Policy Brief

Foreign Policy Program
February 2015

Summary: This brief describes
current and historic thinking
about hybrid warfare, arguing
that hybrid tactics are not as
new as it often may seem. Based
on Estonia’s example, this brief
outlines some counter-action
activities that can be initiated
at the national level. Finally, it
suggests action NATO could take
against the hybrid threat during
the time between the summits in
Wales and Warsaw in 2014 and

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Nothing New in Hybrid Warfare:
The Estonian Experience and
Recommendations for NATO
by Merle Maigre

Russia’s actions in Ukraine have
reshaped the European security
debate. Far more attention is being
paid to different types of warfare, to
the role and credibility of international organizations including NATO,
and to the resilience of frontline
states. Understanding Moscow’s
military thinking of “hybrid warfare”
helps to interpret the Kremlin’s plans
and policy regarding Ukraine and
provides a useful framework within
which to think about the current
European security architecture more
What is “hybrid warfare?” How is
it being initiated and how can it be
stopped? Or, as the 51st Munich Security Conference puts it, “Who is ready
for hybrid warfare?” What countermeasures can be taken at national
level? What tools can NATO use
against hybrid warfare? These issues
are important when considering both
how to maintain a sharp edge in this
area at the national and multinational
levels, and how to strengthen security
along NATO’s eastern border.
This brief describes current and
historic thinking about hybrid
warfare, arguing that hybrid tactics

are not as new as it often may seem.
Based on Estonia’s example, this
brief outlines some counter-action
activities that can be initiated at the
national level. Finally, it suggests
action NATO could take against the
hybrid threat during the time between
the summits in Wales and Warsaw in
2014 and 2016.
What is Hybrid Warfare?
A hybrid threat is a characteristic
of situations where the “adversary
[is] employing complex and violent
combinations,” a definition developed
by the U.S. Marine Corps about a
decade ago.1 According to the chief
of staff of the United States Army,
General Raymond T. Odierno, hybrid
warfare means “operating in environments with both regular military
and irregular paramilitary or civilian
adversaries, with the potential for
terrorism, criminality, and other
complications.”2 In other words, both
state and non-state actors together in
a war theater.

1 Frank Hoffmann, “On Not-So-New Warfare: Political
Warfare vs Hybrid Threats,” War on the Rocks, July 28,
2014, http://warontherocks.com/2014/07/on-not-sonew-warfare-political-warfare-vs-hybrid-threats/.
2 Ibid.

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Policy Brief
The concept of “hybrid warfare” goes back far beyond a
decade, with military history including numerous examples
of a combination of regular and irregular forms of warfare.
The ancient Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu celebrated war as
the art of cunning. In the 1920s, the Soviet military developed a concept of “masked warfare” (maskirovka), which
included various active and passive measures designed
to deceive the enemy and influence the opinion-making
process in the West. The notorious Soviet intelligence
official Pavel Sudoplatov, who served in the KGB for over
50 years, recalled how the Soviet intelligence’s secretive Administration for Special Tasks was responsible for
kidnapping, assassination, sabotage, and guerrilla warfare,
and how it set up networks during World War II in the
United States and Western Europe.3 The Soviet invasion in
Afghanistan in 1979 began with hybrid tactics when 700
Soviet troops dressed in Afghan uniforms seized key military and administrative buildings in Kabul.

legitimize Russia’s traditional, KGB-style influence operations.” 4
Hybrid tactics were employed by the Soviets in an attempt
to overthrow the government of independent Estonia on
December 1, 1924. Back then, assault groups organized by
the Soviet intelligence officers, together with underground
Estonian communists, attempted to seize power and to
subsequently invite regular troops of the Red Army to enter
Estonia “for help.” It is known that Soviet naval vessels were
ready to attack Tallinn from the sea. A few days before
the attempted coup d’état, Soviet conscripts were called in
for a training exercise near the Estonian border.5 The aim
was to establish communist power in Estonia and soon
after to incorporate the country into the Soviet Union. The
plan was to occupy Tallinn’s strategic locations, government institutions, military facilities, and communications
networks. Subsequently, through cooperation with local
Communists, Estonia was to “voluntarily” become part
of the Soviet Union. The attempted coup was initially
successful, but then, the Estonian government declared a
state of emergency. The expected support from the local
communist workers did not materialize, and the revolt was
crushed the same day.6 This failed coup in Estonia was a
part of a series of attempts to overthrow European governments, including the government of Bulgaria (September
1923), and Germany (October 1923).7

In its 2012 annual review, the Estonian Kaitsepolitsei (KaPo
or Security Police, officially known as the Estonian Internal
Security Service in English) provides the following explanation about the current hybrid tactics used by Russian
special services, and compares it to KGB-style operations:
“[Russian soft power operation] activities are aimed at
changing another country’s target group’s (such as state
authorities, voters, or the media) decisions, behavior, and
attitudes . . . This includes diplomacy, information, military
power, economic influence, covert operations by special
services as well as any other means of gaining influence
including offering money . . . These new concepts and
wordings are nothing more than attempts to hide and

More recently, the term “hybrid warfare” as used extensively by the Russian media stems from two distinctive
articles, one by Putin’s advisor Vladislav Surkov and the
other by Russian Chief of the General Staff Army General
Valeriy Gerasimov.8 Surkov, in a piece published in March
2014, coined the term “non-linear” warfare, marking a
“new” trend in Russian military operations. The main takeaway is that while it was common in the “primitive” wars of
the 19th and 20th centuries for just two states to fight, the
world had now entered a situation of all against all in the
non-linear war.9

The Soviet invasion in Afghanistan
in 1979 began with hybrid tactics
when 700 Soviet troops dressed

4 Annual Review 2012, Internal Security Service, 2012, pp 7-8.
5 Tiit Pruuli (Ed.), Detsembrimäss. Aprillimäss (Tallinn: Eetriüksus, 2008), pp 59-62.

in Afghan uniforms seized key

6 Ibid, pp 6-7.
7 Jaan Lepp “Kommentaar: 1. detsembri aasta,” Estonian World Review, January 9,
2009, http://www.eesti.ca/?op=article&articleid=22421.

military and administrative

8 Roger McDermott, “Myth and Reality — A Net Assessment of Russia’s ‘Hybrid Warfare’
Strategy Since the Start of 2014,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, The Jamestown Foundation,
October 17, 2014, http://www.jamestown.org/programs/edm/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_

buildings in Kabul.

9 Frank Hoffman, “On Not-So-New Warfare.” For more, see also Yuliya Komska, “Can
the Kremlin’s Bizarre Sci-Fi Stories Tell Us What Russia Really Wants?” Pacific Standard,
April 15, 2014, http://www.psmag.com/navigation/books-and-culture/can-kremlinsbizarre-sci-fi-stories-tell-us-russia-really-wants-78908.

3 Pavel Sudoplatov, Special Tasks (Boston: Back Bay Books, 1995), Introduction.


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Policy Brief
The Russian military’s thinking of

In his February 2013 article, Gerasimov described how
armed conflicts have adopted new military methods,
or “new generation warfare,” whereby military action is
started by groups of troops during peacetime without war
being officially declared and where non-contact clashes
occur between highly maneuverable interspecific fighting
groups with the overall goal of defeating the enemy’s
military and economic power by short-term precise strikes
aimed at strategic military and civilian infrastructure.10
The original term used in Gerasimov’s article is also “nonlinear” warfare. Gerasimov makes references to Russian
thinking on the future of warfare as well as to efforts to
bolster military science and the domestic defense industry.
A dominant theme in his discourse is the interest in both
network-centric and non-linear warfare, ideas prevalent
in the Russian Armed Forces reform launched in 2008 and
the subsequent military modernization to be completed by

hybrid warfare has, in its entirety,
been put in practice in Ukraine
over the past year.
a transition in the use of special forces (spetsnaz) to a more
clearly defined combat-based rather than reconnaissancebased role.12 It also seemed to rehearse Russia’s evolving
rapid reaction force.
Just as in Estonia in 1924, the actual use of Russian troops
within Ukraine amounted to a relatively small force,
compared to the high-readiness combined-arms units
stationed close to the border. Massing conventional armed
forces on the border was intended to impose political
pressure, intimidate, and complicate decision-making in
the state under attack. Additionally, “snap” exercises were
conducted in the border area.

The Russian military’s thinking of hybrid warfare has, in its
entirety, been put in practice in Ukraine over the past year.
A combination of regular and irregular forces, economic
sanctions, energy blockades, political destabilization, information warfare, financial pressure, and cyber-attacks have
all been employed in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
Exerting influence over local population groups or
Russian-speakers in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine has been
used to undermine their support for the central government and to promote divisions within Ukraine. Russia’s
deployment all these elements in near perfect coordination
has been impressive.

As it was suggested in a recent study by the NATO Defense
College, “Snap exercises or snap inspections, formerly
used during the Soviet period, were reintroduced in 2013
and have been carried out eight times since then.”13 While
having little effect in terms of actual improvement in military capacity, they have given the Kremlin an opportunity
to demonstrate its force and prepare a military intervention in its neighborhood, wherever and whenever needed.
For example, in April, Russia conducted a snap inspection in the Central Military District, which involved more
than 65,000 troops, 177 planes, 56 helicopters, and 5,500
vehicles and armored vehicles. The military units were
ready for deployment within 72 hours.14 As Heather Conley
and Caroline Rohloff claim in their study about challenges
in the Nordic-Baltic region after Crimea, “Altogether, in
the snap exercises conducted in March and April 2014,
over 150,000 forces in the Western and Southern Military
Districts were mobilized. For comparison, NATO’s first

Russia’s actions have ranged from the use of “polite people”
— Putin’s euphamism used for a new special forces mix
in Crimea — to high-profile “humanitarian convoys” and
threats of full-scale invasion by combined-arms units in
the Donbas region, mixed with an intensive information
campaign to destabilize Ukraine and combat the West’s
narrative of the conflict. Professional soldiers in uniforms
without insignia were deployed in March in Crimea and
in April in the Donbas area, while Russian special forces
coordinated with indigenous separatists and seized administrative buildings. Annexation of Crimea seemed to mark
10 Валерий Герасимов, “Новые вызовы требуют переосмыслить формы и способы
ведения боевых действий,” Военно-промышленный курьер, Voenno-Promyshlennyi
Kurier, No. 8 (476), February 27, 2013, http://www.vpk-news.ru/articles/14632. For
a specific discussion, see also Janis Berzins, “Russia’s New Generation Warfare in
Ukraine: Implications for Latvian Defense Policy,” National Defence Academy of Latvia,
Center for Security and Strategic Research, April 2014, http://www.naa.mil.lv/~/media/

12 Ibid.
13 Heidi Reisinger and Aleksandr Golts, “Russia’s Hybrid Warfare: Waging War below
the Radar of Traditional Collective Defence,” NATO Defense College, Research Paper
No. 105, November 2014, p 4, http://www.ndc.nato.int/download/downloads.
14 Ibid., p 3.

11 Roger McDermott, “Myth and Reality.”


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Policy Brief
The purpose of Russia’s hybrid

collective defense exercise in Central and Eastern Europe
in 2013, Steadfast Jazz, consisted of 6,000 NATO troops.”15

attacks is to pressure, influence,

Estonia’s own more recent experience with a conflict of a
hybrid nature occurred when the Estonian government
decided to relocate the Bronze Soldier statue from central
Tallinn to a military cemetery outside the city in April
2007. This was followed by riots in Tallinn, a siege of the
Estonian Embassy in Moscow by pro-Kremlin Nashi youth
organization demonstrators, strong economic measures
imposed by Russia against Estonia, waves of cyber-attacks
against the Estonian government and banking systems, and
a fiery official Russian response.16

and destabilize another country
without necessarily conducting
territorial grabs.
military doctrine, and capabilities all present a wider threat
to the security in Euroatlantic area. This requires decisive counter-action and a clear division of roles between
a country under attack, frontline states and other allies,
NATO, the European Union, and the United Nations.

Russia’s actions in and around Ukraine have reinforced
the notion that the security environment in Europe is
becoming increasingly unpredictable. The purpose of
Russia’s hybrid attacks is to pressure, influence, and destabilize another country without necessarily conducting
territorial grabs. None of these components is new to
Europe, but Europe’s vulnerability to them is acute. It is
the combination and orchestration of different actions that
achieves a surprise effect and creates ambiguity, making
an adequate reaction difficult, especially for multinational
organizations that operate on the principle of consensus.
As the senior analyst at the European Union Institute for
Security Studies, Nicu Popescu maintains, hybrid war
is dangerous because “it is easy and cheap to launch for
external aggressors, but costly in various ways for the

Counter-Action by Estonia
It has been well known in Estonia for years that Russia
possesses various hybrid capabilities; it is also now clear
that Russia has the political will to use them. What are the
possible implications of these hybrid warfare trends for the
national defense planners and policy professionals in the
Baltic region? Above all, it is important to recognize that
national governments have the primary role to deter and
defend against traditional and hybrid threats, as well as to
cooperate and coordinate both bilaterally and with international organizations such as NATO, the European Union,
and the United Nations. Drawing from Estonia’s experience, quick implementation of a number of counter-action
activities against hybrid warfare would benefit a nationallevel defense.

Hybrid warfare, or the “non-linear warfare” as outlined
by Gerasimov, is but one of many of the Kremlin’s modus
operandi. It is not new, nor is it a unique strategy to the
Russian military. Other methods may include the threat of
using nuclear weapons, deployment of massive amounts
of conventional heavy weapons, and creating frozen
conflicts as means of pressure. Moscow’s strategic aims,

Improving Early Warning Systems and Situational
Estonia needs to be able to see clearly what is happening,
in both literal and figurative terms. The earlier there are
indications about the adversary’s objectives, the better.
Major questions here are at what level of detail would the
Estonian authorities be looking? How can Allies support
each other with intelligence sharing? How does data get
analyzed? And do intelligence reports play an important
role in strategic decision-making?

15 Heather Conley and Caroline Rohloff, “Challenges to the Nordic-Baltic Region after
Crimea as seen from Washington,” in Daniel Hamilton, Advancing U.S.-Nordic-Baltic
Security Cooperation, Center for Transatlantic Relations, The Paul H. Nitze School
of Advance International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, 2014, p 97, http://
16 For more research on Russia’s soft power and non-military influence in the Baltics,
see Mike Winnerstig (ed.) “Tools of Destabilisation. Russian Soft Power and Non-military
Influence in the Baltic states,” Swedish Defence Research Agency, December 2014,
http://www.foi.se/en/Search/Abstract/?rNo=FOI-R--3990--SE, and Gatis Pelnens (ed.),
The “Humanitarian Dimension” of Russian Foreign Policy towards Georgia, Moldova,
Ukraine and the Baltic States, (Riga: Centre for East European Policy Studies, 2009).

Strengthening National Defense Capabilities
The Estonian armed forces should continue to develop
defense capabilities in order to be able to quickly react in

17 Nicu Popescu, “Hybrid Tactics: Neither New Nor Only Russian,” European Union
Institute for Security Studies, January 2015, http://www.iss.europa.eu/uploads/media/


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Policy Brief
times of crisis and to count on substantial firepower. Only
interoperable and sustainable forces, which are equipped,
trained, and have proper command and control systems in
place, can make a difference. In order to increase readiness,
national units need regular training. This training should
feature a range of complex contingencies and engage the
military and civil authorities, as well as the private sector.
Such exercises should be designed to test command and
control systems and evaluate whether relevant infrastructure is adequate. Exercises are also the best and most
realistic way to train local staff, which will be critical for
the effective use of host nation support facilities, such as
airfields, ports, and depots. Exercises increase situational
awareness and improve civil-military cooperation and

must ensure continuity of leadership. As a crisis deepens,
the responsibility of every government agency should
change as little as possible in order to avoid complex and
risky transitions. National authorities have to act prudently
and, when necessary, not hesitate to raise the military alert
level. In order to practice decision-making during quickly
changing modalities, command staff exercises with realistic
threat scenarios should be regularly conducted and engage
political, military and intelligence leaders.

As a crisis deepens, the
responsibility of every government
agency should change as little as

Increasing NATO’s Presence
A sustained multinational presence of Allied forces reinforces the capacity of national forces. National forces
should be engaged in regular exercises with regional Allies
and partners. A number of these steps are already being
carried out as part of the NATO Wales Summit main
deliverable, the Readiness Action Plan that aims to address
a spectrum of contingencies, from hybrid attacks to rapid
mobilization. Estonia, together with Latvia and Lithuania, need to update their Host Nation Support (HNS)
arrangements in the Baltic States to facilitate a rapid Allied
response to any unforeseen and quickly unfolding events.

possible in order to avoid complex
and risky transitions.
Increasing Resilience Against Malicious Propaganda
Estonia needs to improve its resilience against malicious
propaganda while maintaining its media freedom. Of
course, stopping all disinformation at all times is impossible. As Russia’s strategic objectives are not uniform, there
is no universal prescription to counter its actions. The best
way to deal with this challenge is to offer more neutral
information and better analysis at the national level. This
also requires more transparent and trustworthy politicians
and independent opinion leaders who would be able to
explain the policy changes and motives to the wider public,
including the Russian-speaking parts of the society. Additionally, as experts on Russia’s weaponization of information, Peter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss, suggest in
their recent study, “public information campaigns about
how disinformation works are needed to foster more critical thought towards the messages that are being ‘buzzed’ at
the public.”18

Redefining Resources
Estonia should make sure that all national defense plans
are matched with adequate resources. In fact, the current
2 percent of GDP dedicated to defense might even be
too little because the requirements to secure the country
against hybrid threats do not squarely fit under the official
NATO definition of defense spending. In the preliminary
phase of a hybrid crisis, security services, police force,
and the border guard play a crucial role. Where necessary, the Defense Forces and the volunteer National Guard
(Kaitseliit) should be prepared to offer support. All of
these security and defense structures should be adequately
financed. So far, Allies’ individual defense spending on
internal security has no internationally agreed benchmark.
This merits reconsideration in light of hybrid warfare.

Currently, both Latvia and Estonia are developing Russianlanguage media outlets to counter persistent Kremlin disinformation campaigns targeting Russian-speakers — the
Estonian channel could come on air as early as September

Testing Decision-Making Procedures
National strategic political and military decision-making
mechanisms must work without interruption in times of
crisis. The transition from peacetime to a crisis to wartime

18 Peter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss, “The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin
Weaponizes Information, Culture, and Money,” The Interpreter, November 2014, http://


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Policy Brief
2015.19 A recent public opinion poll by the Estonian
Institute of Human Rights found that 38 percent of ethnic
Russians in Estonia would believe Russian state media in
case of conflicting reports between it and Estonian media,
33 percent would believe information from both sides,
and 6 percent would side with Estonian media accounts.20
People’s level of trust toward Russian state media channels
decreased as their income increased, with the lowest trust
among entrepreneurs. A total of 66 percent of respondents
said they would give an Estonian public broadcasting
Russian-language television channel a chance. Interest in
the new Russian-language news channel was higher among
the more educated groups.21

In November 2014, the registered population of Estonia
was 1.35 million. Out of that number, 85,891 (6.5 percent)
were persons with “undetermined” citizenship23 and
92,490 (8.1 percent) are citizens of the Russian Federation. The total number of the Russian-speaking population
in Estonia is 332,816 (approximately 24.6 percent of total
As Kivirähk has said, “the aim of Russia’s efforts to consolidate the Russian-speaking population in Estonia is not to
make them a part of Estonian society, but rather to push
them outside of society and to lead them into confrontation with it.”25 Russia will most likely enhance its interactions with the ethnic Russian communities in Estonia (and
Latvia) so as to weaken the governance and institutional
structures of these two countries. Local tensions and local
militias encourage the Russian minorities to voice their
dissatisfaction with the local political leadership.26 Indeed,
Russian non-governmental organizations, media outlets,
and language initiatives have received substantial funding
from Moscow, especially since 2010.27

As Juhan Kivirähk, a leading Estonian sociologist and an
expert on integration, reminds us, the population arrives
at its views on a large share of issues pertaining to political
processes based on information from trusted information
sources and spokespersons. Thus, public opinion depends
to a significant degree on the current discussions taking
place in a given society as well as on events that have taken

Still, on average, 60 percent of the Russian-speaking
population say that they feel moderately or well integrated
into Estonian society; only 10 percent feel they are not
integrated at all. The majority of Russian-speakers feel that
Estonia is their homeland.28 In June 2014, the Estonian
Parliament passed an amendment making applying for
citizenship easier for young people who, despite not having
a residence permit, have resided in Estonia permanently.29
It is useful to keep in mind that the guarantee of Estonian

Strengthening Social Cohesion and Liberal Democracy
It is critical not to jeopardize liberal democratic values in
the fight against Russian hybrid threats. The best way to
counter Russian diversion is to build stronger social cohesion, make sure that market democracy works, that human
rights and the rule of law are respected, and that government and business stay clear of corruption.

It is critical not to jeopardize

23 The Citizenship Act (of 1992) declared that only the descendants of the citizens of
the pre-World War II Estonian republic would be recognized as citizens of the new country and would automatically receive new Estonian passports. All Soviet-era immigrants
were required to go through the naturalization process in order to obtain citizenship.
Even today, a certain percentage of the people in Estonia, the majority of them Russian
speakers who were born in Estonia to Soviet-era immigrants, have not acquired the
citizenship of any country and thus remain stateless or have “undetermined citizenship.”
(Kristjan Kaldur, Ingi Sutrop, Kristina Kallas, “Political participation of third country nationals on national and local level” Country Report of Estonia 2011, p 3. http://www.ibs.

liberal democratic values in the
fight against Russian hybrid

24 “Citizenship,” Estonia.eu, January 12, 2015, http://estonia.eu/about-estonia/

19 “Government Approves Russian-Language Channel,” Estonian Radio Broadcast,
November 21, 2014, http://news.err.ee/v/politics/2f900ed2-e23c-4dbe-9ba512be9a5d1104.

25 Juhan Kivirähk, “How to address the ‘Humanitarian Dimension of Russian Foreign
policy?’” Diplomaatia, November 2009, http://www.diplomaatia.ee/en/article/how-toaddress-the-humanitarian-dimension-of-russian-foreign-policy/.

20 “Eestis on inimõigused tagatud kõigile, keelest ja rahvusest sõlmumata,” Estonian
Institute of Human Rights, November 19, 2014, http://www.eihr.ee/eestis-oninimoigused-tagatud-koigile-keelest-ja-rahvusest-solmumata/.

26 Reisinger and Golts, “Russia’s Hybrid Warfare,” p 4.
27 Conley and Rohloff, “Challenges to the Nordic-Baltic Region after Crimea as seen
from Washington.”

21 “Only Small Fraction of Russian Speakers Trust Estonian Media, Study Finds,”
Estonian Public Broadcasting, November 21, 2014, http://news.err.ee/v/society/

28 Johan Eellend, “Integration och splittring- Säkerhetspolitiska aspekter på den
ryskspråkiga befolkningens integration i Estland,” Swedish Defence Research Agency,
December 2014, http://foi.se/en/Search/Abstract/?rNo=FOI-R--4004--SE (English
summary: p 4-7).

22 Juhan Kivirähk, “Integrating Estonia’s Russian Speaking Population,” International
Center for Defence and Security, December 2014, http://www.icds.ee/fileadmin/media/
pdf, p 24.

29 “Citizenship,” Estonia.eu.


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security does not lie in a conservative citizenship policy,
but rather with a cohesive state in which people have a
sense of shared identity and solidarity.

Recommendations for NATO
The NATO Wales Summit in September 2014 set a clear
course by reinforcing collective defense as a response to
the new security environment as identified by updated
NATO threat assessments. This included, first and foremost, the Readiness Action Plan (RAP), comprising
long-term measures necessary to respond to the changed
security environment in Europe. It is now important to
translate these decisions into concrete actions ahead of the
next NATO Summit in 2016 in Warsaw. How can the RAP
address the challenges posed by hybrid warfare? How can,
if at all, NATO respond to the undeclared wars below the
threshold of traditional collective defense?

To foster stronger social cohesion, Estonia needs to maintain its focus on supporting regional development, as the
feeling of economic insecurity is connected with a reduced
loyalty to the central government. A low level of economic
development reinforces vulnerability to corruption and
increases the potential of Russian influence. The small
minority of Russian speakers with low income remains
exposed to a targeted campaign by Moscow to manufacture or exploit grievances in order to divide the society.
An effective and pragmatic policy to promote regional
development should be considered a matter of national

Increasing NATO’s Early Warning and Situational
Given the increasing practice of Russian “snap exercises,”
NATO needs to increase its situational awareness. Allies
and willing partners should continue to work on improving
geographical expertise, updating threat assessments, and
facilitating closer intelligence cooperation. The aforementioned assessments must also consider Russia’s political,
economic, and societal influence that may limit independent action and threaten governmental stability.

It is noteworthy that shortly after the annexation of
Crimea, a group of Russian-speaking activists and public
figures in Estonia started a petition titled “Memorandum
14” in support of Estonian sovereignty by strongly
condemning interference in Estonian domestic matters.
According to their statement, the majority of local Russians
wish to resolve issues in Estonia within the constitutional
framework, and condemn separatist statements made in
the name of the local Russian-speaking population. They
claimed that the majority of local Russians wish to live in a
democratic Estonia and need no “protection” from outside

Cooperation Between Special Operations Forces
Another measure that could prove useful is the growing
cooperation among Allied special operations forces (SOF),
reflected in the establishment of the NATO Special Operations Headquarters.32 Intelligence sharing, training, and
education among NATO SOF has the capacity to provide
the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe with a range
of discrete capabilities across the crisis-conflict spectrum,
including special intelligence and engagement with civil

The small minority of Russian
speakers with low income remains
exposed to a targeted campaign

30 Recently, the registered number of unemployed has continued to decline in Estonia.
At the end of July 2014, the unemployment rate was 4.2 percent of the labor force. With
8 percent, the eastern region of Ida-Viru has one of the highest unemployment rates.

Building a Political Rapid Reaction in NATO
Maintaining NATO as a forum for discussing principal
international security policy developments is crucial.
Critical to NATO’s ability to address any of today’s threats
is the ability to rapidly react to emerging contingencies.
What changes need to be made to the political and military
decision-making processes to ensure the required rapid
response capability? As a priority, NATO should — to
the extent possible — define potential elements of hybrid
warfare in order to enable Allies to react quickly when
practical needs arise. In the event of a crisis, political unity

31 “Estonian Russian Speakers Petition Against Separatism,” Estonian Public
Broadcasting, October 4, 2014, http://news.err.ee/v/politics/6b73690d-77b8-4073b942-7636c694e1d6.

32 Idea put forward by Robert Nurick and Steven Flanagan on the sidelines of an
International Centre for Defence and Security Studies conference, Annual Baltic
Conference on Defence 2012, in Tallinn, September 2012.

by Moscow to manufacture or
exploit grievances in order to
divide the society.


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Policy Brief
of NATO facilitates rapid reaction. Moreover, clear political
indicators and metrics would be useful as a mechanism
through which to indicate to the North Atlantic Council
that a response is necessary. NATO should study and
discuss a menu of plausibly effective “hedging” actions —
that is, steps that strike a balance between constructive
responses on one hand, and undue escalation on the other.
There also needs to be a balance between efficiency and

Alliance should build its current discussions and thinking
upon this basis.
Hybrid warfare has its military as well as political side.
There needs to be a clear definition of roles between what
NATO can do and what the frontline states should do
themselves. While it is true that national governments
have the primary role in deterring and defending against
hybrid threats, NATO also has a role to play. The security
of Estonia and the other Baltic States is effectively assured
by the combined effects of national and collective defense
preparations and capabilities, as well as the stability of
Allied governments’ commitment to collective defense.

Beefing Up Strategic Communications
The accreditation of the NATO Strategic Communications
Centre of Excellence in Latvia is an important step forward,
and the momentum should be maintained. NATO Headquarters needs to continue to reinvigorate its own public
diplomacy skills and, where possible, cooperate closely and
share best practices with the EU.
Crisis Management Exercises
NATO should conduct crisis management exercises,
testing the resilience of its civil-military crisis management
mechanisms against hybrid warfare. Experience has shown
that Russia’s snap exercises have taken place faster than the
normal NATO crisis response process. Ambassadors and
NATO’s top officials must also take staff exercises more
seriously and not delegate them to lower level officials.

The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the
views of the author alone.

The hybrid warfare discussion is not new. The Baltic States
have been talking about and warning against Russia’s soft
coercion measures and a “shadow war” for years. As Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute wrote in
the Financial Times, “We spent 20 years telling the Eastern
Europeans that they were paranoid, living in the past, that
they should treat Russia as a normal country. Now it turns
out they were right.”33

About GMF

About the Author
Merle Maigre is a security policy adviser to the president of Estonia.
In 2012-13, she was a Ron Asmus Fellow with The German Marshall
Fund of the United States, and she currently is a non-resident transatlantic fellow with GMF’s Warsaw Office. The opinions expressed in
this article are personal and do not reflect the official positions of the
Republic of Estonia.

The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) strengthens
transatlantic cooperation on regional, national, and global challenges
and opportunities in the spirit of the Marshall Plan. GMF contributes
research and analysis and convenes leaders on transatlantic issues
relevant to policymakers. GMF offers rising leaders opportunities
to develop their skills and networks through transatlantic exchange,
and supports civil society in the Balkans and Black Sea regions by
fostering democratic initiatives, rule of law, and regional cooperation. Founded in 1972 as a non-partisan, non-profit organization
through a gift from Germany as a permanent memorial to Marshall
Plan assistance, GMF maintains a strong presence on both sides of
the Atlantic. In addition to its headquarters in Washington, DC, GMF
has offices in Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, Bucharest, and
Warsaw. GMF also has smaller representations in Bratislava, Turin,
and Stockholm.

This situation is not new for NATO either. Discussions
on emerging security challenges, including cyber defense
and energy security, have been on the Alliance’s agenda for
years. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and its
aftermath represented the first hybrid conflict the Atlantic
Alliance entered in. Extensive debates on emerging security
challenges were held throughout 2009 and 2010 during the
process of drafting NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept. The
33 Jonathan Eyal quoted by President Toomas Hendrik Ilves in a speech delivered at
the Opera House in Helsinki, May 13, 2014, http://www.president.ee/en/official-duties/


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