Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the West has declared a “total hybrid war” against Russia. Moscow understands very well that it cannot win a conventional conflict with NATO but the Alliance is not out of the woods yet.

Vladimir Putin is waging a hybrid war against NATO’s member states to gradually wear down the resources and resolve of the West to persist in its support for Ukraine.

This week, NATO leaders will meet in Vilnius, Lithuania to discuss the most pressing challenges for the Alliance, strengthen NATO’s defense and bring Ukraine closer to the Alliance. It is high time for NATO to discuss the plan for a protracted and hybrid war with Russia.

Russia has a long history of waging hybrid wars against its adversaries, employing strategic uses of economic, diplomatic, cyber and influence operations, along with the use of military forces and espionage. Moscow’s primary goal is to polarize the Alliance and sow distrust and social chaos to undermine the confidence of NATO member states in each other.

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If history is any indication, Moscow will use its hybrid warfare tools such as propaganda, deception, and sabotage to destabilize NATO member states at home.

Through the establishment of “information operations forces” in 2017, and increased resources devoted to troll farms, Russia has developed a powerful hybrid warfare machinery that compensates for its relatively diminished conventional power compared to the West. According to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, “propaganda should be smart, competent and effective.” Russian information toolbox includes “massive psychological manipulation of the population to destabilize the state and society,” in the words of Russia’s Ministry of Defense.

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The US has already experienced Russia’s hybrid toolbox firsthand.

America’s intelligence agencies have repeatedly warned about Russia’s influence in American domestic affairs. Russian operatives have been using old Soviet strategies to exploit racial division and stir protests in the US by peddling disinformation about America’s racial injustices, abortion, gun control in order to foment extreme division and chaos in the US. The US is not alone in this, and Moscow’s tactics have been used across Europe from interfering in elections to organizing coups. 

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Russia is also weaponizing food as part of its hybrid warfare playbook. Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has affected the food security crisis in many African countries because they depend on Ukrainian and Russian wheat. As Moscow is preparing for the Russia-Africa Summit in July, Putin openly accused the West of causing “the global food crisis.” Timothy Snyder already warned about Putin’s food insecurity strategy in the developing world to win the war in Ukraine.

Russia will continue to use its hybrid warfare machine to exploit tensions around Europe, including in Georgia, Moldova and the Western Balkans in order to open another front to distract the West from Ukraine and show that NATO is nothing more than a paper tiger.

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This week, NATO should publicly state the ugly truth that the Alliance is already in a hybrid war against Russia and have a strategy for countering Moscow’s sophisticated hybrid toolbox, such as political interference, cyber-attacks or economic pressure.

The Alliance has stated that hybrid actions against its member states could lead to invoking Article 5. Make no mistake, Putin will continue to test this red line and the alliance must be ready to engage in preemptive measures such as deploying NATO Counter Hybrid Support Teams to its member states.

While NATO has been strengthening its capabilities to counter Russia’s disinformation campaigns on social media, the Alliance should also counter Moscow’s asymmetric warfare artificial intelligence, deep fakes, and cryptocurrencies tools.

This war extends beyond mere conventional military assets such as tanks and jets. Make no mistake – Russia will continue to wage a hybrid war against NATO member states and now is the moment for NATO to turn the script on Moscow’s hybrid warfare.

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