The "hybrid" dimension of conventional warfare in Ukraine

(To Nicola Cristadoro)
05/03/22

In the concluding part of mine previous article in the background of the Ukrainian scenery the disturbing figures of the gods were revealed kadyrovsty, the paramilitaries named after their commander, Ramzan Kadyrov. Who are they, then, and what operational task would these militiamen coming from Chechnya and, nevertheless, "armed wing" in the Kremlin be called to carry out in more than a theater of war?

In order to successfully counter the Chechen resistance, Moscow resolved to rely on local auxiliary forces bent on dominating the rebel republic. The embryonic nucleus of the militia was established when the former guerrilla Ahmad Kadyrov, elected president of the Chechen Republic in 2003, placed himself in command of the OMON unit in Grozny (300 men) and attributed to his personal guard (about 3000 men), status of government security force. This was officially incorporated into the Chechen MVD.

On May 9, 2004 Ahmad Kadyrov was assassinated by independence rebels and his son Ramzan Kadyrov increased his power within the country's political structure. In 2006 Ramzan Kadyrov (following photo) transformed the government security force created by his father into a paramilitary organization under his personal control, the Kadyrovtsy.

The organization, made up of about 5000 men, is divided into two departments: the 141th police special forces regiment "Ahmad Kadyrov" (also known as PPSM-2) and the "oil regiment" (Neftepolk), in charge of providing security to oil pipelines on the territory.

There are also several unofficial units, made up of ex-guerrillas, euphemistically called "Anti-terrorism Centers". Among these we remember the battalions Sever ("North"), under the command of Muslim Ilyasov and about 500 strong men and Yug ("South"), led by Alimbek Delimkhanov, with an estimated force of around 700 men.

Although organically embedded in the structures of the MVD, the Kadyrovtsy are in fact loyal to them leader rather than in Moscow.

As head of the Chechen presidential security service, Kadyrov has often been accused of being brutal, ruthless and undemocratic; for the press, he is implicated in numerous cases of torture and murder. The German human rights association "Association for Threatened Peoples" (GfbV) said that up to 70% of all murders, rape, kidnappings and torture cases in Chechnya were committed by the private army under his orders. .

Kadyrov enjoyed the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, although some unauthorized military maneuvers conducted by him would have aroused the irritation of the Kremlin. There is currently no authoritative figure in Chechnya who can oppose Kadyrov's power. The declaration of the end of the Second Chechen War in April of the same year reduced the presence of Russian federal military forces in Chechnya and further increased the freedom of action of Kadyrov, who became president in 2007. In 2010 he stepped down from that post, arguing that Russia must have a single president. Kadyrov's seemingly undisputed authority in Chechnya depends in part on the support offered to him by Russia, but it also reflects the great power he wields over the region's extensive security apparatus.

I Kadyrovtsy, would be responsible for at least one of the three assassination attempts of President Zelensky in recent days. The reason for the use of this unit, however, suggests hypotheses of another nature and on a larger scale.

It is no secret that Russian regular units are stationary in large numbers at the entrance to Kiev and it is questionable at this point what they are waiting for to start the occupation of that k-terrain whose conquest, at least initially, appeared to be possible end-state of the invasion carried out by Moscow.

What remains, in any case, a fundamental objective, can turn into the "Stalingrad of Moscow", that is, it suggests the development of a resistance of such intensity on the Ukrainian side as to involve a high number of casualties among the Russian soldiers, poorly trained. to combat in built-up areas. Here, then, is the need to have battalions in the first echelon capable of acting as a "spearhead" to break into the urban scenario of a large city like Kiev. Here is the operational task of the Kadyrovtsy, veterans of fights like the one in Grozny.

To understand what the situation of the Battle of Grozny was and, therefore, what Russian conscripts would face when facing a people fighting on the verge of desperation, consider the following tactical aspects.

In Grozny, in the opinion of the Russians themselves, the neighboring sectors between the departments deployed represented a weak point and it was not just a vulnerability connected to the difficulty of identifying and managing the “horizontal” limits of the sector. On several occasions, in fact, it was verified that the Chechens managed to keep the positions of the buildings from the third floor to rise, while the Russians occupied the first two floors and, sometimes, the roof. When it happened that an aliquot of Russian forces stationed on the second floor evacuated it partially, without informing the aliquot stationed on the floor below, the Chechens took advantage of this to occupy the abandoned positions and attack the enemy by shooting through the floor. A sort of fratricidal struggle ensued, due to the Russian response fire delivered indiscriminately against the upper floor and, consequently, also against the Russian tax rate remaining on the positions. Whole battles were fought through walls, ceilings and floors, without eye contact.

The Chechens proved brutal, particularly with the prisoners. Some reports refer to similar behavior on the Russian side, but it would appear that the Chechens were the worst. Whoever was responsible for the atrocities committed, in fact the clashes took place with no holds barred. The Russians, dead or wounded, were hung upside down on the windows of the positions defended by the Chechens, so that the Russian soldiers, to hit the Chechens, were forced to hit the bodies of their fellow soldiers first. In many cases the Russian prisoners were beheaded and their heads stuck on poles to be displayed, during the night, along the main supply axes traveled by the Russian convoys.

Both sides resorted to trapping the corpses of enemy soldiers with the infamous booby traps. The Russians, however, were not surprised by the brutality and ferocity of the Chechens. Instead, they were struck by the expertise he demonstrated in the use of mines and in the preparation of explosive traps. The Chechens undermined and trapped everything, demonstrating an excellent intuitive ability in organizing maneuver and counter-maneuver, compared to the average Russian forces.

The constant attention for the fear of running into mines and traps, for the Russians proved exhausting.

It seems logical that the "operational pause" imposed on Russian units does not depend only on aimpasse logistics, but also from a reflection on the “lessons learned” on Chechen theater.

It is also clear that i Kadyrovtsy by themselves they are not enough to constitute those first brackets necessary for the attack on the city. On the scene it seems there are departments of the SOBR, spetsnaz of the Ministry of the Interior, part of the National Guard of the Russian Federation.

The SOBRs are also veterans of Chechnya. Established on 10 February 1992 with the task of intervening to deal with serious situations in terms of public order and organized crime, the Rapid Reaction Special Departmentsto SOBR (Spetsial'nye Otryady Bystrogo Reagirovaniya) are designed to be able to act promptly in different areas of the country: in the morning the SOBRs could operate in Moscow and, a few hours later, be engaged in the capture of a gangster in a locality in the Urals.

The departments, conceived as operational units for combat, were also trained for the infiltration of criminal organizations and the activity of intelligence within these. The SOBRs were protected by the strictest secrecy and the Ministry of the Interior took great care not to leak any information about these units.

The SOBR departments are composed of senior police officers, subjected to better training than their OMON counterparts, with tasks similar to those of the American SWAT and under the direct control of the Ministry of the Interior.

There have been numerous operations involving SOBR against Chechen rebels, both in Chechnya and on Russian territory: we recall the battles of Mineralnye Vodi (1994), of Budyonnovsk (1995) and the assault on the "Dubrovka" theater, in Moscow in 2002.

The presence and criteria of use of these "asymmetrical" elements are strongly indicative of how the apparently conventional war being fought in Ukraine maintains, to all intents and purposes, the characteristics of the "hybrid war" waged for eight years now. They are certainly not the only indicators to support this claim. The size of the infowar implemented by both sides is striking, especially at a strategic level. On the Ukrainian front, we all have in our eyes the images of civilians who feed and quench the thirst of the young Russian soldier who has surrendered. We were also impressed by the amateur videos of Ukrainian mothers launching appeals to allow the recovery of the bodies of the Russian fallen and the "return to their mothers" for a proper burial.

The narrative under the profile of info-ops is extraordinary: we are witnessing a climax ascendant whose message is much less ecumenical than it wants to appear: from the soldier live which he takes care of, we pass to the soldiers deaths to take care of… The invitation to surrender and desertion transpires without the explicit threats of other forms of psy-ops "Divisive" (implemented, for example, in the 1991 Iraq war).

On the part of Moscow the info-campaign of a "cohesive" type orchestrated by the Kremlin and intended for the Russian population, on the other hand, it appears rather clumsy, although not without a certain effectiveness. The old woman carried away by two marauders of the Politsyia - if they had been members of OMON the effect would have been even worse - certainly not a good impression on the directives and laws given by Putin.

The television broadcasts where children are told how Russia is defending itself from aggression by the West are ridiculous, even clumsy for our sensitivity and our evaluation criteria. I am a little less so for the citizens of Moscow, which I can say on the basis of reliable data, they are at least stunned by this narrative and tend to give it credit. On the other hand, just think of the report from the Russian capital edited by the journalist Alessandro Cassini for the broadcast "Today is another day" on 4/3/2022: to the question put to him about the arrest of the demonstrators against the war (and against Putin) Cassini replied that these were unauthorized demonstrations in about forty cities throughout the country and that the young people arrested, after identification, were all released. It is clear that the correspondent in order to continue to operate on the spot he has to measure his own affirmations. The really interesting fact consists in the "forty" cities in which the protests were held, indicative of an expansion of the opposition front to the choice to start a war.

Of course the narrative of the psy-ops Russe relies heavily on cyber-warfare, never interrupted since the beginning of the hostilities. The darkening before Facebook and gradually all the other social media (with particular attention paid to you tube) and the potential for imposing 15 years in prison on anyone who expresses dissent or displays images of Russian soldiers killed in battle, is the result of the intense activity of the hacker of Russian state.

Paramilitaries, info-ops implemented with 24/7 timing, cyber-warfare indiscriminate ... Isn't this hybrid warfare? The non-military dimension is equal, if not superior to the military one, even if the latter is undoubtedly more evident and is more striking for its emotional impact.

A reflection is required on the attack carried out on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Some friends have expressed their perplexity to me about the "crazy" choice to deliberately hit a nuclear power plant. It is easy to say: it is, once again, a different "cultural approach" between the Western and Russian armed forces. In itself it is contemplated by the operational activities of all armies that units may find themselves operating in CBRN contaminated environments, so the Russians also prepare their soldiers for this eventuality. Let's not forget the great opportunity they have had to test their equipment and procedures thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.

That said, the Russians obviously have no qualms about striking a nuclear power plant if considered a high pay-off target, unlike what we Westerners, rightly subject to the laws of International War Law, would do. Equally evident is that the Russian generals are ready to have their soldiers operate even in prohibitive environments.

It all seems like a spiral of madness and, if the latest indications of a possible expansion of operations are also likely to include Georgia, Moldova and, even, Bosnia through a preparation with terrorist attacks (another modality typical of hybrid war, then also the most dangerous enemy course of action appears as a monster that feeds itself by growing out of all proportion. Until?

Photo: MoD Russian Federation / Kremlin / Mikhail Evstafiev / Accidental Geniu