Russia is interfering in Europe’s internal matters by encouraging “active measures” to destabilize and confuse governments and societies. These are often opportunistic and shaped by local conditions. Moscow, however, does not have a clear overarching strategy other than weakening the EU and NATO and creative a more fitting environment for itself.
This involves a number of tools and actors from military threats via business lobbies and spies to officials and the media. Moreover, Russia pursues different priorities in different countries, which are subject to the correlation between the strength of these countries’ national institutions and their vulnerability to Russian influence. Nevertheless, despite the apparent lack of a grand strategy, there is an effort to coordinate certain actions across platforms. Thus, without giving up hope for convincing the Kremlin to change its policies, Europe must focus on fixing its own vulnerabilities rather than simply hoping that the rain will stop. On top of many other things, this includes addressing democratic deficits in parts of the continent.
The European Union, however, needs to, first and foremost, understand this challenge. It needs to broaden its knowledge of hybrid warfare and invest more in intelligence and effective analysis. Second, it needs to contain the chaos by addressing the counter-intelligence gap. This can be done by agreeing on a minimum level of spending for EU member states, by educating national populations to be more critical of disinformation and by countering democratic deficit across the bloc. Third, the EU should make consistent but asymmetric responses to Russian measures – name and shame individuals behind them and designate Russian organizations acting with hostile intent as “foreign agents”.
Understanding how the Kremlin’s ‘controlled chaos’ works is challenging because the Russians themselves are not following any playbook, but rather improvising and seizing opportunities. Nonetheless, the key to a successful Europe-wide response is to comprehend better how it works. One of the biggest challenges is precisely to find out which activities are local or department initiatives and which are being coordinated from Moscow.
Europe’s current democratic deficits, internal tensions and anti-system moods all make it vulnerable to Russian influence. Europe needs to work hard on minimizing these in an age of hybrid war and go beyond its overdue efforts to spend enough on conventional military security and take a more serious and comprehensive line on defense. Moreover, spending on counter-intelligence varies from country to country, which affects not just national but also continent-wide security.
Those countries that are most at risk are largely characterized by weak or weakening institutions, and low levels of trust in their national and/or European governance. Moscow eagerly exploits these sentiments, but cannot create them. Thus, dealing with them ought to be considered a security priority, not just a political issue. Russia’s active engagement in European internal affairs can be characterized by bottom-up active measures from a variety of factors. Many of these initiatives come to nothing or simply diffuse but they still represent low-level tactic with which the Russians are trying to jam Western public and political discourse.
‘Controlling Chaos: How Russia Manages its Political War in Europe’ – Analysis by Mark Galeotti – European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).