New Insight: Hybrid Wars, PsyOps, and non-military Weapons

Leonid Savin’s latest book succeeds in simplifying the many methods of Hybrid Warfare and the increasing coordination between their various parts through coaching techniques, serving as an enlightening entry point into this topic for those who might have hitherto felt intimidated by its complexity.

The latest book by Leonid Savin, an esteemed Russian geopolitical expert and editor-in-chief of the Geopolitica.Ru think tank, focuses on the relationship between coaching techniques and conflicts just like its title – “Coaching & Conflicts” – suggests, but it’s also much more than just that because he delves deeply into a wide array of Hybrid War-related topics but in a way which simplifies them for the reader. Savin starts off by explaining the theoretical basics of modern-day warfare, which he argues is becoming increasingly grey or “hybrid”, just as American strategists predicted in the 1990s. He also introduces the reader to some management concepts that originated in the business sphere, namely coaching, which frame the rest of his publication by putting everything into its proper operational perspective.

The author’s main point is that the non-linear and chaotic nature of current conflicts actually mask a system of semi-organization meticulously preplanned and constantly fine-tuned by behind-the-scenes coaching techniques. Targeted audiences are preconditioned to accept weaponized infowar narratives while selected cohorts are trained to destabilize their countries just below the kinetic threshold through Color Revolutions, though at times resorting to violent provocations in order to catalyze snowball effects that can then be taken advantage of. Current conflicts, Savin argues, have moved beyond the predictability of Clausewitz and into the realm of chaos theory, presenting a true revolution in military-strategic affairs because of the incorporation of the media, NGOs, and financial instruments.

One of the most insightful parts of Savin’s work is his insistence that Russia must liberate itself from the psychological control that parts of the country have found themselves under.

He makes the case that some Russian institutions that outside observers might naively assume to be in close coordination with the publicly proclaimed goals of the state are actually working against national interests, which might strike some as surprising if they aren’t familiar with the deeper nuances of Russian policymaking and the personalities involved. In response, he strongly urges his country’s representatives to come up with their own approach to everything, including countering Hybrid War subversion and providing a unique counterfoil to Western soft power appeal.

The rest of “Coaching & Conflicts” explains how the author’s theories were applied in Syria and Ukraine, emphasizing the network warfare elements and swarm tactics employed in both of them. It’s particularly interesting how thoroughly Savin exposes eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s NGO network in Ukraine and the role that it played in EuroMaidan. His agents of influence carried out social preconditioning operations for years through active recruiting all across the country and the hosting of regular training sessions for their supporters. While Soros is universally known for his involvement in these sorts of affairs, Savin shows that there are other “businessmen-philanthropists” that are doing the same thing, albeit in much more secrecy given that their activities are less scrutinized.

A thought-provoking moment in the book comes when Savin talks about how Western NGOs have weaponized gender issues for the purpose of destabilizing traditional societies by destroying their family units.

He notes how USAID exports the dual ideologies of liberalism and feminism by creating social mobilization groups that agitate for abortion and surreptitiously carry out sterilization campaigns against disadvantaged communities in the Global South. In his view, “the modernisation of women into high-grade consumers and taxpayers was one of the prerogatives of second wave feminism, during which libertines acted as destroyers of the old order via their sexual revolution”, a bold claim that nevertheless gives the reader a lot to ponder.

Moving on, all readers will surely learn a lot from the chapter about indirect military interventions where Savin asserts that the US exploits anti-drug, anti-terror, and training missions to indirectly intervene in a dizzying array of countries, including four out of five of Russia’s CSTO mutual defense partners. He shares a lengthy list of countries that have bilateral security agreements of various kinds with the US, after which he enumerates the many American security agencies that they cooperate with. It’s eye-opening to see just how global the US’ security apparatus really is, as well as how many countries it’s partially infiltrated across the world through the modus operandi of indirect military interventions.

Building off of the aforementioned, Savin then elaborates on an increasingly popular method of indirect American military interventions by describing the interconnected concepts of Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR, as he abbreviates them).

These are Pentagon-led and usually lead to enormously positive image-building for the US, but he believes that they’re also business-driven and selectively carried out for geostrategic purposes given that they mostly take place in maritime chokepoints and the coastal regions where enormous swaths of the global population reside. Savin thinks that these are actually a cover for training American forces to prepare for larger, more hostile interventions in the future, as well as perfecting joint interoperability between its many security services. Consequently, they’re perfect opportunities for coaching, too.

Drawing near the end of the book, Savin explains the concept of geo-economics, which is growing in importance because “the art of analysing and controlling the economic limitations of other countries has become one of the aspects of US foreign policy.” International financial networks like the IMF and banks such as the World Bank are key players in this game, as is the Western-controlled international credit rating system that Russia is regrettably influenced by (through its own will, he adds, per what are suggested to be sixth columnists operating in its Central Bank). Geo-economics is certainly a subject worthy of a separate book-length analysis in its own right, but its inclusion in “Coaching & Conflicts” is to highlight its relevance to Hybrid Warfare.  

Some of the last points that Savin makes are that lobbying shouldn’t ever be underestimated because of the outsized role that it has in shaping policy, which he convincingly proves by recounting the story of Ahmed Chalabi and how he was ultimately successful in getting the US to invade Iraq.

More publicly, pop culture is a Hybrid War battlefield that affects everyone because of is utter pervasiveness and the manner in which it can be weaponized to embed certain ideas into society’s subconscious as part of a larger influence campaign, such as was seen by the involvement of Hollywood celebrities like Angelina Jolie in popularizing certain international conflicts and the scripted but nevertheless viral video called “I am a Ukrainian”.

At the end of his book, Savin includes an appendix that briefly reviews a handful of Color Revolutions to show why they either succeeded or failed, which could inspire interested readers to research more about them if they were curious to discover how applicable his theories are in explaining their outcome. Overall, “Coaching & Conflicts” is an insightful read that succeeds in simplifying some very difficult concepts, educating the public about those that they might not have been aware of, and getting people to reconceptualize others that they may have previously taken for granted. The book is a little more than 150 pages so one can leisurely complete it in a day or two, but its lessons will remain enduringly relevant.

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DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.