The democratic world’s fightback against Russia’s hybrid war on the West is now long overdue

Op Ed by Anders Fogh Rasmussen in The Daily Telegraph, 16th March 2018 — The outrage in Salisbury was not an isolated attack, but one piece in a much bigger puzzle of Vladimir Putin’s so-called hybrid war on the West. This war involves many tactics, from conventional warfare to cyber-attacks, disinformation campaigns, hacking, election interference […]

Op Ed by Anders Fogh Rasmussen in The Daily Telegraph, 16th March 2018 — The outrage in Salisbury was not an isolated attack, but one piece in a much bigger puzzle of Vladimir Putin’s so-called hybrid war on the West.

This war involves many tactics, from conventional warfare to cyber-attacks, disinformation campaigns, hacking, election interference and targeted political assassinations. It seeks to systematically weaponise the very basis of our open, democratic societies and the democratic world’s fightback is now long overdue. Following the response to Salisbury, Britain could lead that wider charge.

Hybrid tactics all have the same objective: to confuse, scare and anger; and to divide and weaken the Western transatlantic alliance that has sustained the peaceful post-Second World War order. Almost every member of our alliance has witnessed some form of attack, whether through Russian interference in US, French or Italian elections; information campaigns aimed at stirring up migration tensions in Central Europe; or cyber-attacks such as the one carried out on Denmark’s Defence Ministry.

Of course, in parts of Eastern Europe all of these tactics are deployed on a more regular basis. As a non-staff adviser to President Petro Poroshenko, I have seen how Russia continues to foment a war in Ukraine’s Donbass region – which has cost more than 10,000 lives since it began in 2014. This week marks the fourth anniversary of Russia illegally seizing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula – the first forceful redrawing of European borders since the Second World War.

Moscow also carries out regular assassinations, including last summer of a former Russian MP on the streets of Ukraine’s capital – in broad daylight. It actively encourages extremists and launches cyber-attacks, including one in 2017 that closed down ministries, banks, the underground and even hospitals.

Conventional fighting and hybrid tactics are all the same side of the coin: a lull in fighting in Eastern Ukraine often precedes a cyber-attack or assassination in the capital. Ukraine is the front line in this hybrid war, but there are other states, such as Georgia or the Baltics, which regularly confront similar tactics from their neighbour.

The Western alliance therefore faces a common challenge. However, we have seen piecemeal and disjointed responses. There has been a woeful lack of urgency and resources devoted to targeting poisonous narratives and misinformation that seek to distort reality; and a worrying number of states still naively believe that Russia will change its behaviour through dialogue alone.

As someone who has dealt with Putin on many occasions, I am in no doubt that he understands only the language of power. Those states who fear that our actions could escalate the situation must ask themselves whether there is also a cost of inaction, and whether it is the West, or Putin, who is really escalating the situation.

Theresa May’s initial response to the Skripal attack was measured and resolute. However, as important (and perhaps more so) is how the wider transatlantic community responds. The initial signs are positive, but leaders’ statements of recent days must be converted into concrete measures such as extending sanctions against Putin’s acolytes.

While all eyes are on the immediate tactical response, the attack on British soil should also be seen by Britain and her allies as a wake-up call to confront Putin’s hybrid war against us. Britain should now pull together the coalition of freedom-loving allies to devote the resources and manpower needed to generate a joined-up transatlantic response. A response that defends our open societies and actively combats this concerted and cynical effort to undermine our democracy and security from within.

Whatever differences we face over issues such as Brexit – or with the US administration – should be overridden by this common endeavour.

Global Britain is looking for a clear example to show its commitment to maintaining the open, rules-based world order in light of Brexit. In taking on the hybrid warfare challenge, it might have just found its calling.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen was Secretary General of Nato 2009-2014 and Prime Minister of Denmark 2001-2009. He is CEO of consultancy Rasmussen Global

icon__close