The Russian president will do everything in his power to seek revenge for Russia’s humiliation
Bosnia may be about to collapse into civil war. Belarus is throwing Middle Eastern refugees at the Polish border. Russia is building up forces on Ukraine’s eastern border.
These events, in a series of flashpoints in eastern Europe, have developed at a frightening rate. Individually, they have complex roots, but we should not be under any illusion: Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is behind them all.
General Sir Nick Carter, the outgoing Chief of the Defence Staff, is right to say we need to be prepared for conflict. This sounds shocking, but we have sadly ignored the true nature of Russia’s regime for years, unwilling to face the painful consequences of what that means.
Germany’s decision to suspend, temporarily, approval of Russia’s highly controversial pipeline, NordStream 2, is a start, but unless this decision is permanent, it will be much too little, much too late.
The “weaponisation” of refugees in Belarus is not new. It is just happening on a scale that Western governments are finally noticing. It was used extensively by the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war, by Russia on the Norwegian border in 2016 and by Belarus this summer. It is one of the many tools of hybrid conflict practised by Russia and its allies.
Confusion remains about this form of conflict. Hybrid war is not “non-military” conflict. It is the combining of military and non-military tools of state power into a single whole, an idea clearly stated in Russian Military Doctrine. That doctrine argues that the first characteristic of contemporary conflict is the “integrated use of military force, political, economic, informational and other measures of a non-military character, implemented with… special operations forces.”
Modern hybrid warfare weaponises and unifies all state tools in the service of conflict.
Putin’s Kremlin has been preparing for conflict ever since he declared the new age of hostility in a 2007 speech in Munich. His words were largely ignored by nervous Western nations, who made the usual excuses about Putin speaking to an internal audience.
In his final decade in power, Putin wants to do three things: first, destroy an independent Ukrainian state; second, shatter Nato and third, cement Russia’s role as an illiberal rival to the West. He will risk war, calculating that Germany’s strategically disastrous energy policy – shutting nuclear power whilst becoming more dependent on Russian coal and gas – will mean that the EU blinks first. The Prime Minster is right to say the EU must choose between gas or Ukraine. Despite Germany’s decision today, the EU will probably chose the former, a consequences of the long-term weakness of European leadership.
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