Mantas Kuncaitis

Western Europe: divide and rule?

The general perception in the West is that if Russia was a threat, it would be a threat only to the post-soviet countries. Nevertheless, contrary to what is proposed, the neighbouring countries is not the only target that Russia has; and in the West Moscow is no less active when it comes to its hybrid warfare.

The general aim that Russia has in the West is to divide the countries and to make them weak (both economically and military), which will consequently create a perfect ground for Russia not only to become a 'global power' again but will also make the West dependent on Russia (Chivvis, 2017; Kofman et al., 2015). In this respect, Moscow seeks to do that primarily by using strong propaganda machine, performing cyber-attacks, influencing and financing proxy (both political and NGO-type) groups, pursuing aggressive foreign policy and by utilising its state-owned oil and gas companies operating in Europe (Renz et al., 2016).

From the military perspective, the primary aim that Russia has is to weaken NATO (Chivvis, 2017); and NATO could be weakened if tensions between Europe and the US are artificially created. Following President's Trump election in 2016, pro-Russian media has started a propaganda-based campaign seeking to on one hand show President's policies as contradicting Europe's values (Tusk's statement, 2017) and on the other hand to create an illusion that President Trump got into presidency with Russia's help (Carrol, 2017). This consequently led not only to a strong division between the US and the EU in terms of attitude towards each other but also to the EU's plans to create its own military alliance (Khan, 2016). Indeed, the primary beneficiary of these talks is Russia: once Europe is separated from the US, Russia strengthens its positions when dealing with Europe again.

Indeed, in order to achieve these results, Russia is using a strong propaganda machine, which seeks not only to discredit Trump's presidency but to also divide Europe internally. Russia does that by presenting itself as conservative, anti-liberal and value-driven country (Amann et al., 2016). Since the society in Europe is still to a large extent conservative and since conservativism is no longer presented by, for instance, the EU, these groups often see Russia as the 'bastion of values' (Amann et al., 2016). Consequently, some countries, such as, for instance, Hungary fall into Russia's trap and even on a political level chose Moscow over Brussels (Chivvis, 2017).

The notion of 'conservativism' is also used to influence and even finance Russian proxy groups in Europe. In fact, it has become evident that far-right/far-left political leaders such as Marine Le Pen and the whole National Front in France is financed by Moscow (Chivvis, 2017); and their primary purpose is to unite the groups, which generally are anti-immigrant, anti-liberal and conservative in general (Amann et al., 2016). Similarly, in Germany, German Chancellor Angela Merkel might become a victim of Russian propaganda, too. Merkel has been taking a hard stance line with Russia over Ukraine for a while, however, since Merkel has been highly open when it came to the European migration crisis, which did represent public opinion only to a certain extent (Gerhads et al., 2016), the German anti-immigration and anti-liberal groups may start leaning towards Russia's fake 'conservativism' and Moscow may even start financing these groups (Chivvis, 2017).

In the United Kingdom, the occasional Nigel Farage's appearances on Russia state-owned media fostered discussions that Russia might have had certain influence over the UK's decision to leave the EU (Chivvis, 2017). The UK's Foreign Minister Boris Johnson has even publicly condemned Putin's "dirty tricks" and admitted that Moscow was behind various cyber and propaganda activities (Oliphant, 2017).

Indeed, propaganda and the influence of various proxy groups are not the only hybrid warfare tools Russia uses to influence decisions in the West. The influence is often combined with certain manipulations in terms of oil and gas supply to the European countries (Renz et al., 2016). As an ongoing gas disputes between Russia and Ukraine, price manipulations in the Eastern European countries and the general breaches of competition laws indicated, Russia is able to use a wide range of tools both to influence and to punish countries.

All of the above activities, indeed, foster fears that Moscow is capable of influencing political decisions in Europe, however, the above also indicates that Moscow poses direct threat to Europe's security: since Moscow is capable of affecting general public through propaganda, since it is able to finance anti-EU political groups and since it is able to create tensions potentially separating the EU from the US, Moscow could ultimately be capable of exploiting 'new' possibilities and waging similar actions as in Ukraine.

Conclusion

Russia's hybrid warfare utilises a wide range of both military and non-military forces. The war in Ukraine sent a clear message to the West that Moscow's tools are far-reaching and that Moscow is, indeed, able to adjust its arrangements to 'fit' the local needs. In Ukraine, Moscow employed strong informational warfare to affect both the local population's emotions and the West's attitude towards Russia's actions. Both conventional and non-conventional military strategies have also been adapted to take over the Crimean Peninsula as well as to start destabilisation of the country by means of a civil war.

The Baltic States together with Poland and Finland due to their proximity and various political factors can become the next target on Russia's list. The hybrid warfare strategies are, indeed, already widely used in these countries through various proxy groups and Russia's 'compatriots' policy', informational tools and even by means of energy threats. Nevertheless, these countries are not the exemptions. Moscow's tools are sophistically used in the Western Europe, too, where the primary Moscow's purpose is to divide and rule.

The EU, NATO and even the individual countries do recognise the risk posed by the Russian hybrid warfare: the EU has founded a special framework aiming to deal with these threats, NATO has established a number of bases addressing cyber, energy and informational threats. Individual countries, too, have been increasing their defence budgets and creating new internal tools to fight back such warfare. However, as events in the last decade indicate neither the EU nor NATO, nor the individual states are yet prepared to deal with the Russian hybrid warfare in a fully satisfactory manner. Moscow is still capable of influencing political decisions and affecting the general society in Europe, which indicates that Moscow poses a direct threat to Europe's security.

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