By Maciej Bartkowski, published in Open Democracy, May 12, 2015.

Since the annexation of Crimea and the start of conflict in eastern Ukraine, the Russian form of hybrid war that spearheaded these events has raised significant concerns among eastern European states about an effective response to non-traditional warfare. Russia’s hybrid war – a term meaning a mixture of conventional and irregular warfare – has presented a vexing problem to conventional armed defense. It also demonstrates the need to determine whether a national strategy of nonviolent civilian defence can be a viable option for the current and potential victims of hybrid war to fight back non-militarily.

The meeting between former Russian and US defence and intelligence officialsin March gave us a glimpse into the Kremlin’s thinking about hybrid war. Instead of sending troops without insignia across the border with the Baltic states, Moscow would use at first non-military means to entice local, mainly Russian but sometimes non-Russian populations (like the Polish-speaking minority in Lithuania) toward Russia. This would hardly constitute a rationale for deployment of tanks and warplanes and would put a defending military in a dilemma of whether or not to shoot at unarmed civilians. As the commander of the US army in Europe, Lt-Gen Frederick “Ben” Hodges observed recently: Russians “don’t want a clear attack, they want a situation where all 28 [NATO member countries] won’t say there’s a clear attack.” If the alliance decided to go heavy-handed against mobilized and seemingly peaceful minorities it would turn itself into an aggressor, offer Putin a propaganda coup for more interference and rally Russian society even closer around the Kremlin’s belligerent policies.

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