Review to Leonid Savin’s Hybrid warfare and gray zone


Leonid Vladimirovich Savin, editor-in-chief of the informational-analytical publication Geopolitika, head of the administration of the International Eurasian Movement, and an expert on the stratagems of the global discourse of the American-centric world order, has published a monograph on “hybrid warfare and the gray zone” in the American way.

The author has long systematically analyzed the military and strategic aspects of the formation of US-NATO doctrines, summarizing small components of various works into an “integral” one. For his 2022 monograph “Hybrid Warfare and the Gray Zone”, Leonid Savin has published more than a thousand articles and books, such as “Toward Geopolitics”, “Network-Centered and Network-Centered Warfare. An Introduction to the Concept”, “From Sheriff to Terrorist. Essays on U.S. Geopolitics”, “Ethnopsychology”, “Network-Centered Methods of Government”, “New Ways of Warfare. How America Builds Empire”, “Coaching Warfare”, “Ordo Pluriversalis. The Renaissance of a Multipolar World Order”, “Centaur Arrows. Cyber Warfare the American Way”. “Cyber War the American Way” (2020) came out organically on its own in a hybrid-serial war. According to the author, for Russia, “continuing to study the adaptation of Western subversion techniques will help strengthen its security and expose the aggressive actions of the collective West led by the United States”.

The book consists of three sections, “Hybrid Warfare”, “Gray Zone”, and “Unifying Concepts”.

As Sergey Kurginyan believes, the pivotal doctrine of the United States is “middle-zone warfare”. Applied to realpolitik, the U.S. strategy aimed at revising the fundamental constants of the world order is experimenting, for example, by interweaving conflicts around Ukraine “who is worth what and who can do what” - in the “gray zone”, conventionally, “in as many territories as possible”: to understand it and initiate “a kind of next phase”. In the Ukrainian theater of military-hybrid actions, the concept of the “gray zone” is involved, encompassing both proxy warfare and cyber warfare and the information space.

The United States sees this war as existential. They may have lost in Vietnam, but not in Ukraine. And it is not possible for Russia to limit itself to half-measures, to palliatives, because a war of annihilation has been declared. Collective. The West is playing it down, because it does not believe that Russia will dare to use nuclear weapons in “retaliation” (if it also lost the offensive initiative in the NWO). After all, it has played by the West's rules for years, with a soft foreign policy bordering on treason and an influential “fifth column” behind it. A chronic “weak power” is a strategic defeat. One can only hope that Russia does not look the way it does: it just looks like a “colossus with feet of clay”. But “it is never as weak as we would like” (a phrase attributed to Otto von Bismarck). It is hard to overcome, because “prayer strikes with the sword” (from a benediction by philosopher Ivan Ilyin).

Judging from the cover of the book under review, in Leonid Savin’s vision, a statue with feet of clay, the Anglo-Saxon antipode of Russian civilization is more like a dying neo-Babylonian kingdom.

Grotesque and allegorical is the triptych “Haydock” (1515) by Hieronymus Bosch. Behind the hay chariot pulled by demons is a cavalcade of greedy thieves. And above the vanity of the world, Christ stands in golden light, gazing sorrowfully at a fallen world. This visual story of evil is a nod to the “tower of Euro-Babylon” (EU - in today's context). The tower, “as high as the sky”, has become a symbol of that part of humanity that, blinded by pride, defies the Almighty. The leitmotif actualized: the stronghold of ontological evil - the plutocratic oligarchy of Babylon, with a challenge to the Lord Himself by the demonic “post-justice”-must be destroyed like Carthage. I admit that in this imperative lies the semantic pathos of Leonid Savin's central ideologem, which also relates to his coverage of the “hybrid warfare”/ “gray zone” aspect.

The concept of “gray zone”, which emerged as a theoretical construct within the Special Operations Forces, has a clearly politicized context. Based on the publications analyzed, the author rightly believes that the “gray zone” will serve as a special label for the actions of certain countries, primarily Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, in the coming years.

“Regardless of what these actions will be and to what extent they will be in accordance with international law, Western experts and politicians will always find an opportunity to accuse the leadership of these countries of taking hostile actions in the gray zone. The same Western countries for the same actions (described by other names - political warfare, operations outside the conditions of war, complex warfare, special warfare, etc.) will also be accused of the same actions. However, individual voices in the chorus dissociate themselves from the unanimity of the American scientific-brain community. Adam Elkus, for example, criticizes selectivity in choosing the “gray area”, asking why, for example, the terrorist activities of the Boko Haram group in Nigeria do not fall into it: “The United States also employs many non-lethal means of coercion, from the financial destruction of adversaries to the use of 'legal warfare', in which a legal justification is applied to achieve its objectives”. From a purely military and debatable term, the “gray zone” has already become a geopolitical marker used against opponents of the Pax Americana unipolar system.

A mental war of information and hybrids is going on around Ukraine. Leonid Savin helps to understand the genesis of the concepts of “hybrid warfare” and “gray zone”, the evaluation of the scientific development of these issues by Western experts, and their further transformation in the context of the international geopolitical situation.

The author asserts, based on extensive evidence, that in practice the term “hybrid warfare” has been expanded beyond recognition of its original meaning. As for “gray zone”: it can be both a “defined place” and an action to establish influence or control. Regarding hybrid actors, Western methodology in the analysis of strategic doctrines is clearly oriented toward “revisionist or challenging powers”, with a clear underestimation of non-state actors-transnational corporations, terrorist and extremist organizations, religious sects, and so on.

Aren't Western countries themselves waging a hybrid war against their partners? Savin asks a rhetorical question. After all, the ECHELON project, in which the Five Eyes intelligence community monitored the communications of European countries and transmitted sensitive economic information to U.S. companies, was a case in point, causing damage to European countries. Another example from Savin is the investigation into how the CIA and German intelligence jointly owned an encryption company in Switzerland and were able to monitor the conversations and encrypted correspondence of many countries, including their allies, through this tool. It went so far that intelligence services had been tapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone since 2002 (as claimed by Der Spiegel magazine, although Barack Obama denies the fact). Hybrid methods of warfare through cyber means.  In the author's opinion, there is a paradoxical confusion in Western assessments of Russian hybridism. For example, regarding Russian economic activity: both its presence and termination qualify as “acts of hybrid warfare because they undermine the economies of partner countries”. The Russian language is also listed as “one of the instruments of hybrid warfare, especially in states with a Russian-speaking population that are used as proxy actors”.  What then about the beneficiaries of English-language hybrid warfare in English-speaking countries?

The double standard is evident. Such approaches suggest that Western tactics are biased and politically motivated. But like the replication of such publications and the consolidation of outright falsehoods in numerous conferences where these arguments are constantly promoted, this deliberate segregation of the Russian as such is part of the arsenal of hybrid actions. The obvious weaponization of social media and misinformation spread in cyberspace. In such an “ecosystem”, various elements reinforce each other.

In the conflicts of our time, hybrid attacks can affect all spheres of society through cyber and information operations (e.g.: propaganda), economic and financial pressures, and attempts at political destabilization. At the same time, irregular elements, secret special forces, subversive groups and regular military forces can be used. This monograph analyzes in detail the evolution of these two terms, their links and interchangeability, key field research and doctrinal documents from Western countries. “Conflict between great powers requires subtle diplomacy: one must maneuver in the gray area between peace and war, know the limits of what is possible, build leverage, pursue common interests where we can identify them-and confront Russia firmly and consistently where they do not”, writes William Burns, CIA director. The conflict is multiple or multivariate, not a black-and-white form of war. The methods of conducting conflict have changed and now involve extensive use of political, economic, informational, humanitarian and other non-military measures. In the West, this is referred to as the “Gerasimov doctrine”.

The information space is operative because it teaches people through information technology that confrontation is inevitable.  The massive impact on mentality forms a post-truth worldview, in which the “weaning” of the object of manipulation from critical thinking and the search for truth is evident. Thus: Joe Biden launched the theme “Vladimir Putin is a 'murderer'. The Kremlin - did not respond adequately to the impertinent demarcation. And now Putin has already been labeled a “terrorist” (and this is already a trajectory - “target practice” against a “pariah”). Positional passivism has put Russia in a state of perpetual apology for things not done. As Goebbels said, repeat a falsehood a thousand times and it will become the truth. “Factology will be reformatted, and then man himself, without thinking, will take a lie for the truth, and have no other choice. Subtle technology manipulates the consciousness of Russia both at the level of meanings and emotions, influencing the minds and subconscious of Russians. I suppose that a person's self-identification as a voluntary and obligatory avenging “buffoon” (in Dostoevsky's terms), shouting “I am not to blame” for every eventuality, is also transformed. This is a personal tragedy: the abulia (helplessness) of hands lowered by the impotence of a warped common sense, of value orientations, of a national code of worldview and broken perspectives. This is not why Fyodor Mikhailovich observed, “If a man fights for the truth, he has already won” (see my article “Resource warfare in the context of hybrid and elemental warfare”, NRL, Oct. 11 and 13). 2022).

Leonid Savin makes a detailed and clarifying excursus, providing the context of what Russia should do in this situation.

The author's approach is in line with that of analyst A. Bartosz, who in his paper “Grey Zones as a Key Element of Modern Hybrid Warfare Operational Space” described the step-by-step implementation of the “gray zone” strategy. The focus is not on achieving individual operational and tactical objectives, but rather on “the formation of a growing avalanche of events on a relatively small scale, the totality of which will serve as a catalyst for the formation of an entirely new strategic reality”. Obviously, such an approach complicates the task of deterring the adversary and maintaining the balance, and requires concerted countermeasures... Consistent and prudent application of a combination of actions in the “gray zone” allows for results below the threshold of traditional military conflict at any time. A “gray zone” strategy has political objectives that are achieved through integrated and heterogeneous operations using primarily, but not exclusively, non-military means. Each of the individual operations does not have large-scale objectives, but the success of the campaign as a whole is achieved through the synergistic effect of a set of relatively small targeted actions”. Washington's foreign policy is defined by a combination of two components: “hard power”, which refers to the coercive power derived from a country's military and economic strength, and “soft power”, in which a country is attracted by its culture, ideals and political programs.

The application of the concept of so-called smart power, which is based on the ability to combine and coordinate the capabilities and resources of hard and soft power, is key to planning operations in the “gray zone”.

“Hybrid warfare” and the “gray zone” are contiguous and overlapping: as a place and condition of war. Hybrid warfare is also recognizable in the past. To the example given by Leonid Savin: which is “a modern view of Tukhachevsky's deep operations”, let us add a scoop from ancient times. Russia was introduced to hybrid aggression by the Time of Troubles (1598-1613): when internal unrest provoked Poland and Sweden to try to crush Russia with Polish-Lithuanian-Swedish engagement. “The internal factors that determined the Time of Troubles were the suppression of the Rurikovich dynasty and the consequences of oprichnina, which undermined respect for authority and law”. Political scientist Igor Panarin believes that the beginning of the hybrid anti-Russian operations was a secret treaty between France, Austria and Great Britain (1815) and the creation of special structures of Russian Freemasonry to organize a coup in Russia. The consequence of the subversive actions was a cascade of shocks: the Decembristism (1825), the February coup (1917), and the hard years of 1990. This also includes the intertwining of conflicts on the banks of the Dnieper River around the persistent confrontation between two modified branches of the Russian people united “three people”.

To realize how difficult is to qualify this or that nontraditional phenomenon, I would like to mention that “SWO one left” (Negodovaya's war) is a hybrid war in form: it combines covert operations, sabotage, cyber warfare, and support in foreign territory of the conflicting side. In terms of target, it is mental: it aims to change the worldview of successive generations of losers. That transforms the world order and changes the geopolitical landscape of the world. According to the Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu, the supreme art of war consists of destroying the enemy's plans, then - his alliances and only then attacking his army and fortified cities. Defeating the enemy's plans means preventing him from carrying out his plans by creating havoc, unbalancing the system of goal-setting and decision-making, and influencing minds and consciences. Achieving a radical change in the worldview code, with a changed ethical and aesthetic paradigm, means winning the mental war. According to General Andrei Ilnitsky, two factors stand out in this “war of the mind”: knowledge/information and will. Will is deservedly favored in the “war of minds”. But in the war of minds, psycho-emotional factors and technology are also very important.

I have taken the liberty of expanding the context of some of Savin's reflections, or borrowing them, to present the reader with a completer and more reassuring picture of volumetric hybrid warfare in the gray zone in the context of mental conquest of the enemy.  Leonid Savin's fundamental and sound analytical and practical work aimed at the technological improvement of one of the most difficult to develop aspects of home defense is therefore useful to strategists, conflictologists, internationalists and practitioners of hybrid warfare.

Original column by Evgenij Vertlieb

Translation by Costantino Ceoldo