Russia's hybrid warfare tactics raise alarm in Europe

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With Moscow’s hybrid warfare tactics in northeast Europe increasing over the past week, several EU member states have started stepping up their deterrence options towards Russia.

Russia’s push to change the Baltic Sea border on Wednesday (22 May), with a mysteriously deleted Russian defence ministry document on allegedly planned changes to territorial waters, sparked concern in the region and put Baltic and Nordic states on alert.

In another incident, this time with Estonia, Russian border guards on Thursday (23 May) staged an operation on the Narva River and removed 24 out of 50 buoys marking the border that are used by ships to navigate the waters without crossing into foreign territory, Estonian officials said.

EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell on Friday (24 May) demanded Moscow explain its unilateral demarcation.

“This border incident is part of a broader pattern of provocative behaviour and hybrid actions by Russia, including on its maritime and land borders in the Baltic Sea region – such actions are unacceptable,” he said in a statement.

NATO earlier this month issued a sharp warning over “hostile” Russian activity across Europe after cyberattacks carried out by a Russian cyber espionage group were discovered to have hit a series of countries, including Czechia, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and the UK.

It then pointed to the possibility of acts of “disinformation, sabotage, acts of violence, cyber and electronic interference (…) and other hybrid operations.”

Nordic and Baltic countries have repeatedly warned that Russia has intentionally jammed their GPS navigation systems, causing significant disruption to flights and shipping in the region.

Likewise, Eastern European countries over the past two years have said that Russia, together with Belarus, instrumentalising and sending migrants across their border was a form of hybrid attack.

EU diplomats and European defence officials believe that the next few weeks could see more such hybrid actions and that the current cases would be only the tip of the iceberg.

“These incidents over past few days – they are Russian provocations, full stop,” an EU senior official said.

“Don’t doubt for a second these are Russian provocations to test our resolve and see what will be the reaction [will be],” they added.

For some EU member states, especially those geographically closer to the Russian border, the lack of response could become a long-term problem with deterrence.

“So far, we’ve not been very alarmist about those incidents – we are ‘deeply concerned’, condemn them and move on – but at some point, we need to react,” one EU diplomat told Euractiv.

“If we don’t show some resolve to fight this, this will only go further and further,” they added.

The Baltic News Agency reported that several European countries—the Baltics, Poland, Finland, and Norway—agreed on Saturday (25 May) to create a “drone wall” to protect their external borders using unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

UAVs would be used to monitor border areas, as well as anti-drone systems to stop hostile drones being used for smuggling or other provocations, they said.

Regional officials say it would be a test for further future measures, which would require drills and regular training of involved defence and border forces.

Eastern European officials hope the issue will be discussed at several crucial NATO meetings in the next two months, including a summit in Washington in July that is likely to address Europe’s air defence capabilities.


FAC PREVIEW | EU foreign ministers on Monday are expected to discuss Ukraine’s situation on the ground with their Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba (VTC), the state of play on the next package of sanctions against Russia and the implementation of the Ukraine Assistance Fund. 

As the second item on the agenda, they will meet with a group of Arab counterparts – from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, and the UAE – to discuss efforts to end Israel’s war on Gaza.

PALESTINE DIPLOMACY |Israel said this week it would recall its envoys from Norway and Ireland and possibly other European countries after several EU countries announced in a historic move the recognition of a Palestinian state.

FROZEN ASSETS | G7 finance ministers cited ‘progress’ in finding ways to use profits from frozen Russian assets to help Ukraine, envisioning a concrete proposal to present to a leaders’ summit next month.


GEORGIA VOTE | The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission this week said Georgia must repeal the ‘foreign influence’ law. Will Tbilisi hear the call? The procedure to override the presidential veto will begin on 27 May in committee, with the governing majority set to override the president’s veto during the plenary session scheduled for 28 May.

Pressure, meanwhile, seems to have been rising on the Georgian Dream-ruled government—and it has started to show. Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze accused an unnamed EU commissioner of trying to “blackmail” him over the bill’s adoption, prompting Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi to clarify that their call was misrepresented.

ACCESSION TALKS | Several EU member states called for the bloc to start membership negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova by the end of June, but several technical and political obstacles remain before the decision can be made.

SECURITY PACT | The EU this week signed a security and defence pact with Moldova to help the pro-Western country boost its ability to tackle threats from Russia.


UNFINISHED BUSINESS | Two years after Russia invaded Ukraine, European arms and defence stockpiles are running low, and the bloc’s industry is hesitating to invest in more production capabilities. Here’s the most important policy files that have not been completed in this term.

DEBRIS-FREE SPACE | Twelve Europeans committed on Wednesday (22 May) to limiting the debris and unused civilian and military assets in space to avoid collision and potentially important impact on society’s way of life, according to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Zero Debris Charter.

RECYCLED SHIPS  Thales, Exploration Company signed contracts worth €75 million to build European reusable spaceships, as cargo shuttle services to and from space stations.



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  • French President Macron visits German Chancellor Scholz
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  • Foreign Ministers meet on Ukraine and Gaza, as well as current affairs (Georgia, Venezuela)
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  • EU-organised aid conference for Syria
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  • World Health Assembly
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  • NATO chief Stoltenberg addresses body’s parliamentary assembly
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  • Defence Ministers meet on support to Ukraine and the EU’s defence readiness
    | Tuesday, 28 May 2024 | Brussels, Belgium
  • Georgia parliament set to adopt vetoed ‘foreign influence’ bill (TBC)
    | Tuesday, 28 May 2024 | Tbilisi, Georgia
  • Expected IAEA chief Grossi visit for talks on Zaporizhzhia NPP
    | Tuesday, 28 May 2024 | Kaliningrad, Russia
  • Schuman Security and Defence Forum
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  • UN Security Council meets on Gaza
    | Wednesday, 29 May 2024 | New York, United States
  • NATO foreign ministers informal meeting
    | Thu-Fri, 30-31 May 2024 | Prague, Czech Republic
  • Municipal election re-run
    | Sunday, 2 June 2024 | Serbia


[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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