NATO Joint Statement: We Are Concerned About Hybrid Action Towards Allies

In the last few months, a large number of Russian and foreign secret agents have been operating in NATO countries, especially the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Great Britain, NATO headquarters announced

by Sededin Dedovic
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NATO Joint Statement: We Are Concerned About Hybrid Action Towards Allies
© Sean Gallup / Getty Images

NATO allies are deeply concerned about recent malicious activities on their territory, including those that resulted in the investigation and indictment of several individuals in connection with hostile activities that affect the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the United Kingdom, it was announced from NATO headquarters.

As stated, these incidents are part of an increasingly intensive campaign that Russia continues to conduct throughout the Euro-Atlantic region, including on the territories of NATO members through intermediaries. Calling on Russia to respect its international obligations, NATO members make it clear that Russian actions will not deter allies from continuing to provide support to Ukraine.

NATO solidarity is crucial in maintaining the stability and security of the Euro-Atlantic region. It is emphasized that this includes sabotage, acts of violence, cyber and electronic interference and disinformation campaigns, and NATO allies express deep concern about Russia's hybrid actions, which pose a threat to their security.

"We will work individually and collectively to address these issues and continue to closely coordinate. We will continue to strengthen our resilience and apply and improve the tools at our disposal to counter Russian hybrid actions, and ensure that the Alliance is prepared to defend itself from it," the statement said.

Increased presence of Russian spies in Germany

The German Interior Minister warns of new Moscow efforts to influence public opinion. What is this "hybrid warfare"? How to oppose it? The threat of Russia using cyber attacks, propaganda and other tactics to influence public opinion in Germany is real and it is growing, believes the German Interior Minister, Nancy Faeser.

"The dangers have reached a new level," she told the newspaper "Zideutsche Zeitung". Her warning comes as Germany prepares for elections for the European Parliament in June and elections in three German states to be held in September.

There is growing concern that Moscow will try to garner support for pro-Russian parties, such as the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), before the vote.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (C) and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrive to speak to the media prior to talks at the© Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Germany has long been a target of Russian influence operations.

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, many of these operations have been aimed at undermining support for Ukraine. "Now it's about showing determination and strength in dealing with this and exposing the way the other side operates," says Ruediger von Fritsch, former German ambassador to Moscow and former deputy head of the German foreign intelligence service BND.

Hybrid warfare and its effect

The term "hybrid warfare" describes a complex strategy that combines military tools with unconventional methods ranging from increasing economic pressure to spreading propaganda. This is not a new phenomenon.

For centuries, states have used non-military means to influence public opinion abroad. However, over the past two decades, the rise of the internet and social media has brought a new arsenal of internet weapons: in operations known as "hack-and-leak" operations, hackers gain access to sensitive or confidential information and then strategically release it to the public.

Cyber attacks can also be used to disrupt a country's critical infrastructure, including the machines and software used in elections. At the same time, social media platforms are used to spread fabricated or false information.

"The digital world is a dream come true for intelligence services," says Von Fritsch for DW. Hybrid warfare is often described as a form of "shadow war" that takes place far from the public eye and is never officially declared.

"The concept of hybrid warfare is that you don't notice it's happening at first," Leslie Scheibel, a Russia expert at the Körber Foundation in Hamburg, told DW. In January, the German government announced that it had discovered a coordinated Russian disinformation campaign on the platform X, formerly Twitter.

Before it was shut down, the campaign distributed over a million messages through fake profiles, pushing false or misleading stories, such as the one that aid to war-torn Ukraine neglects local citizens. By spreading such messages on a large number of internet platforms, Russia wants to maximize its visibility and increase its sense of legitimacy.

The goal, experts say, is to widen social divisions, fuel anger and sow distrust in democratic processes and media. "For Russia, spreading doubt is already a success," says Scheibel. While most forms of hybrid warfare remain in the shadows, some operations are deliberately made public.

In early March, the head of the Russian state television RT published a confidential conversation between high-ranking German officers. The affair, known as the "Taurus leak", disgraced the German army and caused diplomatic turmoil.

"But this affair also serves Putin at home," says Maria Sannikova-Frank, who heads the Russia program at the Berlin think tank Center for Liberal Modernity. In the intercepted conversation of German officers, they could be heard discussing possible scenarios of the Russian war in Ukraine.

After the conversation was published, Russian media claimed the recording revealed that the German military was discussing significant and specific plans to attack Russian territory. "The picture he (Putin) wants to create is that Germany and the West are threatening Russia, and he has successfully discovered it," Sannikova-Frank told DW.

"He also successfully diverted attention from the death and burial of Alexei Navalny," she adds. Navalny, who was one of Putin's most outspoken opponents in Russia, died in mid-February at the age of 47 in a penal colony in the Arctic. He was buried on March 1, the same day the intercepted conversation of German officers was released.

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