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Hybridní válka – případ Chorvatska a Ukrajiny

Navzdory snahám označovat hybridní válku jako novou formu válčení, nebo dokonce jako faktor, který mění povahu války, hybridní válka je součástí ozbrojených konflitů od starověku do současnosti. Podstatou hybridních válek je paralelní využívání pravidelných i nepravidelných ozbrojených sil a různé způsoby působení na protivníka, s cílem, bez použití otevřeného útoku jej oslabit. Článek předládá analýzu informační dimenze v hybridní válce proti Chorvatsku (1990-91) a Ukrajině (2014). V obou případech byla hlavním cílem hybridní války sociální jednota napadených zemí. V případě Chorvatska, navzdory silné propagandistické kampani, následované použitím vojenské síly, se nepodařilo prolomit sociální soudržnost většiny obyvatel Chorvatska. V případě Ukrajiny, díky absenci sociální soudržnosti společnosti hybridní válka vedena Ruskou federací je mnohem efektivnější.

Další informace

  • ročník: 2016
  • číslo: Mimořádné číslo
  • stav: Recenzované / Reviewed
  • typ článku: Přehledový / Peer-reviewed


Despite the fact that hybrid warfare is currently described by many scholars as a new form of warfare, recognized particularly in the new Russian military doctrine, in reality, it does not represent a novelty but a form of warfare that has existed for centuries. The first recorded example in history was the Peloponnesian War[2], although some other examples may be mentioned, such as the British conquest of Ireland (1593-1604), the Union’s counterguerilla operations in the American Civil War (1861-1865), the British colonial wars (1700-1970) or the Chinese-Japanese War (1937-1945).[3] Historical experience shows that hybrid warfare represents a combination of conventional, irregular, political and economic warfare - a synchronized application of various elements of national power. Actually, it can be said that hybrid wars are more common today than conventional interstate conflicts. For example, there was no conventional war between two countries in the last ten years. However, a whole range of conflicts that can be included in the category of hybrid warfare have taken place in this period, such as the Israeli-Hesbollah conflict of 2006, the Russian-Georgian War of 2008, the Sri Lankan Civil War (ended in 2009), the Syrian War, the Afghanistan War and the Iraq War (still underway).

Therefore, hybrid warfare can be described as a conflict involving a combination of conventional military forces and irregulars (guerrillas, insurgents and terrorists), which could include both state and non-state actors aimed at achieving a common political goal.[4]

In most cases the political goal is to destabilize certain state institutions and to polarize members of a certain community. A broad spectrum of action, such as conventional military operations, special operations, irregular armed groups (paramilitary groups, terrorist organizations and criminal organizations), intelligence activities, information activities (media, cyberspace, propaganda), and different economic pressures are used to achieve this goal.

The following definition of a hybrid threat is derived from these facts: “any adversary that simultaneously employs a tailored mix of conventional weapons, irregular tactics, terrorism, and criminal behaviour in the same time and battlespace to obtain their political objectives.”[5]

Hybrid operation as a means to carry out a hybrid threat can be defined as a combination of two or more violent and non-violent state means of power projection capabilities (political and economic tools, information warfare, threat of military force, cyber attacks, and engaging in special operations) to achieve the desired political end state.[6]

Five examples of hybrid warfare can be mentioned here:

  1. Aggression of a stronger state against a weaker one, in which the aggressor does not want to intervene directly but wants to destabilize the country in order to stage a coup or to conduct a direct intervention at a later stage. An example is the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine in the period from 2014 to 2016.
  2. Assisting the rebel forces in a certain country with no direct intervention. An example is the U.S. secret financial and material support to the Nicaraguan anti-regime military force (the Contras) in the period from 1981 to 1989.
  3. The use of methods of hybrid warfare to combat the adversary’s irregular forces. An example is the British colonial warfare in the 19th and 20th centuries, or the U.S. operation against the Viet Cong force in the period from 1965 to 1972.
  4. Activities of irregular forces aimed against the central government authorities, the occupying force or a foreign aggressor. An example is the activity of the Chinese communist force against the Japanese force and the Kuomintang (1937-1945).
  5. Conflict between the belligerents in the process of disintegration of the state union. The example is in the coordinated activities of the League of Communists of Serbia and the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) against the Republic of Croatia in the period from 1990 to 1991.

A range of situations in which hybrid warfare is likely to be waged indicates the fact that it is not possible to make a precise classification of hybrid warfare, or to define several organizational models of hybrid warfare. The authors’ opinion is that this approach is not possible due to specific conditions (social, cultural, geographic, climatic and other conditions) under which every conflict takes place. All these factors will lead to a different way of waging hybrid warfare in each particular case. Therefore, instead of defining the model of hybrid warfare (e.g. attempts to define the Russian model or a model based on the conflicts in the Middle East), it is necessary to define certain general characteristics of this type of warfare and analyze the ways in which these characteristics are displayed in each particular case (adjusting the use of military and non-military capabilities to wage hybrid warfare in accordance with specific characteristics of the goal).

The following are the general characteristics of hybrid warfare:

  1. A clearly defined political goal to be achieved and shaping the strategies of action aimed at achieving the goal. Hybrid warfare does not represent an improvised use of different means, but a clearly defined sequence of combining different military and non-military methods of pressure on the adversary in accordance with the defined strategic goal.
  2. The multidimensionality of the military and non-military methods of operation for the purpose of creating synergistic effects. In order to succeed, it is necessary to achieve the unity of effort in the use of all engaged forces and measures (especially in coordination with the operation of state and non-state actors engaged in hybrid warfare).
  3. The target of the attack is a certain community - its identity, political structures, state institutions and economy.
  4. At least one side in hybrid warfare should be the state (as an aggressor or as the target of the attack).

From this description, it can be concluded that hybrid warfare does not represent a change in the nature of warfare. It is just a manner in which the belligerents wage war in the early 21st century. The Russian views on the character of hybrid warfare should be considered in this context. The oft-cited article by General Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, emphasized that hybrid warfare is an expression of change in the character of warfare. According to him, in the early 21st century the efficiency of non-military means in fulfilling strategic political goals in a certain conflict has exceeded the use of the weapon systems. A hybrid war confirms such thesis.[7] The West has used this method of operation in the Middle East (Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya), so Russia should study its experience very carefully. The efficiency of military means has been significantly increased by combining them with non-military means and by using the local population as the fifth column, complemented with secret military measures and an open action (peacekeeping operations) in order to achieve strategic political goals. Hybrid wars can turn a stable country into an area of armed conflict very quickly. In this context, Gerasimov emphasized the crucial role of new information technologies. Therefore, it can be concluded that the so-called Gerasimov Doctrine in the Russian discourse represents the incorporation of Western concepts and methods of operation in hybrid warfare in the Russian military theory and practice. The Russian analyses emphasize the Orange Revolution in Ukraine as an example of the Western hybrid warfare.[8] No matter if we agree with this thesis or not, the Russian use of the methods of hybrid warfare does not represent a new military doctrine or strategy.

A key characteristic of today's hybrid warfare is its information dimension - conducting information and psychological operations by using modern communication systems that provide access to the global media space. The appearance of the Internet, together with further development of the traditional media (radio and television) has resulted in the fact that information warfare has gained an advantage over conventional and non-conventional military actions. A good information campaign can turn military defeat into victory, such as the case with the Vietnamese Tet Offensive in South Vietnam in 1968.

Psychological-propaganda activities are directed at three levels of activity:

  1. A change in the perception of its own population (mobilization of population in order to achieve certain political goals).
  2. A change in the perception of the adversary’s population and force.
  3. Legitimizing actions at the international level.

The significance of the information dimension of all types of armed conflicts (including hybrid warfare) is evident in the Russian views on this matter. In the Russian perception, the “information-psychological struggle” together with the use of other non-military means (political, economic and technological) should create conditions to paralyze the adversary’s decision-making process and thus prevent the use of its military capabilities. The purpose is to neutralize the adversary without or with minimum use of military power in the final stage of the action, primarily through achieving information superiority.[9] This is an opposite approach from the Western views which emphasize kinetic effect (the use of weapon systems), and not achieving information superiority.[10]

The goal of information operation is to destroy the social cohesion of the population in a certain country or a region (e.g. operation directed at a specific ethnic community dispersed over the territory of several states). In the Russian views, this is the use of moral and psychological manipulation of social awareness aiming to annihilate the resistance of the population, or even to provide assistance to the aggressor. Such manipulation is based on exploitation of the population’s dissatisfaction directed against the governing structures and the disfunctionality of state institutions.[11]

Although there are many definitions of social cohesion, their common characteristic is the establishment and maintenance of social connections between members of a certain social group - the existence of interdependence and a sense of belonging to a group, cooperation for mutual benefit, and collective resistance to external influences that might endanger the group.[12] This is the essence of the definition of social cohesion given by Emile Durkheim, the founder of this concept: the basic characteristic of a society representing a continuous distribution of different human tasks and the basic element in social solidarity. To Durkheim, the existence of a cohesive society depends on shared loyalties which citizens owed to each other and to the state, based on interdependency.[13]

Morton Deutsch defines cohesiveness as a force that binds the parts of a group together and resists disruptive influences. According to Deutsch, cohesion, based on cooperation between group members, encourages motivation of members to continue working with the group, feeling an obligation to the group.[14]

Although in the conflict analysis the social cohesion as a factor is considered in conflicts within a single state (e.g. in analyses of the causes of ethnic conflicts), its consideration in hybrid warfare cannot be avoided, since in this case a foreign aggressor is trying to create or use the existing divisions within a certain community through psychological operations and propaganda. Therefore, the maintenance of social cohesion of a certain community is the primary means for defence against hybrid warfare.

Signs of disrupted social cohesion are:

  1. Division of the population (ethnic division, political-ideological division) as the source of conflict.
  2. Disrupted political and economic infrastructure calling into question the management of the basic functions of a state.
  3. Exclusion of certain categories of population from political and economic processes.

Social cohesion makes a positive contribution to stability of the country and its resilience to external threats, including hybrid warfare. Seth Kaplan mentions the ability to increase cooperation between community members as a precondition to reduce the state organization’s fragility, and social cohesion as a means to gain this ability.[15] Kaplan also mentions a shared national identity as the basis for a strong social cohesion and stability of the state organization.[16]

In the end, we can say that hybrid warfare (a combination of conventional and irregular military action and the use of other non-military measures to destabilize the adversary) is a form of warfare that has existed for centuries. At this moment, the dominant characteristic of hybrid warfare is the information dimension directed at breaking social cohesion of the country under attack. Psychological operations and propaganda, including other forms of action within hybrid warfare, are successful only if they represent part of the united effort directed at achieving a clearly defined strategic goal of the aggressor.

The three elements previously mentioned - the existence of a clearly defined strategic goal of the aggressor; the unity of effort in hybrid warfare, and information dimension directed at breaking social cohesion - represent the elements for analysis of two cases of hybrid warfare - the aggression against Croatia (1990-1991) and the aggression against Ukraine (2014).


The aggression initiated against Croatia by the leadership of the League of Communists of Serbia and Montenegro and by the former Yugoslav National Army (JNA) (1990-1991) represented a culmination of political and economic crisis that seized former Yugoslavia in the 1980s and eventually led to its break-up in 1991. The goal of this aggression was to prevent Croatia’s independence, either through recentralization of the federation or in pursuit of the Greater Serbia project.

A period of hybrid warfare against Croatia lasted from January 1990 to January 1992. It can be divided into the three following phases:

♦ Phase one: From the 14th extraordinary congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (January 22, 1990) until the start of Serbs’ armed rebellion in Croatia (August 17, 1990). In this phase, the main efforts were directed at seeking legitimacy from the Serbian political leadership and JNA leadership to take measures against those republics (primarily Croatia and Slovenia) that had rejected the program of recentralization of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ) with the Socialist Republic of Serbia as the dominant member of the reorganised Yugoslav federation. The 14th congress was dissolved after the representatives of the League of Communists of the four federal units of former Yugoslavia left the congress. This resulted in two parallel processes in the federation. One was the continuation of negotiations on future arrangement of the SFRJ during which the Serbian political leadership together with the JNA tried to execute the idea of a centralized federation. The other was the Plan B of Serbia’s leadership - to create another Yugoslavia/Greater Serbia through territorial crippling of Croatia, to allow Slovenia to leave the federation and to organize a new state union (composed of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia) under Serbia’s domination. The second process took precedence after the multiparty elections held in Croatia.

Phase two: From the start of the Serbs’ armed rebellion in Croatia until Croatia’s independence (August 1990 - August 1991). Phase two started in August 1990 with an open armed rebellion on Croatia’s territory with the majority Serb population (the so-called Log Revolution) organized with JNA’s assistance. The rebellion started on August 17 in Knin,[17] and its purpose was to pressure Croatia into negotiations on future relations with other Yugoslav republics and into making decisions on Croatia’s future arrangement, and to use it as an instrument for a violent change of power and/or separation of areas with Serb majority in case the primary goal would not be achieved. Since October 1990 there had been a series of attacks on the Croatian police committed by rebels (200 attacks were recorded until 1991) who also started setting up roadblocks and assumed power in rebel municipalities. Rebel activities were directed at causing a great conflict with the Croatian authorities and at justifying JNA’s intervention aimed at overthrowing the Croatian government elected in the multiparty elections in April 1990. The rebellion escalated after the intervention of the Croatian police to unblock the area of Plitvice Lakes on March 31, 1991. On May 2 twelve Croatian police officers were killed in Borovo Selo (eastern Slavonia), followed by the ethnic cleansing of Croats in rebel-controlled areas.[18]

The JNA had constantly provided active support to rebel activities. At the beginning of the rebellion (in August 1990), the JNA prevented the police intervention in Knin thus enabling rebel Serbs to fortify their positions and create the so-called SAO Krajina/Republic of Serbian Krajina. Other measures taken by the JNA leadership in the first and second phase of hybrid warfare against Croatia were the following:

  1. Disarmament of Croatia’s Territorial Defence Forces in May 1990 that was conducted without a decision of the SFRJ Presidency.[19]
  2. Attempts of the JNA leadership and the Serbian political leadership to introduce a state of emergency and overthrow a new legally elected Croatian government (an attempt to disarm the Croatian police in January 1991; a failed attempt of provoking military intervention in February 1991; an attempt to create the conditions for a military coup based on Serbia’s attempt to cause crisis in the SFRJ Presidency in March 1991).[20]
  3. Redeployment of the JNA forces on Croatia’s territory (formation of the Zagreb Corps) with the aim of fast take-over in case a decision was reached to introduce a state of emergency (JNA’s plans to operate in emergency situations in order to prevent a civil war).[21] The JNA leadership had also developed a new version of a war plan called Sutjeska 2 in which a Croatian region (northwest battlefield) was declared the main area of defence of the former SFRJ. This plan envisaged the possibility of NATO’s intervention for the purpose of giving assistance to the internal rebellion, and its elements were used in the JNA aggression against Croatia in September 1991.[22]
  4. Implementation of a legally questionable decision by the incomplete SFRJ Presidency of May 4, 1991 on deployment of the JNA between the Croatian police force and rebels. These buffer zones were created to prevent the Croatian police actions against the rebel forces, thus creating conditions favourable for further development of the rebellion. Buffer zones were created in the area of Pakrac, Plitvice, Borovo Selo and Glina.[23] In this way the JNA played a major role in the creation of SAO Krajina/Republic of Serbian Krajina.[24]
  5. Direct armament of Serbian rebel forces after the failed JNA intervention in Slovenia.[25]

Phase three: Direct intervention of the former JNA which took the side of Serbia (August 1, 1991 - January 2, 1992). This phase was the result of Croatia’s decision to leave the former federation. This decision was made on June 25, 1999 based on the results of the referendum held a month before.[26] In this phase the disintegration of the JNA and its transformation into the military organization of Serbia[27] was followed by a direct military intervention and an open support to rebels in Croatia (attacks in eastern and western Slavonia, Banovina, Lika, the Dalmatian hinterland and Dubrovnik).[28] The beginning of the Battle of Vukovar (August 25) and the beginning of the attack on Kijevo near Knin (a day later) - in both cases, the attacks were carried out by the former JNA with the assistance of the Serbian paramilitary forces - is the formal beginning of the military aggression of the former federal army against Croatia. The aggression continued until a truce was signed on January 2 in Sarajevo and the JNA withdrew from Croatia’s territory.

If we look at the first two elements of the analysis - the existence of a clear strategic goal and the adversary’s unity of effort to achieve the goal - it is evident that they were not accomplished in the case of hybrid warfare against Croatia. In phase one the Serbian political leadership, together with the Montenegrin and JNA leaderships, tried to mobilize the rest of the Yugoslav federation to act against Croatia and Slovenia, and to reorganize the Yugoslav federation in terms of greater centralization that would lead to Serbia’s domination. The JNA military leadership supported such strategy because it annulled the changes in the former Yugoslavia’s defence system caused by the 1974 constitutional changes (transfer of significant powers to the federal units).[29] In this way, the JNA forged an alliance with Serbia despite its criticism of the actions taken by the Serbian political leadership.[30] However, despite a number of attempts, other Yugoslav republics did not support this plan. In phase two Serbia gave up attempts to centralize the federation and started the plan to create a smaller Yugoslavia without Slovenia and Croatia. In doing so, a large part of the territory would be seized from Croatia.[31] In summer 1991 the JNA leadership finally accepted the project of Greater Serbia, although JNA’s pro-Serbian attitude had eventually led to its disintegration. Members of other nations left the JNA, which also lost support of a part of the Serbian population because of its communist past and its hesitation to side with the project of Greater Serbia. The result was a failure to carry out general mobilization in Serbia and serious weakness of command caused by the departure of a large number of officers that resulted in the failure of JNA’s offensive operation on Croatia’s territory in September and October 1991.[32] This situation led to the point that in 1991 the JNA had no clear objectives and plans of action against Croatia, while the process of its disintegration after accepting the project of Greater Serbia had erased its main advantage (material and numerical superiority in relation to Croatian forces).

What was the role of the information dimension in hybrid warfare against Croatia? The role of the media in the propaganda war that Serbia started in order to achieve the plan for re-centralization of the Yugoslav federation, which was later transformed into the plan to create Greater Serbia, represented the key factor to initiate the process which caused the violent break-up of Yugoslavia and the wars waged on the territory of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Professor Renaud de la Brosse made a study for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) during the trial of Slobodan Milošević.[33] According to de la Brosse, in the 1980s the Serbian political leadership used the Serbian state-run media as a means for national homogenization and for the establishment of nationalist ideology. This was part of a well-devised plan of occupation based on creating the atmosphere of fear and hatred among Serbs against other ethnic groups, and using media as a weapon in the military campaign aimed at seizing large parts of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and ethnic cleansing of non-Serb population.

The Serbian propaganda machine described the Croats’ and Zagreb’s attempts to reconstruct the SFRJ as a confederation, preparing for a new genocide against Serbs and the renewal of the Ustasha regime (accusing officials of the League of Communists of Croatia of ustashism). In this way it tried to force Croatia to accept Serbia’s plan to recentralize Yugoslavia. Having failed to impose this concept on Croatia and other republics of former Yugoslavia, these arguments were used to prepare and organize the Serbs’ rebellion in Croatia and to justify the military intervention and seizure of Croatian territory in Yugoslavia and on the international scene. An example of Serbian propaganda is a story published by Serbian newspaper “Večernje Novosti” that falsely described the Pakrac clash between the Croatian police and Serb rebels on March 2, 1991 as the massacre of 40 local Serb civilians.[34] According to de la Brosse, without the active role of the Serbian media, it would not be possible to create hostility and hatred against Croatia in the eyes of the Serbian public.[35]

After the open outbreak of war, the Serbian propaganda used the methods previously described to encourage wartime mobilization in Serbia and Montenegro, while on the international scene it tried to prevent, or at least to slow down the process of Croatia’s international recognition. An example of Serbian war propaganda is a false story about 41 Serb babies that were slaughtered in Vukovar published by Belgrade’s daily newspaper “Večernje Novosti” just before the Serbian forces seized the city of Vukovar.[36] Reuters also published the news (believing it came from a reliable source), [37] while the daily newspapers “Večernje Novosti” and “Politika” published cover stories on alleged Ustasha crimes committed against Serbian children. Later the Radio Television in Belgrade publicly rebutted the alleged crime; but in the same news it broadcasted a report on Serbian volunteers arriving in Croatia to prevent further massacres of Serbian children.[38]

Importance of the information dimension was visible during the third phase of hybrid war against Croatia, regarding the issue of international recognition of Croatia and other former Yugoslav republics. From the period before the independence referendums in Croatia and Slovenia until the military intervention of JNA in September and October 1991, at least on the surface, the European Community member states had a common stance. In reality from mid-1991 the EC was split over the issue.[39]

The open JNA military intervention was the turning point that made the EU common policy toward Yugoslavia non-existent. It was a trigger for an official change in the German policy which replaced the support for preserving the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia with the open support for the recognition of the secessionist republics.[40] Devastating JNA attacks in Eastern Slavonia (attacks on Vukovar and Osijek) and Dalmatia (Zadar and Dubrovnik) gave the Croatian side a perfect opportunity for using those events to counter Serbian propaganda and to influence the public opinion in the EC member states, especially in Germany.

Serbian attacks created a widespread outrage in the German public opinion. German media coverage of the artillery shelling of towns and “ethnic cleansing” practiced by Serbian forces in Croatia created a powerful impetus for a shift in the German government’s policy toward the war in former Yugoslavia. In that process German media played an important role in influencing the German public opinion, putting strong pressure on the German political elite.[41]

Information war against Croatia was followed by a series of other measures that can be subsumed as hybrid warfare:

  1. In the field of economics, on December 16, 1990 Serbia intruded into the payment system of the former Yugoslavia seizing 2.6 billion of German Marks.
  2. Apart from providing political support to rebel Serbs in Croatia (e.g. on March 9, 1991, over 100,000 people in Belgrade protested against the Croatian authorities), Serbia’s political leadership also provided material support and organized sending their volunteers.[42] One of the used pressure methods were so called “truth meetings”, massive pro-Serbian demonstrations organised on the territories of the other republics of former Yugoslavia.
  3. JNA’s organization of intelligence activities. An example is the Operation Labrador organized by the Counterintelligence Service of the Yugoslav National Army (KOS). On August 19, 1991 in Zagreb the KOS regional headquarters carried out two bombings of Jewish community facilities (there were no casualties). Together with Operation Opera (a propaganda campaign devised by the KOS to feed disinformation to the media), further bombings were intended to create the image of Croatia as a pro-fascist state. Further activities were stopped in September, after Croatian authorities captured the KOS regional headquarters in Zagreb and confiscated documents related to both operations.[43]

Despite the fact that the adversary did not manage to achieve the required unity of effort, Croatia’s position at the time of its independence in late 1991 was extremely difficult. The defence capabilities were minimal - the creation of the Croatian Armed Forces began with the establishment of the National Guard Corps in April 1991, but rapid arming of the newly created units was rendered impossible because the EU imposed an arms embargo on the area of former Yugoslavia. Croatia’s international recognition remained questionable and despite the failure of the former JNA’s offensive activities, one third of Croatia’s territory was occupied. The new country’s economic perspective was not great. A puppet state was formed on the occupied territory directed by Belgrade, posing a permanent military threat (there was the possibility of enemy military operation aimed at separating the coastal areas from the continental part of Croatia, while the main Croatian industrial centres were exposed to the enemy artillery attacks).

However, this situation did not lead to the break-up of the social cohesion of Croatian population. In all phases of the hybrid warfare against Croatia, psychological operations and propaganda were directed at exploitation of deep ideological divisions within the Croatian society created during the World War II and in the post-war period of Communist rule.[44] This was evident in constant attacks of Serbian and Montenegrin leadership on Croatia’s requests for political and economic reforms and Croatian opposition of Serbian dominance in the federation (declaring Croatian intentions as a renewal of Croatian nationalism, ustashism and extremism, and an endangering of the Serbs in Yugoslavia). JNA’s leadership also attempted to exploit this polarization. In the attempt to prevent the disintegration of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia in November 1990 it organized a political party called the League of Communists - Movement for Yugoslavia as a framework for gathering all Yugoslav nations to overthrow incompetent and corrupt republican leaderships and preserve Yugoslavia.[45] This action, in combination with the methods previously described, should strengthen the divisions that had existed in the Croatian society and should enable Croatia’s pacification with the minimum use of force.

The factor that enabled the preservation of the social cohesion was the Croatian national identity. The national identity can be described as a feeling of belonging to a certain state or a nation. There are several key characteristics of the Croatian national identity,[46] although the following two key characteristics are necessary to preserve the social cohesion:

  1. The development of the Croatian national identity as a defence mechanism against a foreign aggressor. This was the factor that had constantly marked the development of the Croatian national identity since the arrival of the Croatian people to the area of today’s state of Croatia in the 7th century until present day. The need for unity in defence against a foreign threat required the creation of a unique national identity that would include separate regional identities developing in certain parts of the Croatian ethnic area under the rule of other powers (Istria, territories occupied by the Ottoman Empire), including different administrative political entities within the same state community (organization of the Military Frontier as a region separated from the rest of Croatia under the control of the Habsburg Monarchy, that existed until 1881). In this way, in late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Croatian national identity was created as a means to preserve the nation. An expression of these tendencies was the preservation of statehood in the union with Hungary and later the Habsburg Monarchy, and the demand for a renewal of the independent state of Croatia that disappeared after Croatia’s entry into the personal union with Hungary in 1102. This factor is also related to ethnocentrism as one of the characteristics of the Croatian identity (using one’s own culture as a basis for judging other cultures).
  2. The heroic codex as a characteristic of Croatian national identity. Vera St. Erlich (the founder of Croatian anthropology) called this phenomenon present in the Croatian identity the heroic codex - heroism, bravery, self-denial and sacrifice for the defence of the homeland. In peacetime, this codex is latent (or at the end of war, it is transformed into authoritarianism), however, it is reactivated in crisis situations. Although St. Erlich believed that the heroic codex is culturally endemic in the Dinaric region, it is also present in the lowlands and in the coastal region, which was evident in the war waged against Croatia from 1991 to 1995.[47] A survey conducted among students of the University of Zagreb in 2010 showed that the expression of Croatian national identity is related to ethnocentrism and a strong national affective attachment and readiness for self-sacrifice for the defence of national identity.[48]

These characteristics explain how the Croatian nation, through collective identification and readiness for sacrifice in defence of its homeland, has managed to overcome the long-lasting divisions present in Croatian society and to preserve the social cohesion necessary for defence against the adversary’s hybrid warfare.


In the case of hybrid warfare that was initiated by the Russian Federation against Ukraine in 2014 three analyzed elements demonstrated a different outcome as compared to the Croatian case. As hybrid warfare against Ukraine is still underway, this analysis will elaborate its initial phase - the period from February (the fall of Yanukovych’s regime) till September (conclusion of the agreement in Minsk) 2014 as a reference framework for comparison with the Croatian case.

The first element – a clearly defined strategic goal - is clearly indicated in the case of the Russian operations toward Ukraine. The opinion of the authors is that, in Russian perception, the overthrow of Yanukovych’s government due to withdrawal from the economic agreement with the EU, has posed a direct threat to key strategic interests of Moscow. We can state the following factors that caused the respective Russian perception:

  1. Strategic position of Ukraine. Today as in the past, the military factor has a strong influence on geopolitical perception of Russia. That is a consequence of the development of Russian grand strategy during the past seven centuries (territorial expansion to attain security). Without Ukraine as a shield in the case of military attack from the West, it would not be possible to protect the centre of the Russian state (the area between Moscow and Petersburg) with the strategic depth of the Russian territory. Likewise, transition of Ukraine to the Western side opens the possibility of severing the central part of Russia from Caucasus. By losing Ukraine Russia would also lose the Crimean peninsula and pertaining airport and naval bases necessary for projection of power in the territory of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. In these considerations, economic loss that would occur with the inability to access the ports of Sevastopol and Odessa is also a significant factor.
  2. If Russia wishes to renew its status as a great Eurasian power after achieving its internal political and economic stability, it needs to retain the control of states near its border (Belarus, Ukraine) and influence other states in the area of the former USSR (especially the areas of Caucasus and Baltic) to secure and maintain the buffer zone toward the West (EU, NATO).
  3. According to Moscow’s perception, the change of regime and transition of Ukraine to the Western side will trigger a chain reaction that will first expand onto other allies (Belarus) and then to the territory of the Russian Federation. Therefore, the reiteration of Coloured revolutions from the 2004 and 2005 cannot be allowed since that creates a bridge-head for further expansion of the Western political and economic influence that could, in the long term, jeopardize the national security of Russia.
  4. In the events in Ukraine in February 2014 Moscow saw the action of Washington directed toward reduction of Russian influence in area of the Commonwealth of Independent States through fostering the model of political and economic changes that will be ultimately applied to Russia.

The stated determinants defined a strategic goal of the Russian engagement in the hybrid warfare against Ukraine. The key goal is to create a frozen conflict in Ukraine that will destabilize Kiev in a political and economic manner and prevent the transition of Ukraine to the Western side. The constant instability should force Kiev to internal restructuring directed toward federalization of the country that would ensure constant divisions within Ukraine. Although the Russian goal is not the territorial expansion on the account of Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea took place as a message sent to the West that, from the Russian perspective, all red lines were crossed and that Moscow will now respond to every further attempt to endanger its key national interests by the West.

Russian hybrid operations toward Ukraine can be divided into three phases:

  1. The period from the overthrow of the Yanukovych’s government (22 February 2014) till Putin’s official proclamation of annexation of Crimea (18 March 2014). The change of regime in Ukraine and negation of the agreement made with the EU on the solution of the political crisis in Ukraine surprised Moscow and gave incentive to Putin to instantly organize a counteraction. Strong propaganda campaign was launched toward negation of the legitimacy of the new regime in Kiev and with the aim of preparing the Russian public for further operations against Ukraine. Even before Putin’s decision about the annexation of Crimea made on March 3, mass demonstrations were organized on February 26 in the Crimean area against the new government in Kiev, and the Crimean Parliament attempted to organize a referendum regarding weakening the connections with Kiev. Pro-Russian paramilitary groups were concurrently organized on Crimea. Two days later, unidentified armed persons (later on identified as members of the Russian armed forces) seized the airport in Simferopol. That marked the start of a well organized action of the occupation of strategic facilities in Crimea carried out by members of the Russian army’s Special Forces (at the beginning, soldiers who seized the key facilities claimed they were local volunteers). Russian explanation of this step (that technically did not represent a breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty since, according to the agreement between the two countries on deployment of the Russian military forces, Russia could hold a contingent of up to 25,000 soldiers in Crimea) was protection of the predominantly Russian domicile population. The referendum held on March 16 (its legitimacy was not recognized by Ukraine and international community) voted for annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and two days later the annexation of Crimea was officially carried out.
  2. Insurrection in the eastern part of Ukraine (areas of Donbas and Luhansk, late March till early August). The annexation of Crimea marked a new phase in the escalation of the crisis, inducing the insurrection of the pro-Russian oriented population in the southern and eastern parts of Ukraine against the new Ukrainian government that was partially successful (unsuccessful rebellions in Odessa and Kharkov). Demonstrations in Donetsk started already on March 1 and soon they spread across towns in eastern Ukraine. The cause for protests was a conviction that Kiev would nullify the rights of Russian minority and fear of the attack of the Ukrainian radical right-wing forces; those rumours were disseminated by the Russian media after the Maidan uprising. The seizure of local governmental institutions began in early April in the area of Donbas. Soon, demonstrations were transformed into armed rebellion directed against the authorities in Kiev. The “Republic of Novorossia” was proclaimed on May 24 in Donbas and leaders of the self-proclaimed republic appealed to Russia for a direct intervention. After the initial success in the area of Donetsk and Luhansk, in the course of June and July, insurgent forces began losing ground in the combat with the Ukrainian security forces; that event represented the start of the third phase of Russian actions against Ukraine.
  3. Covert Russian military intervention in the eastern part of Ukraine (August 2014). Losses of the insurgent forces and the Ukrainian military offensive in the mid August that led to encirclement of the rebel forces in the towns of Donetsk and Luhansk led to Moscow’s decision to send regular military units of the Russian armed forces to eastern Ukraine. Although Moscow has never officially acknowledged the use of its regular military units in Ukraine (Moscow acknowledged only sending volunteers), on August 16 the newly appointed Prime Minister of the self-proclaimed National Republic of Donetsk admitted that Moscow had organized a four-month training of 1,200 pro-Russian combatants on the Russian territory and donated 150 armoured vehicles to the rebels. The Russian military engagement was decisive: despite successes achieved up to that time, the strength of Ukrainian forces was not sufficient and they were not organized to stop the insurgent counter-offensive aided by regular Russian military forces. In the battle for Ilovaisk in late August Ukrainian forces suffered a heavy defeat. After that the advancement of the insurgents’ forces toward the town of Mariupol forced Kiev to accept the armistice.

Russian operations in all three phases of the hybrid warfare against Ukraine during the 2014 demonstrate a unity of actions of all components of the Russian national power, directed toward realization of the clearly set strategic goal. The following examples reveal that:

1. Military operations of the Russian Federation in Ukraine. Although till December

2015 Russia did not acknowledge the presence of Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine[49], according to Western information, since the annexation of Crimea, Russian military presence has been constant along with the actions of providing support to insurgents in eastern Ukraine as well as training of pro-Russian forces in Russia (in border areas with Ukraine).[50] According to NATO estimates from March 2015 about 12,000 Russian soldiers were deployed to Ukraine[51]. In addition to direct operations, Russian military presence in Ukraine and along Ukrainian borders was also aimed to discourage Ukrainian leadership from undertaking more resolute military actions against insurgents, due to possibility of launching mass Russian conventional attack.

2. After the failure of the insurgents in the initial phase of the rebellion till launching an offensive in August 2014, Moscow carried out cleansing of the political and military leadership of the insurgent forces that became completely dependent on Russian support afterwards. At that time all military forces were under control of Moscow.[52]

3. Economic measures against Ukraine. During 2014 Russia introduced and till early 2016 expanded economic measures against Kiev. Moscow continues to refuse the restructuring of Ukraine’s debt of three billion USD from 2013. Since November 2015 the privileged status to Ukrainian migrants in Russia has been revoked. In January 2016 Russia withdrew customs privileges for Ukrainian goods and imposed commercial embargo on Ukrainian agricultural products and restricted the transport of Ukrainian products to Kazakhstan. From 2019 Russia plans to stop the transit of its oil and natural gas via Ukraine. The interruption of the military cooperation will (regardless of big problems caused to the Russian military industry) probably mean the end for most of the Ukrainian military-industrial complex.

Unlike the failure of the hybrid warfare in Croatia, in the case of Ukraine the attacking side had a clearly defined strategic goal and visible unity of efforts in applying instruments of national power in its realization. The informational dimension of the hybrid warfare against Ukraine is particularly important.

After overthrow of Yanukovych’s government Russian psychological-propaganda actions were directed toward linking the pro-European protests on Maidan with the Ukrainian radical right-wing pro-fascist movements, with the goal of depriving legitimacy of the new government and sending messages how the new government would revoke the rights of the Russian minority in Ukraine (change of status of the Russian language in Ukraine). Within Russia these messages were intended to create a support for operations against the Ukrainian government. In Ukraine the goal was to mobilize the pro-Russian forces. At the same time, propaganda toward the West was intended to send the message of legitimacy of the Russian intervention. Moscow described the interference of the West in Ukraine as the threat to its key national interests. The second part of the Russian message was the readiness of Russia for a new agreement with the West that would take into consideration the Russian interests regarding Ukraine and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The key innovation in the Russian “new propaganda”, as compared to operations in the past, is its goal. Instead of attempts of convincing domestic and foreign public in certain narration that could be refuted[53], the goal was to hide the truth and replace it with a mix of conspiracy theories and misleading viewpoints and standpoints directed toward preventing clarification of the situation on the ground. In addition to traditional media, Internet and social networks were given a more important role. In the described manner Russia achieved complete control over its domestic media scene. The second success is the dominance in the media space of the eastern Ukraine (and preservation of influence over the pro-Russian part of the population). The third success is the disruption of the Western media objectivity in reporting events in Ukraine during 2014 and beginning of 2015.[54]

Regarding the issue of social cohesion of the Ukrainian society, the Russian propaganda offensive also has attained success: despite the clear external threat, homogenization of the population and common response to aggression did not occur as in the case in Croatia. The first reason was the non-existence of the social cohesion in the Ukrainian society. That was result of the process of political and economic transition of Ukraine implemented since 1991. The transition process did not lead to clear break with the political and economic legacy of the communist system. Instead, the elites of the old system used their political power to gain personal wealth and created a new post-communist oligarchy that caused a political and economic decline of the country. Results were devastating: depopulation (the population of Ukraine reduced by 10 million as compared to 1991), corruption and inefficiency of the public administration and authoritarian political system.[55] The Ukrainian security sector was severely hit - corruption and incompetence destroyed the armed forces, intelligence community and police.[56] The result was the Ukrainian armed forces’ incompetence in their attempts to quench the rebellion in eastern Ukraine. Despite the initial success, Ukrainian units were poorly equipped and trained and made a series of mistakes. Russian intervention in combination with the improved quality of the pro-Russian insurgent forces created the opportunity for the attacker to make the most of the Ukrainian mistakes and to inflict heavy military defeat to the Ukrainian side.[57]

The decisive element for preservation of the social cohesion in the Croatian case - a singular national identity - did not exist in Ukraine. For centuries Ukraine existed as a poorly connected conglomerate of various ethnic groups and territories. The situation was additionally complicated by frequent changes of the borders of Ukraine, by which new ethnic groups joined its system. That resulted in the development of two variants of identities instead of a singular national identity, and two concepts of building the Ukrainian national state. Richard Sakwa named them monistic nationalism and pluralism.[58] The starting point of the monistic nationalism is the development of the Ukrainian national identity that excludes other influences, particularly Russian. The Ukrainian state has to develop in such a manner to build up its borders with the population that will be monolinguistic (the use of Ukrainian language), singular and culturally specific in comparison to Russia. This viewpoint on the development of the Ukrainian identity is confronted by the pluralistic approach based on the standpoint that there is not only one but several various cultural groups on the Ukrainian territory that have preserved their specific identities in addition to the Ukrainian identity. According to this viewpoint, the Ukrainian identity is multidimensional, and specific particularities resulting from such conception of identity require a different government organization that will enable the preservation of specific qualities of these groups (e.g. transformation of Ukraine into a federal state). Both confronting viewpoints of the construction of the Ukrainian identity and statehood are geographically clearly determined - monism in the western part of the country and pluralism in the southern and eastern parts. The stated models of the Ukrainian identity have been in conflict since the independence of Ukraine. Russian military intervention in 2014 did not result in two sides coming closer, but in further divisions.[59] Due to this it was not possible to take advantage of the external danger as an incentive for strengthening the social cohesion of the Ukrainian society, as it was the case in Croatia.

How is it possible to evaluate the Russian engagement in the hybrid warfare against Ukraine? It is not possible to give a final evaluation because the Russian action against Ukraine is still underway. However, up to this moment Russia has achieved the key goal of initiating hybrid warfare against Ukraine. Although many analyses state serious consequences for Russia (international isolation, economic embargo and its consequences for the Russian economy), these analyses have neglected the fact that the main goal of Russia was the creation of a frozen conflict in Ukraine. That goal has been attained and the next step of Russia is directed toward the efforts of converting this tactical victory into a strategic one (international recognition of the status of Ukraine as a country under Russian patronage). Whether Moscow will succeed to achieve this goal depends on whether the West will be capable of defining a common strategy of further actions against Russian expansionism, which is a topic that exceeds the framework of this paper.


Hybrid warfare is not a new type of warfare but a form of warfare that has been present since the beginning of written history. The combination of operation of regular and irregular military forces accompanied by other measures aimed to destabilize the opponent is not a novelty. However, in relation to hybrid warfare in the past, its key dimension nowadays is to achieve domination in the informational field.

In both analyzed examples of hybrid warfare (Croatia, Ukraine) the importance of achieving information dominance is visible. The use of propaganda-psychological warfare in combination with intelligence operations and other types of pressure is aimed to destabilize the social community and facilitate the external intervention directed toward gaining control over it.

When we talk about the defence against hybrid threats, the role of external factors (NATO, EU) is often emphasized. However, if the social community under attack is not capable of countering the first strike, external help could be belated or maybe, could completely fail to occur if the attacker’s side is able to attain requested objectives with quick actions. That means that the first line of defence is the preservation of social cohesion of the attacked community. It is preserved, resistance of the state to hybrid warfare is built up. In hybrid warfare, the aggressor is attempting to achieve quick victory in situations when it is not ready or cannot carry out a conventional military attack. If the attacked state is capable to successfully counter the first strike, the aggressor is faced with a choice to withdraw or to further escalate the crisis conducting a direct military intervention (a situation they tried to prevent by the use of the hybrid warfare). We could pose a question: what would be the further Russian reaction if the Ukraine were capable to quickly suppress the pro-Russian rebellion in the eastern part of the country? Even if the attacker achieves success, maintaining social cohesion within the attacked state over the long term creates an opportunity for the negation of the aggressor’s gains, as the Croatian case has demonstrated.

National identity is crucial for maintaining the social cohesion. This fact is clearly visible in the examples of Croatia and Ukraine. In the Croatian case the constituted national identity enabled the preservation of the social cohesion, whereas in Ukraine a completely different outcome is visible due to the underdeveloped Ukrainian national identity.



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