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Hybrid warfare in Western Balkans

Hybrid Challenges in Western Balkans

Key words:

Hybrid War, Influence Operations, Gerasimov Doctrine, Information Warfare, CyberSecurity, “Doppelganger”

Dear reader,

We should all highlight levels of permeability and vulnerability to cyberattacks and disinformation designed to manipulate public attitudes on key issues.

What we talk when we talk about Hybrid War in our region?

I think there are two main questions:

1) What internal conditions exist in the Western Balkans that enable maligned actors to exercise hybrid war in the region?

2) How vulnerable are governments and societies in the Western Balkans to cyberattacks and cyber intrusions and disinformation and fake news?


Hybrid warfare involves coercive methods that combine regular and irregular forces, military and non-military tactics, and violent and non-violent subversive and criminal actions under a strategic direction to achieve political or military goals in a contemporary battlespace.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in Donbas in 2014 altered understandings of hybrid warfare and elevated its significance in Western world strategic orientations.

In 2014, Russia combined covert special operations forces (“little green men”) with cyberattacks, psychological or information warfare, diplomatic coercion, and economic intimidation, disseminated disinformation through social media platforms, and relied on a network of proxies and intermediaries.

This strategy was consistent with Russia’s so-called “Gerasimov doctrine”.

In the Western Balkans, hybrid warfare constitutes a set of low-cost actions or tactics designed to undermine public trust in institutions, weaken norms, and obstruct integration with NATO and the E.U.

Hybrid war tactics include the use of disinformation, cyberattacks, influence operations and narratives of victimhood to undercut Euro-Atlantic institutions, develop pre-texts for conflict, promote discord, and maintain frozen conflicts.

Hybrid warfare allows maligned and hostile powers, especially Russia and China, to carry out their grievances, exploit divisions, weaken resilience, or promote themselves and their preferred narratives.

Spreading disinformation through social media platforms and launching cyberattacks enable Russia to coerce democratic societies and exploit their social, economic, and political divisions.

Please do not under-estimate the role of so-called “Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center” in Nis, which was established in 2012, based on the initiative of Minister Shoigy of Russia and Minister Dacic of Serbia.

Although this Center was called as “a center for illicit activities and espionage”, the role of it could have been very active in offering to Serbian authorities and different structural groups there with Russian experience of hybrid war, influence operations, and cyberattacks.

We all remember that when Montenegro in 2015-2016 and North Macedonia in 2016-2017 moved to accede to NATO, Russia actively obstructed campaigns for NATO accession with disinformation, cyber intrusions, and social media manipulation.

The Western Balkans are especially vulnerable to actors seeking to damage infrastructure and encourage polarization. Russia’s proxies in Balkans, such is Serbia, and transnational criminal organizations work to undermine the Euro-Atlantic path of Western Balkans countries and promote social disorder and cultural tensions.



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