By Borys Humeniuk
For the past year, Ukraine has become the battleground of a relatively new kind of war that, unfortunately, has become increasingly widespread in the 21st century: the hybrid war. This is a military strategy that combines conventional warfare, irregular warfare and cyber warfare used in a coordinated manner to achieve strategic goals. By combining operations with subversive efforts, the aggressor intends to avoid attribution or retribution.
After the ‘Revolution of Dignity’ in Ukraine and the ouster of former president Viktor Yanukovych and other senior officials, Russia launched a full-scale subversive war to destabilise and divide Ukraine. This war became an important part of its geopolitical attack on Ukraine, which included the annexation of the Crimea, fighting in Donbas and an information and cyber war.
A state waging a hybrid war makes a deal with non-official militants, guerilla fighters, militiaman, groups of local people and organisations, while denying any connection to them. This type of war achieves outcomes that the state itself can’t because every state is bounded by the Geneva Convention, the Hague Convention and other international agreements and laws. So, if you ask is it possible for one state to send its troops into another state and argue that they are not its army, I will answer ‘Yes, this is a hybrid war’.
And this is the reality now in my country.
Today, Russia continues its armed aggression in Donetsk and Lugansk by committing armed attacks on Ukrainian territory, sending armed forces into Ukrainian territory (according to the estimations, about 8,500 Russian soldiers are now operating there), and training and sending terrorists into Ukrainian territory.
In particular, since March 2014 two illegal terrorist organisations “DNR” and “LNR” have been active in Ukraine. The groups are consistently committing terrorist acts aimed at intimidation, murder, causing bodily harm to civilians, hostage-taking and the acquisition of state and local government buildings.
These organisations were established under the direct supervision and control of the Russian Federation and have its financial support.
Ukraine’s national security and defence council recently published intelligence data showing the steady flow of convoys transferring manpower and heavy arms for separatist groups. The data shows the quantities of military vehicles and equipment that crossed Russia-Ukraine border, which is not controlled by Ukraine or monitored by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (apart from the period October 30 – December 9, 2014). The list includes: 1903 trucks, 402 armoured fighting vehicles, 256 tanks, 138 multi-launch Grad rocket systems, 42 artillery and 35 self-propelled artillery missile systems, four tactical Tochka rocket missiles, four multi launch Uragan rocket systems, and the Buratino heavy flamethrower system.
As a result of Russia’s actions in Ukraine – according to the UN estimations released in January 2015 – at least 4,700 people have been killed and more than 10,000 have been injured in the conflict in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.
In this kind of war it is extremely difficult to find effective ways to react. When tanks and the army of a neighbouring state are crossing your border, then it’s clear how to protect your country. But when there is a silent annexation with the involvement of separatist and terrorist groups on the ground acting under orders from Russia, you can’t respond in the classic military manner.
During the last month, two large Ukrainian cities, Odessa and Kharkov, have become the new focus of this hybrid war. The largest cities of Ukraine, as well as regional centres in the east and south of Ukraine, are under the threat of terrorist acts.
In general, the purpose is to destabilise the situation in Ukraine, develop separatist movements – the so called people’s republics in Odessa, Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Kiev – and as a result show Ukraine as a “failed state”.
In a more global context, Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine transfers hostilities from the eastern borders of Ukraine to the doorsteps of the EU. The purpose is to make Europe fear Ukraine, to view it as a state that is a threat, not an ally of the West, whose cities beloved by European tourists such as Lviv and Odessa are places where their lives are in danger.
The conflict in Ukraine is not only the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. This is a global issue.
This year has commenced with strong support for Ukraine by its Western partners: the European Union has given a clear signal that Ukraine is not alone as it offers assistance. Among Europe’s key challenges is to help Ukraine both stabilise the economic situation and establish peace within the country.
But under any circumstances, the main burden will be borne by the Ukrainians and their government.
The year is difficult, the objectives are complex, but we have to meet each challenge and stabilise the economy and establish peace.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s war against terrorists inside the country continues. On January 13, Russia-backed terrorists of the so called “DNR” shelled a Ukrainian checkpoint near the town of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region, once again brutally violating the cease-fire agreements. A nearby passenger bus was hit, killing 13 civilians and wounding 16.
The international community must condemn the terrorists and their supporters in the Donbas, just as it has the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris.
There is no easy solution, but we must be united in the fight against terrorism.
Borys Humeniuk is the Ukrainian ambassador to Cyprus