Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels

For the last years, the most discussed concept in Europe has been that of Hybrid War.

Сlever men are watching at ongoing events in Ukraine with a smart look and say ‘Hybrid war, everything is very complicated ”.

A war in Ukraine is a regular war. There are three reasons why these people like to call it Hybrid:

a) Calling it hybrid makes it easier for many responsible people to not do anything about it.

b) It invites the West to take a less decisive response.

c) And it feeds the conspiracy fans who are Putin’s «useful idiots ».

Calling it Hybrid War rather than actual war facilitate perception of the fact that Putin is winning this part of game. Russia has annexed Crimea with only a few shots which cement a Kremlin dependency inside оccupied territories on the East of Ukraine.

The current conflict there could be characterized as:

  • A proxy war. «Proxy warfare» is the most precise term to describe the current Russian-Ukrainian turbulent reality. A proxy war is when both – or one of the participants -represent the interests of other larger powers, and may have help and support from these powers.

The Russian proxy groups in Eastern Ukraine are used by Russians as a key driving force to fulfill this goal through the facilitation of political, informational, cyber, etc. operations in the field.

  • It is a proxy war with the hybrid tactics. Russia’s “hybrid war” with its accent on alternative influences other than military is something so incomprehensible and illogical in a Ukrainian context, that Ukraine with its traditional outlook on conventional warfare, cannot efficiently explain it imposing a victim behaviour and suffering of a “learned helplessness”.
  • It is a proxy war with hybrid tactics and an information-centric approach to influence the people’s behaviour.

Every war is an informational. The idiosyncrasies of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict are in a targeted usage of an information operations’ block as one of the key buttons of the current mega-war. It is a big and perpetually red button, though not the only one. An information component presents an important population-focused approach to the Russian variety of mega-operations in the region.

The tactical tasks and operational plans of a Russian information campaign have two goals.

The first is to draw Ukraine into an information “weapons” race. Russia as a country with still solid economic potential tries to engage Ukraine in a counter-information capacity building competition. It takes money, time, and diverts attention from the other important internal issues.

The second goal is to create a strong and irreversible set of semantic influences on the psyche of the people in the occupied regions to acquire their new identity and consequently change their social behaviour.

The first phase of this process is «deprivation» – a mental state where a person is unable to satisfy some of his/her basic mental needs. The tragic circumstances of the Russian-Ukrainian war deeply affect people and drastically reduce their economic opportunities, traditional social perspectives and overwhelm their life plans. Deprivation creates a “negative pressure” on a person’s cognition, causing discomfort and gradual neuroticism. A “negative” information pressure leads to the search and absorption of “other” information that, according to its means of delivery, is familiar and similar to people. A rational component of choice is minimized since under the conditions of deprivation there is often no alternative to the circumstances people live in. Only some limited groups of Ukrainians are able to reject the “other” destructive information.

The current Russian info-operations are to try to gradually change people’s behavioural codes. Ukrainians are persuaded to participate in a surrounding communicative process, even if such a process is passive and with a certain sense of distrust. It reminds a purchase of a low-quality, but “eatable” food. People know that their current economic situation makes them buy a low-quality product, though they comfort themselves with a thought that the next time they will be able to buy something better. However, the “next time” never happens. Because others behave in the same way and suffer from the similar financial and social discomfort, there is no obvious sense for them to risk for the sake of an “imaginary personal comfort”.

This is a persistent change of a context-driven pattern, a basic unit of the unconscious, a self-repetition of one’s own behaviour in order to achieve certain results.

There are two aspects of a behavioural pattern change under the influence of massive Russian information operations: (1) change of a usual sequence of a social group actions and influence on the results of such actions; and (2) usage of texts and TV programs to guide and create false feelings.

From a military perspective, Putin is still attacking. So from a moral perspective, he is an extremely dangerous maniac.

The article represents professional views of the author and is not endorsed by the Ukrainian Government or the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine.

Author: Oleh Pokalchuk, social and military psychologist, writer, publicist, Board member of the Institute for Social and Economic Research (Ukraine), expert of the Estonian-Ukrainian program “Resilience Ukraine” on developing models for increasing national resilience and psychological resistance to Russian aggression.


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