THE geopolitical shifts and transformations that have taken place in the world in recent decades have affected many problems related to protecting national interests and ensuring national security. For many eras, armed power has been considered the key tool in implementing state interests. Under today’s conditions, however, along with military force, other forms, methods, and means are playing an increasingly important role.

Experts in the sociology of war assert that wars of the old type are becoming a thing of the past, and wars of a new type are becoming dominant and require new forces and assets, as well as the development of adaptive strategies and tactics.1 According to scholars and experts on modern conflicts, hybrid wars have become the most common form of conflict of the 21st century, characterized by a complex structure and the potential connectivity of various threats and challenges.

The Russian Federation and most countries of post-Soviet Eurasia view hybrid warfare as a threat to national security aimed at undermining state sovereignty and independence, territorial integrity, and, as a consequence, agency in the modern system of international relations. Considering the cross-border nature of a number of threats that belong to the traditional threat category (proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, armed violence, terrorist activity, illegal migration, illegal trafficking of drugs and weapons, threats to biological security, etc.), as well as hybrid threats themselves, experts state that regional security is also vulnerable.

Given that collective security systems remain the most sought-after effective tools for maintaining stability at the regional level, these structures are receiving increased attention in the context of countering hybrid threats. Post-Soviet Eurasia is increasingly becoming an arena of hybrid confrontation; it is one of the key theaters of military operations in the context of the geopolitical confrontation between the West and Russia. And the Collective Security Treaty Organization undoubtedly has a special role to play here.

This article is an invitation to a discussion, given that the term “hybrid warfare” is still on its way to full inclusion in scientific discourse, and the presence of this term in the strategic planning documents of modern states is limited. At the same time, experience shows that the gap between practice and theory in critical situations can have extremely negative consequences, especially when it comes to such a sensitive area as international security.

Hybrid Warfare as a Specific Type of Conflict Interaction

RECENT scientific research shows that hybrid warfare is considered a problem of international relations, and a special scientific discourse is being formed in which various approaches are emerging to the study of hybrid warfare issues and to patterns of the transformation of the institution of war in the context of globalization and changes in the foreign policy behavior of key world actors in the formation of a polycentric world order.

Most often, the phenomenon of hybrid warfare as a type of conflict interaction is considered from the conflictological perspective of studying international politics. Hence, the main methodological approaches used in political analysis are also used to study hybrid warfare. However, with the formation of a special discourse, political science approaches and methods of studying wars and conflicts were adapted somewhat, and specific methodological approaches2 were developed – for example, a cluster of concepts of “just wars,” the concept of the “responsibility to protect,” etc.

The notion of “hybrid warfare,” widely used in expert circles, has only recently begun to be used in science vocabulary and has been conceptualized, over the past few years, primarily in the military and intelligence communities. Many authors, however, point to the ambiguity of this concept and its “non-operational nature.”3 To this day, there is still a very wide range of controversial and unresolved issues concerning both substantive and purely functional aspects of hybrid warfare.

As an object of interest of international affairs specialists, hybrid warfare is a product of the integration of scientific-theoretical and purely applied models, technologies, and solutions, with all these areas mutually enriching and complementing each other. It is important to note that initially the concept of “hybrid warfare” was firmly embedded in the context of sabotage and terrorist activity. Later, these terms and concepts were projected onto other forms of armed conflicts. Today, the specificity of hybrid warfare permits active use of relevant sections of historical knowledge ranging from the Great Game (essentially, a model of conflict interaction between the Russian and British empires in the 19th and early 20th centuries) to specific technologies of propaganda and counter-propaganda operations.4

On the other hand, when analyzing the characteristic features of hybrid confrontation, it is important to bear in mind that the very practice of organizing and implementing military actions of this type integrates solutions that have become available and possible due to the development of new technologies (especially information and communication technologies), the appropriate design of the communicative space, the organization of the information field, etc.

The incorporation of developments related to hybrid warfare into NATO and US strategic planning documents began a decade and a half ago. Back in the 2000s, NATO’s Strategic Research Command discussed the difficulties of implementing deterrence tasks across the entire spectrum within the framework of traditional concepts, given that the theaters of military operations extend beyond the North Atlantic. Alliance analysts believed that new technologies and techniques should be applied in such a situation. However, in the 2000s and 2010s, this was more related to terrorist threats, while in the last 10 years, the alliance has considered Eurasian powers – Russia and China – the key threats.

In this regard, of particular interest is an approach that describes a special paradigm for understanding the system of international relations. Under this approach, hybrid warfare is an American strategy whose main latent goal is to prevent the formation of a multipolar system of international relations by externally provoking identity conflicts (ethnic, religious, regional, political, etc.) in a target country that is in a state of transition. The targets of the American hybrid warfare strategy, along with new centers of power like Russia and China, are integration projects where Moscow and Beijing act as central elements or nuclei.5

Indeed, an analysis of US strategic documents shows that Washington considers hybrid warfare methods to be in demand for the coming decades, so it is necessary to develop a special strategy to mobilize the necessary resources on a national scale, taking into account the multidimensional nature of hybrid influence. This circumstance cannot be ignored by the states of post-Soviet Eurasia and Eurasian integration associations, including the CSTO.

Hybrid Warfare: The Problem of Identifying Aggression

IN RECENT years, international relations specialists increasingly see the obsolescence of classical treaty formats and the need to search for new formats of interaction among the agents of world politics. This is caused primarily by numerous and already systematic instances of noncompliance with the norms of international law in general and increasingly frequent events related to the violation of multilateral and bilateral interstate treaties. The problem is that international law is increasingly violated by international actors who in the eyes of the world majority continue to be associated with the bulwark of democracy and legality.

Thus, the policy of unilateral action adopted by the US and a number of other international actors, which provides, in particular, for the possibility of ignoring the decisions of the UN Security Council, places additional strain on the system of international law, especially security law, and creates conditions for the return of practices associated with the so-called “might makes right.” The most popular tool of such a policy is coalition actions, which include steps to legitimize de facto aggressive acts of the violation of state sovereignty of a particular country.

These steps are carried out in various areas at once (the so-called “hybrid spectrum”) – in the area of the deformation of existing international law, in areas related to influence on public consciousness, and in the field of covert diplomacy and exerting pressure on political elites. Used together, these strategies are aimed at bringing entire regions under geopolitical control – for example, the American concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) – which has a destructive effect on international security.

The increasingly wide use of hybrid actions makes state sovereignty and the principle of the inviolability of borders increasingly vulnerable. The borders of modern states are transparent to hybrid threats: Aggression implemented using hybrid tools is not recognized as an act of aggression or a “war of aggression” under current international law, although its aims and the modern tools it uses, as well as their scale of impact, are aimed at destroying sovereignty and weakening and dismantling the supporting structures of statehood, and they are capable of achieving those goals.

During the implementation of hybrid threats, a violation of sovereignty is difficult to detect based on prevailing ideas about an “act of aggression.” And even if a hybrid threat is recognized by a state, the latter inevitably faces the problem of authenticating the fact of aggression, since the basic definition of this category contained in the UN Charter generally refers to conventional actions, not hybrid ones. In this regard, the world community is currently facing the task of updating the basic categories and concepts used in the norms of international law and international political discourse to take into account hybrid threats – e.g., concepts such as “war,” “peace,” “threat to peace,” and “aggression.” It is already quite obvious that the US and its allies have developed mechanisms that allow them to circumvent the logic underlying the creation of the UN Charter in the 1940s. And this in effect creates opportunities for manipulation in this critical area.

Given that the CSTO area of responsibility is a space for potentially large-scale hybrid aggression (hybrid-type operations have been conducted in post-Soviet Eurasia for decades), the organization cannot ignore the growing risks. Thus, the CSTO faces the task of developing the concept and categories of hybrid warfare, taking into account Eurasian specifics in order to effectively counter it (including preventive measures), as well as the methodology for identifying and countering hybrid threats. The most relevant and obvious here is the method of sanctions pressure on the CSTO member states, including the unauthorized transfer of information to third countries about financial and trade arrangements used by Russia’s allies.

In this context, the work of Russian experts related to the study of a form of hybrid impact known as “information terrorism” deserves attention. An urgent task is identifying signs of this phenomenon in the organization’s area of responsibility in order to take preventive counteraction measures.

Experts comment that it would be timely to consider introducing concepts such as “information invasion,” “resource blockade,” “pre-hybrid actions,” etc., which characterize modern hybrid confrontation, into the strategic planning documents of the CSTO and its member states. This would create a legal basis for holding an aggressor country accountable. The documents regulating the force component of hybrid warfare also require clarification – for example, in terms of shifting the focus of punishment for mercenarism from private individuals to states where private military companies that take part in proxy wars, “color revolutions,” etc., are registered.6

Regional Organizations in Hybrid Warfare

IF WE consider hybrid warfare an attribute of global changes in the modern system of international relations and a means for the established center of power (the US) to counteract new and emerging centers of power (China, Russia, Brazil, India, etc.) and their integration projects in order to preserve and maintain dominance (the unipolar structure of the world order), then it should be stated that in the coming decades, hybrid pressure on Eurasian states will increase.

According to Russian experts, hybrid warfare methods include political pressure in the international arena; economic sanctions; information warfare; cyber warfare; intelligence activities in the enemy’s territory; sponsorship of the opposition, separatists,7 and terrorist organizations; and actions aimed at increasing the crime level (e.g., drug and arms trafficking, human trafficking, involvement of minors in criminal business, etc.).8 At the same time, experts on national and international security do not rule out that in the foreseeable future, other hybrid actions may be used that will be quite difficult to identify and against which it will be hard to quickly develop and apply countermeasures.

The most striking example of hybrid actions reflecting the geopolitical logic of the US’s behavior toward Russia is Washington’s policy in the post-Soviet space, which has traditionally been part of Russia’s sphere of influence. A series of events that in the public and political consciousness are associated with regime change in a number of post-Soviet states in Europe, the Caucasus, and Asia, are characteristic of the US line toward the complete neutralization of Russia’s influence in the newly independent Eurasian states.

These events are most often defined in the Russian scientific literature as “color revolutions.” In fact, “color revolutions” are tactical-level operations within the US geopolitical strategy and one of the most popular methods of the West’s hybrid warfare against Russia. The purpose of such operations is to replace ruling regimes with those controlled by the West and capable of finishing the fragmentation of the post-Soviet space by breaking all ties with the integration core – i.e., Russia.9

Such operations can be based on different scenarios: from soft (“velvet”), with a legitimate transfer of power, to hard, including by military force, when soft scenarios fail.10 Indirect confirmation of the operability of this approach is provided by open publications of US think tanks. For example, in the sensational 2019 RAND Corporation report “Extending Russia: Competing from Advantageous Ground,”11 the US military leadership is recommended to implement the following measures in a hybrid war with Russia in the post-Soviet space: provide lethal aid to Ukraine; promote regime change in Belarus; exploit tensions in the South Caucasus; reduce Russian influence in Central Asia; and challenge the Russian presence in Moldova.

Such recommendations are accompanied in the report by recommendations to deploy weapons to Europe, increase support for Syrian militants, take measures to move tactical nuclear weapons to the borders of the Russian Federation, relocate US fleets, etc. According to RAND Corporation analysts, all these actions should have a synergistic effect and, as a result, lead to Russia’s breakdown, a permanent domestic crisis, a sharp reduction in its sphere of influence, and a decline in its international prestige.

In the context of hybrid warfare, regional organizations find themselves in a more difficult position compared to nation states. If a state identifies and records an act of aggression, the UN Charter gives it the right to take defensive action. And in general, in practice, a state has sufficient freedom of action to neutralize certain effects of hybrid influence – in the informational, ideological, spiritual, and other fields. These actions can be quite successful, especially when the ruling elite is monolithic and supports the policy of the political leadership. Then, administrative decisions are implemented relatively quickly, and the time factor in counter-hybrid actions is often of key importance.

For regional international organizations, the possibilities in such cases are limited: As a rule, decisions are made by consensus, and often, when the threat is not as obvious as a conventional threat, consensus is extremely difficult to reach. Moreover, in the case of a “color revolution” in a particular country, its neighbors, fearing the consequences (for example, the development of a similar scenario on their own territory, deterioration of relations with the West, sanctions, etc.), typically deem it an internal affair of that particular country.

The past 35 years have seen plenty of examples in political practice that confirm this thesis. And even a series of “color revolutions” in a particular region that led to bloody conflicts, systemic instability on a regional scale, and the aggravation of long-standing tensions failed to result in the development of a unified position within a relevant regional system of collective security or a general regional international organization whose functions include safeguarding security. In particular, this includes the series of “Arab Spring” events related to regime change in Egypt and Tunisia, and the reaction of the Arab League to those events.

Remarkably, the very organizations that constitute regional collective security systems find themselves the target of hybrid actions if the core of an organization is an adversary of the US in hybrid warfare. The CSTO finds itself in such a position. Repeated publications in the Western media, as well as materials published in the pro-Western media of its member states, are intended to form an opinion that the organization is weak, ineffective, and will invariably soon collapse. The most trivial bits of information gleaned from the organization’s area of responsibility are used to make that case.

It is important to note here that the collective West often uses what Russia and its CSTO allies regard as the organization’s indisputable advantage to carry out hybrid actions against the organization. This refers to a “soft alliance” and the absence of what the West calls “bloc discipline.” For example, none of Russia’s allies in the CSTO has recognized Crimea as Russian territory or taken part in the Special Military Operation [in Ukraine]. These issues have never been on the organization’s agenda. And Russia’s allies appreciate this “soft” approach, as most of them continue to implement a so-called “multivector policy.” Russia, in turn, respects the sovereignty of its allies and their right to choose their foreign policy partners and understands the fear of becoming a target of the sanctions policy of the West, etc. However, in the eyes of the US, a “soft alliance” represents a vulnerability of this regional system of collective security and actually acts as a factor provoking aggressive hybrid actions.

Potential of the CSTO to Combat Hybrid Threats

MANY of the aforementioned methods of hybrid warfare, which can perhaps already be defined as quite traditional, have been the subject of attention of the CSTO. The ongoing transformations of many hybrid threats are monitored by the organization’s analysts, and means of neutralizing them are proposed. The organization’s political and diplomatic tools, a priority, are being fully implemented, and the system of military cooperation is being strengthened with a focus on responding to crisis situations and countering challenges and threats (terrorism, religious extremism, illegal migration, illegal narcotic drugs and arms trafficking, threats to biological security,12 emergencies, etc.).

Efforts are constantly being made to improve the decision-making process for the most effective implementation of CSTO principles and priorities. Currently, the Organization’s Secretariat, together with member states, is preparing a CSTO Development Concept that focuses on hybrid warfare issues.

Experts working in the CSTO’s member states are certainly aware of the potential of hybrid threats. Scientific and expert communities in the member countries analyze the mechanisms of hybrid actions and their consequences. Algorithms are being developed to effectively ward off hybrid threats; research is based on the accumulated experience and knowledge of the specifics of each country, and new approaches are being studied.13 In the case of the CSTO itself, it seems fair to say that the CSTO needs a proactive strategic approach to interacting with geopolitical opponents that is aimed at actively changing the geopolitical reality, including project-oriented and counter-hybrid activities. Of great importance is coordination among the CSTO member states to develop a pertinent proactive agenda that takes into consideration the hybrid security threats that exist in the organization’s area of responsibility.

Raising awareness of the CSTO’s activities among the populations of the organization’s member states and post-Soviet Eurasian neighbors through outreach and educational activities could be one way to create a basis for cooperation on political and military security at all levels. Formats containing elements of public diplomacy, such as summer schools for experts and journalists, advanced training courses, and modules as part of master’s and postgraduate degree programs, may be in high demand.

Additional efforts are needed to upgrade the strategic, partnership, and allied relations with international organizations such as the Union State [of Russian and Belarus], the CIS, SCO, EAEU, APEC, and BRICS; to expand the number of the organization’s member states and partner countries; and to strengthen mechanisms for ensuring collective security based on the policy of expanding the common security space.

It also seems important to develop an approach to using the nongovernmental sector to strengthen the organization’s position and its role in Eurasia. The development of systematic relations with nongovernmental organizations, businesses, and educational, scientific, and awareness-raising organizations can have a significant impact amid heightened social demand for security.

Among the efforts aimed at strengthening the position of the CSTO in Eurasia, it seems appropriate to conceptualize the category of “security space” in order to make this concept a component of the organization’s system of principles and priorities. Perhaps we should also reflect on the conceptualization of the formula of “safe power” as a universal tool for giving substance to communication with current and potential allies and broadcasting to geopolitical opponents in the process of interaction.

The CSTO’s proactivity could become the projection of “safe power” based on the same working principle of attractiveness that is also characteristic of the Western concept of “soft power.” This approach would contrast with the use of the concept of “hard power” by the West, where the latter easily violates international law to satisfy its own geopolitical and military-political interests. Studies show that the creation of the concept of “safe power” and its projection in areas of interest can help enhance integration processes, strengthen and expand strategic alliances, and transition to the aforementioned new type of security space, which is sorely needed globally in the era of hybrid wars.14

The CSTO could also boost its image by serving as a mediator in the international political and diplomatic field. Mediation remains one of the most sought-after crisis resolution tools that allows a mediator to increase their international prestige.

* * *

AN ANALYSIS of the international environment and political and military situation points to the presence of multiple, often multidirectional trends in international security: competition, rivalry and cooperation, integration, and disintegration processes; the instability of economic and political development processes; the development of private military initiatives and the expansion of their use; the increase in the use of force in world politics; the growth of the “threat intensity” of separate regions and the world as a whole; and the “hybridization” of threats and the increasingly active use of hybrid methods of military-political confrontation.

Virtually all of the above trends can be observed in the CSTO’s area of responsibility. The experience, described by experts, of using hybrid warfare methods and technologies in the post-Soviet Eurasian space allows us to consider this space a theater of military operations in the hybrid war of the collective West against Russia and to declare the emergence of threats to regional security in the CSTO area of responsibility.

Moreover, the organization itself is becoming a target of hybrid aggression, which requires a flexible and appropriate response. The CSTO is currently facing the need to develop fundamentally new effective mechanisms for preventing and neutralizing hybrid threats. A theoretical study of the set of problems related to hybrid impact implies the subsequent reflection of specific formulas and concepts in strategic documents of both the CSTO and its member states. This will facilitate the development of common approaches to countering hybrid threats and strengthening regional security.


1 Creveld Martin van. The Transformation of War. Free Press. 1991; Hoffman F. Conflict in the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid Wars. 2007; Kaldor M. New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era. 3rd ed. Oxford: Wiley. 2013; Kilcullen D. The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One. Oxford University Press. 2009; Williamson M., Mansoor P.R. Hybrid Warfare: Fighting Complex Opponents from the Ancient World to the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2012, etc.

2 Sovremennaya politicheskaya nauka. Metodologiya: Nauchnoye izdaniye. Ed. O.V. Goman-Golutvina, A.I. Nikitin. 2nd ed., revised and expanded. Moscow: “Aspekt-Press,” 2020, p. 653.

3 Chizhevsky Ya.A. “Razvitiye voenno-politicheskogo diskursa: predstavlyayem neologizmy ‘asimmetrichny konflikt’ i ‘gibridnaya voyna,’ ” Politicheskaya nauka, No. 2 (2016), pp. 269-283.

4 Carr E. The Twenty Years’ Crisis. London: Palgrave. 2001, pp. 120-130.

5 Korybko A. Hybrid Wars: The Indirect Adaptive Approach to Regime Change. Moscow: Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia. 2015.

6 Maksimov A.S., Kharitonova N.I. “Vzaimodeystviye Rossii s klyuchevymi geopoliticheskimi opponentami v usloviyakh gibridnoy voyny: kompleksny strategichesky podkhod,” Gosudarstvennoye upravleniye. Elektronnyj vestnik, No. 95 (2022), p. 118.

7 Kodaneva S.I. “ ‘Gibridnye ugrozy’ bezopasnosti Rossii: vyyavleniye i protivodeystviye,” Kontury globalnykh transformatsiy: politika, ekonomika, parvo, Vol. 13, No. 2 (2020), pp. 46-47.

8 Panova A.V. Natsionalnoye soznaniye i pravosoznaniye v usloviyakh informatsionnoy ekonomiki. Vladimir: Arkaim, 2019.

9 Maksimov A.S. “Spetsifika ispolzovaniya metodov i tekhnologiy gibridnoy voyny na postsovetskom prostranstve,” Etnosotsium i mezhnatsionalnaya kultura, No. 5 (155) (2021), pp. 69-70.

10 Ibid.

11 “Extending Russia: Competing from Advantageous Ground,” RAND Corporation, 2019, (retrieved on January 12, 2024).

12 Kharitonova N.I. “Amerikanskaya ‘bioPRO’ – element biologicheskogo terrorizma,” / N.I. Kharitonova, Nauchno-prakticheskiy byulleten Natsionalnogo antiterroristicheskogo komiteta, Vol. 49, No. 1 (2018), pp. 211-224.

13 Sidorov A. “Russia and the West After the SMO: A New Level of Confrontation,” International Affairs, Vol. 70, No. 1 (2024), pp. 105-117.

14 see [6], pp. 108-123.