contributed to this preparedness. Mr. Povel reminded that, when speaking about threats, we often referred to Article 5, but we should also remember Article 3, effective since the foundation of NATO. According to Article 3, every country should individually enhance its own resilience. This covered not only defence budgeting but also civil preparedness, both of which required strong collective cooperation. According to Mr. Povel, civil preparedness had to be continuously enhanced, notably in terms of both consistency and continuity of government authorities, as well as in the resilience of various critical structures.
Mr. Povel underlined that governments needed to engage in consistent long-term planning, especially in the area of strategic issues. Therefore, national continuity plans had to be made and alternative services for crisis situations ensured. It was also crucial to ensure resilient energy supplies that could withstand disruptions. This had obvious relevance to the Baltic Sea region, where energy infrastructure was particularly vulnerable to physical attack. Mr. Povel also stressed that training and exercises on cyber-attacks were also important.
Mr. Povel also underlined the importance of dealing effectively with large population movements – both to ensure stability when faced with a sudden influx of people, and to ensure coordination and deconfliction with possible military deployments to avoid gridlock in strategic transport nodes. The NATO requirement for Allies was to have an integrated civil-military plan to handle a mass influx of people. This plan would need to take into account basic human needs including health care, food, water, shelter, security and transportation.
According to Mr. Povel, ensuring security and the availability of key national civil communication networks was another baseline requirement for building resilience. The Baltic Sea region was particularly vulnerable in this area given the large concentration of undersea cables in the region which might be vulnerable to attack. The loss of data cables could lead to service disruptions which would impact other civil sectors.
Mr. Povel underlined that the baseline areas were inextricably linked. If one area was impacted, another area might suffer as a result, creating cascading effects. To support our member nations in achieving these requirements, NATO had put in place a range of support tools, including Resilience Advisory Support Teams and Counter Hybrid Support Teams to improve resilience and to assist, advise, and support national efforts in preparation for, or in response to hybrid threats.
Mr. Povel continued by saying that no single entity held all the tools necessary to achieve resilience. That was why the Warsaw Summit Resilience Commitment had underlined the need for continued support to partners and cooperation with other international organisations in addressing vulnerabilities to make the Alliance, NATO’s neighbourhood, and the wider international system more secure.
Kirsti Narinen, International Relations Director of the European Centre for Countering Hybrid Threats in Helsinki, observed that strategic communication was needed to speak about hybrid threats. In terms of the concept of hybrid threats she noted that it was difficult to define the phenomenon but in most cases it was a coordinated and synchronised action that targeted democratic states’ and institution’s systemic vulnerabilities, through a wide range of means. Some actions might seem to be hybrid attacks, while actually not being so. Therefore, hybrid operations should not be taken out of context in order to avoid a false positive..
Ms. Narinen underlined the importance of national and European elections. According to her, in the face of the current crisis of democracy, our task was to restore it. She also reminded that we need to strongly defend our values in order to preserve our resilience.
Ms. Narinen argued that hybrid security was relevant to both the EU and NATO, and regular cooperation could help us to counter hybrid threats. She also observed that previously, it had been considered that hybrid threats were emerging solely from the outside; however, their number inside the EU was increasing. Ms. Narinen also stressed that resilience was a part of our responsibility. The adversary would choose to attack the areas that were most unprotected. However, our goal was to shape an adversary’s perceptions of cost and benefit so that it decided not to pursue a given action. ‘Both Baltic and Nordic countries are vulnerable to hybrid attacks. Therefore, we have to collectively analyse and find adequate solutions.’
Col. Romualdas Petkevičius, Director of the NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence, remarked that although energy security had been a focal point for a long time now, there was no single NATO energy security policy in place. Referring to the mission of the Energy Security Centre, Col. Petkevičius underlined that the mission was actually very simple: to assist NATO in all aspects of energy security. He stressed that the absence of safe and reliable access to energy posed a risk to society. Col. Petkevičius also emphasised that NATO was primarily responsible for raising awareness of energy security and for defending basic infrastructure.
With regard to Nord Stream 2, Col. Petkevičius noted that although Europe needed fuel, the main problem was related to the way this issue was being presented to the public. Therefore, it was necessary to seek adequate solutions. He underlined that the fear of Ukrainians was quite understandable. In practical terms, losing the income from their gas transit sector would mean that they lost their entire Ukrainian defence budget, which is the basis for their security. When referring to the exercises organised by the Energy Security Centre, Col. Petkevičius noted that most frequently it was the insufficient communication which was lacking in crisis situations. ‘In the field of energy security, the situation is certainly not rosy. In fact, it is very bad, and we definitely do not feel safe as we rely heavily on this sector’, he stressed.
Vytis Jurkonis, Project Director at Freedom House, Vilnius office, noticed that a contradiction between ‘hard’ and ‘civil’ security was often being made, which he believed was the wrong way to view the issue. In his view, these two types of security should instead go hand in hand.
‘When speaking about the resilience of the public, the most important factor is to listen to and accept criticism’, he stressed. Mr. Jurkonis argued it was worth speaking not only about the defence of democracy, but also about its implementation in practice. Civic participation, protests, and other freedoms make the basis for civic engagement, and should not be feared. The most important thing was how we control and manage conflict situations and adverse events. ‘The main thing is to understand what civil society is and how it works’, he stressed. Mr. Jurkonis noted that, when organising conferences or any other events, we should not fear to also talk about negative issues. It would be useful to encourage the widest possible involvement of the public, and we should look for new faces, since otherwise we would end up only focussing on ourselves. ‘It is not possible to teach patriotism. What we should do is to maintain a dialogue with civil society’, said Mr. Jurkonis. He also added that we should not repeat the mistakes of strict regimes, and we had to safeguard and uphold our democratic values as otherwise we would risk becoming exactly the same as undemocratic states.
Panel discussion III: Captured State, Russia, how to break cycle of influence. Russian and Chinese disruption brace for impact
As underlined by Linas Kojala, Director of the Eastern Europe Studies Centre, the panel focused on Russia, China, and a range of levers used by them to influence Europe and the world at large.
Stephen Dalziel, a disinformation expert from the Institute for Statecraft, said during the debate that in 2015 the Institute for Statecraft decided to set up a group of European experts tasked with analysing Russian disinformation and its impact on Western countries. According to Mr. Dalziel, this was apparently not to Russia’s liking. For instance, the Institute’s experts detected 153 versions of disinformation released by Russian sources on Sergei Skripal’s poisoning. In the aftermath, a cyber-attack was carried out in November last year, aimed at disrupting the work of the Institute. The personal data leaked during the attack was soon released in Russian media outlets, namely, RT and Sputnik. Moreover, a number of documents were transferred to UK researchers supportive of Russia so they could use the documents to make their own estimates on the activities of the Institute for Statecraft. This, according to Dalziel, dispelled any doubt that the aforementioned cyber-attack had been carried out by Russia.
Mr. Dalziel further pointed out that, in the following week, the leftist Scottish print media released information that Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, had been allegedly designated as ‘a useful idiot’ by the Institute for Statecraft. In fact, the Institute’s documentation included a quote from Edward Lucas’ article on the ties between Mr. Corbyn and Czechoslovakia’s secret services in the 1980s. In the article, Mr. Lucas wrote that Mr. Corbyn was ‘seen as a pure idiot’ by the services. The three following months saw the release of further biased information meant to discredit the Institute, Mr. Dalziel said.
Mr. Dalziel claimed that the said cyber and information attacks against the Institute for Statecraft demonstrated that adversaries are capable of breaking into information systems regardless of how well protected they are. It is therefore essential to disclose such cases to the public, ensure that they are publicly addressed and accurately explained, and that one should avoid publishing information that easily lends itself to misinterpretation, particularly in social media. Of course, strong emphasis must be placed on ensuring reliable protection of information systems as well.
Anna Wieslander, Secretary General of the Swedish Defence Association, stressed in her report that hybrid threats occur during peacetime and therefore require solutions by peaceful means. According to her, the purpose of hybrid attacks is to undermine public trust in democratic institutions and their cohesion, as well as to diminish trust in the membership of the EU and NATO, and destabilise the work of public administrations. The most serious and dangerous example of this, according to Ms. Wieslander, was the Russian interference within the electoral processes of the US, France and several other countries, all in an effort to influence the election results or undermine their legitimacy.
Ms. Wieslander also briefed the audience about the attempts to seed doubts about NATO’s collective defence commitments and enlargement by sending the false message on the possible closing of doors towards new members. In her view, it is essential to maintain unity in the fight against such information threats.
In the words of Ms. Wieslander, authoritarian regimes can represent a major challenge when they make use of the digital realm to reach their own objectives. It is therefore of the utmost importance to strengthen cooperation with the operators of websites and social networks by inviting them to follow the Code of Conduct on countering illegal hate speech online (Code of Conduct), made public in 2016 by Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft. Moreover, the already adopted joint EU Action Plan on Disinformation is also guided by this approach.
Ms. Wieslander stressed the importance of good governance, open society, accountability and the rule of law in the fight against influence from adversary states.
Edward Lucas, Senior Vice President of the Center for European Policy Analysis, noted that a society exerting social and normative pressure, rather than the state, is the most effective weapon in the struggle against hybrid threats in democratic states. Public awareness is therefore very important in this respect.
In his words, we are in a precarious situation with respect to hybrid threats today largely because in the past, as Ms. Wieslander pointed out, we used to place more focus on comfort and adaptability rather than security. According to Mr. Lucas, there is also a need to rethink the way we treat the information we receive. For example, when the servers in Hillary Clinton’s electoral headquarters were hacked during the US presidential campaign in 2016, with emails stolen and made public, the New York Times and other newspapers in the US rushed to analyse the content of the e-mails instead of making it clear to the public that it was Russia which had broken into these computers and thus had attempted to meddle in the US elections. This was a chance for the US media to alert the public to these threats.
Mr. Lucas also emphasised the role of money in political and economic systems. He noted that when it comes to foreign influence, different criteria are applied to different countries. For example, in the context of developing greater economic cooperation with China, Chinese investment for Western Europe’s transport infrastructure is permitted, and likewise China is allowed to operate freely in Southeast Asia. The criteria that would normally apply to other countries are seen to not be applied to China. According to Mr. Lucas, this is the result of vested interests of the people involved in the decision-making process on the matter. Therefore, the fight against corruption and impunity is crucial in this respect. However, in order to achieve this, according to Mr. Lucas, social pressure is strongly needed as it is a very functional tool.
Konstantin Eggert, a journalist and columnist with Deutsche Welle, presented five ways to tackle the threats emanating from Russia and China. Before doing so, however, he compared the features of the two regimes. According to Mr. Eggert, Russia and China are often put in the same league when it comes to the challenges they pose to the West. However, it is only fair to observe that all that the Russian regime is interested in is survival for the longest possible term, irrespective of the ideology of its leaders. Meanwhile, China strives for expansion and evolution of the regime. However, according to Mr. Eggert, a mistake has been made by Xi Jinping, the current President of China, who scrapped the rule limiting the President’s term to no more than two terms. This leaves the system more devoid of chances for renewal, which in turn poses additional challenges not only to dynamic economic growth, but also to political stability in the country.
While comparing China with Russia, Mr. Eggert stated that the Chinese are more self-confident than the Russians, because China is better developed and a more stable country, well aware of the ways to curb the personal appetites of the elites. China’s Politburo decisions are based on long-term planning. In contrast, the Russian regime perceives the country as its own monopoly. Many of the important decisions taken in Russia are based on a mixture of ideological stances and personal interests of the political elite.
The journalist also stressed that China has greater soft power than Russia, which makes the fight against China’s influence more difficult.
Mr. Eggert went on to address certain psychological aspects of both countries. In his words, Russia is suffering from ‘a post-imperial hangover’ and finds itself in a psychological state of a teenager whose chief aspiration is to grab everybody’s attention. This is not going to last long. Mr. Eggert also stressed that the current Russia is spreading cynicism through its propaganda. This lies in contrast with the prior propaganda of the Soviet regime, which was guided by a positive approach and portrayed the Soviet Union as an actor of peace and social justice.
According to Mr. Eggert, Russia is a former empire that has collapsed, but never experienced being a colony nor was significantly involved in colonialism. China, by contrast, suffered from colonial pressure, which continues to impact the country’s approach to the world. This approach is completely different from the Russian approach and the Chinese regime can be predicted to outlast the current regime in Russia.
Finally, Mr. Eggert said that Russia portrayed itself as a defender of traditional values and a counterweight to the liberal West. In China, by contrast, values are not perceived as a matter of politics; values-based policy is not characteristic of China.
Mr. Eggert proposes the following ways to fight against the challenges posed by Russia and China.
Firstly, Western unity and a common understanding of challenges is of the utmost importance. According to Mr. Eggert, the West should overcome their current transatlantic differences. It is only through united action that the West can effectively respond to the challenges posed by Russia and China. The leaders of these western countries should focus on maintaining unity and set aside their narrow personal ambitions based on long-forgotten historical narratives. Mr. Lucas added that Western countries would do well to, for example, adopt the Magnitsky Act and make a clear stance against dirty money and acts, which are undermining justice and human rights. By the same token, those individuals who undermine universally recognised human rights and freedoms must be made aware of being unwelcome within the democratic world.
Secondly, the West is often accused by undemocratic regimes of efforts to hide their concerns from the people. However, according to Mr. Eggert, an open public debate prevails in the West, in contrast to Russia. It is therefore crucially important to maintain the openness, transparency and social accountability that exists in democratic societies.
Thirdly, when it comes to relations with Russia or other undemocratic regimes, there is a need to distinguish between the regime and the people. This sends a positive message to people that they are not one of the problems. However, according to Mr. Eggert, there are risks involved with this approach, which must also be borne in mind.
Fourthly, as Mr. Eggert pointed out, the development of business and investment relations with Russia and China requires an awareness that major business projects in these countries are clearly associated with each country’s political needs. Both Russia and China see investment as part of their political agenda and as a way to expand their fields of influence.
Fifthly, Mr. Eggert underlined the role of objective media, particularly in the fight against Russian propaganda and disinformation. In his view, it is essential to provide a fair and diverse range of information to Russian-speaking audiences. It was also mentioned during the debate that the Russian people’s resistance to the Kremlin’s propaganda would increase if they travelled to Western countries and gained a broader understanding of the world. This could later, eventually lead to a wider-ranging, bottom-up social transformation.
Panel discussion IV: Future of hybrid warfare trends
Colonel (ret.) Ray Wojcik, Director of the Center for European Policy Analysis in Warsaw, opened the panel recalling the Roman proverb ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’. The main question, according to Col. (ret.) Wojcik, was how to prepare for hybrid war. He expressed his appreciation on the EU-NATO cooperation in countering hybrid threats. However, Col. (ret.) Wojcik noted that, in the longer perspective, what mattered most were public resilience, governmental approaches, and the comprehension of the context of hybrid threats – the level of actions needed to be taken in order to counter them, and their required speed of response. Having analysed past experiences in countering hybrid threats, Col. (ret.) Wojcik invited the panellists to discuss our future prospects, i.e. the situation we were going to be in 2029. Finally, he suggested that we needed to determine which phase we were in as well as to consider whether our position would be balanced enough in the event of various potential attacks.
According to Col. (ret.) Wojcik, phase zero meant peace and the establishment of defence alliances. Phase one entailed deterrence, whereas phase two meant an actual attack. Therefore, he suggested that the panellists should discuss the actions in each of these phases. For example, in our relations with Russia, we were in phase two because we had witnessed open hostility on its part. Col. (ret.) Wojcik observed that in our relations with China, however, we were not openly hostile towards it but we should figure out which phase appropriately explained the relationship so that we could better know how to deal with China and how to resist any attacks emanating from them.
Molly McKew, information warfare expert and foreign policy and strategy consultant from the USA, underlined that Lithuania was playing a leading role in countering hybrid threats. In terms of future prospects, she pointed out several aspects which needed consideration. Firstly, we had to recognise how these threats had affected us. According to Ms. McKew, the threats could not be clearly defined in public because some people still thought that nothing wrong was happening. And yet, that was incorrect since hybrid threats were being targeted at military weak-spots in order to exploit their weaknesses. If and when the situation became destabilised, certain military measures could be also employed.
Ms. McKew also underlined the importance of historical context. Referring to the situation we could be in 10 years, she recalled one of her colleague’s view that we had failed to understand Russia’s motifs and therefore, we were unable to properly counter its hybrid threats. Ms. McKew also wondered why we perceived Russia as an untouchable territory, i.e. as nothing to fight with, while this country was waging a hybrid war against us. The main problem, in Ms. McKew’s opinion, was incorrect perception of what hybrid threats represented.
Although, according to Edward Lucas, social pressure was a crucial force in fighting hybrid threats, Ms. McKew believed that social pressure could be used for the opposite purpose, which was to mock those who were fighting hybrid threats. She also argued that we were no longer able to win the hybrid war because we had exhausted all current measures available and we had failed to comprehend the power(s) we were actually confronting. Therefore, we needed to perceive Russia’s history, its tactics and goals. With reference to Ukraine, Ms. McKew said that we should not think that Ukraine had lost the war against Russia. Ukraine had possibly won the war but some powers wanted everyone to believe that winning it was impossible. Finally, she was very hopeful about our cadets and future officers who would succeed in helping us to understand hybrid threats and overcome the difficult situation we were in. Col Wojcik agreed with that and added that a breakthrough was really needed in order to start treating the problem seriously.
Natalya Frolova, a journalist from Echo Moskvy, who moved to Lithuania after the annexation of Crimea, described the situation of the Russian media in order to provide a better understanding of possible future developments. She explained how the information spread by Russian media should be interpreted and in what contexts. Ms. Frolova observed that, since the very election of Vladimir Putin as President in 2000, the media freedom in Russia had been increasingly infringed upon. However, this level of freedom was different in individual media sectors. For example, one could hear criticism towards the Kremlin on some local radio stations, whereas the major media outlets in Moscow were more cautious about their discourse. Being more visible, they experienced greater political pressure. According to Ms. Frolova, Chief Editors of major media outlets were given, by the President’s Administration, a list of topics that had to be covered. They were instructed on what topics and in what fashion they needed to cover these stories. In other words, if an issue was relevant to the public, instructions were given on how to present it.
Ms. Frolova also spoke about media self-censorship. According to her, Russian legislation was increasingly becoming more stringent. For example, on 18 March 2019, Putin had signed two pieces of legislation. One of them prohibited fake news. However, as Mr. Frolova pointed out, fake news might mean several, absolutely different things. The other law prohibited insulting Russian officials. Media outlets could be fined 0,5 million Rubles for violating these laws. Therefore, the media was very cautious about the language it used. Unfortunately, according to Ms. Frolova, the same laws also applied to foreign media in Russia. Ms. Frolova indicated, as an example, that the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) was investigating the BBC Russian Service. The aim was to exert pressure on the editors of the BBC Russian Service in choosing interviewees and to influence their overall political coverage. As a result, foreign media in Russia had to be aware of the limits of their freedom and their requirement to cooperate with Russian officials.
Ms. Frolova also observed that Russia exploited the principles of media freedom and pluralism as an argument for spreading its propaganda and fake news. The Independent or foreign media in Russia had to give the floor to Russian propaganda, otherwise they would be declared biased.
Ms. Frolova concluded that the freedom of speech and expression in Russia was becoming increasingly expensive. Therefore, information coming from Russia was also becoming increasingly unreliable. Some media outlets, which were even famous in the West, were experiencing pressure to publish false messages, especially on sensitive issues. For example, the Russian media had always referred to the annexation of Crimea as an accession or return.
Mr. Serhy Dvornyk, Head of Political Analysis Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, said that, looking into the ten-year perspective and in the context of hybrid threats, everything depended on the attitude and approaches chosen. According to him, the discussions over responses to hybrid threats led to the development of counter strategies rather than real strategies.
Mr. Dvornyk noted that the choice of being a target meant an attempt to run or hide. However, this would be, in his view, sufficient for endurance or survival only, but not for a victory.
Mr. Dvornyk drew everyone’s attention to the phenomenon of political prisoners in Europe, which, in fact, was a part of Russia’s hybrid threats. He said that Russia was pursuing several objectives when taking political prisoners. First of all, to show the world that it could do anything, anywhere, as it wished. For example, Russia attempted to convince the Ukrainian people that nobody could defend them. In addition, political prisoners of that country were used as bargaining objects.
Mr. Dvornyk elaborated further on the situation in Ukraine, indicating that his country had been facing Russia’s hybrid threats since 2000, whereas, starting from 2014, Russia had moved to real military actions and annexed a part of Ukrainian territory. This was aimed at preventing Ukraine from deciding upon its own future and keeping the country in Russia’s influence zone.
According to Mr. Dvornyk, Russian aggression had not yet disappeared, and thus the presidential and parliamentary elections to take place in Ukraine later this year would be the target of Russia’s hybrid threats. By interfering into other countries’ democratic electoral processes – with the help of information and cyber means – Russia was attempting to influence the outcome of the elections or undermine their legitimacy. According to Mr. Dvornyk, Russia’s interference would have the same objective as the military aggression of 2014, i.e. to get Ukraine back to its zone of influence.
Mr. Dvornyk also drew participants’ attention to Russia’s information war against Ukraine. Its spreading of hostile propaganda, disinformation and fake news were all tools used to discredit Ukraine and its legitimately elected government, and served to incite public tension.
Mr. Dvornyk presented a comprehensive picture of Ukraine, within the context of the underlying discussion over hybrid threats and their future trends.
Illimar Lepik von Wirén, Head of International Relations at the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, also took part in the discussion and presented Estonia’s approach. He noted that when Estonia had become a member of NATO in 2004, a serious approach towards cyber threats had been absent. The situation started to change after the Bronze Soldier monument was removed in Tallinn in 2007. The country experienced a massive cyber-attack, followed by Russian provocations and attempts to spark discord. Mr. Lepik von Wirén said that Estonia it had been a large challenge in order to control the situation. According to him, Russia had probably anticipated the use of force, but Estonia managed to maintain calm, while the police acted in a professional manner and the offenders had been detained.
Mr. von Wirén argued that before 2007, many had been totally unaware of cyber-attacks. It was a completely new phenomenon. Therefore, Estonia had started to publicise such cases by explaining all the relevant details, both domestically and across the border. The events in Estonia of 2007 constituted a serious signal for the country to start to consider and invest in the country’s cybersecurity issues. Estonia had made significant progress in this area over the last decade. Mr. Lepik von Wirén also stressed that many other countries had started taking cyber security seriously only after they had encountered cyber-attacks on their own.
Mr. Lepik von Wirén noted that the main problem linked to hybrid threats was that countries failed to take them seriously enough, whereas Russia was seizing every emerging opportunity. For example, in democracies with the freedom of speech and expression, one should keep in mind that some undemocratic regimes might use it as the way to spread hostile propaganda and disinformation as well as allocate funding for it. This is why we needed to view each instance of possible hybrid attack with great caution.
Mr. Lepik von Wirén drew everyone’s attention to corruption as a hybrid threat. He argued that, in the countries where corruption had not been eradicated, dirty money could be used to bribe politicians to act in the interests of Russia. The fight against corruption and the promotion of democratic values were therefore crucial in countering hybrid threats.
When speaking about the potential hybrid threat situation in 2029, Mr. von Wirén noted that everything would depend on how we managed to control the situation.
Dr. Anke Schmidt-Felzman, Senior Researcher at the General Jonas Žemaitis Military Academy of Lithuania looked into the ten-year perspective. She suggested that we had to focus on critical infrastructure, its protection, and with the assurances that no potential attack would disturb the normal life of the state and society.
Dr. Schmidt-Felzman also underscored the emotional vulnerability of people. In her view, critical thinking could work only when people had access to correct and diverse information; they could better make a comparison and distinguish between false and true. Otherwise, propaganda and disinformation could more easily take control of people’s minds. Dr. Schmidt-Felzmann argued that, as a result, foreign language-learning was essential in the context of information warfare. The more languages you mastered, the better access to more diverse information and the greater opportunities to compare different sources of information you would have. Meanwhile, the one who could only speak his mother tongue became more vulnerable, i.e. more easily affected by propaganda, disinformation and fake news.
Ms. Wojcik noted that the views expressed by Dr. Schmidt-Felzman were valuable in the preparation of strategies to counter hybrid threats. It was also essential to monitor the developments in Russia and China.
The participants of the discussion agreed that countering hybrid threats required not only to think about counter attacks but to strengthen the public’s resilience against such threats. The role of the media in this field was also very important, as professional and objective media were among the most important defence lines against lies, propaganda and the incitement of hatred. Dr. Schmidt-Felzman lastly added that, it was very important to ensure that civil servants were paid competitive wages, such that they would be more resistant to corruption.