Russia’s Hybrid War Against Georgia in 2008


  • Riho Ühtegi



The term “hybrid war” is not particularly novel – it was first used by Frank Hoffman in 2007 in his presentation “Conflict in the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid Wars” at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. Hybrid war is often considered as a precursor to large-scale military operations and irregular war. However, that is not an entirely accurate description because hybrid war entails the use of military resources in combination with other means of influence, such as clandestine operations, political activities, cyber operations, information operations, economic activities, and diplomacy. Russia has been using hybrid warfare for a long time, but in 2013 it was finally introduced as an official doctrine by Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces. The focal point of the doctrine was the concept of influence, which is based on the idea that the main battlefield resides in the minds of the people, and consequently, in the future, information and psychological operations will take precedence in waging war and will be aimed at undermining the morale of the adversary’s military and its civilian population. Russia usually engages in this kind of behaviour in order to win time before the international community comes to the realisation that it is Russian aggression they are dealing with. The Russian minorities in its near abroad play an important role in hybrid warfare because Russia can always appeal to be “acting in defence” of their interests. In the Georgian case, those minorities were in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. After President Saakashvili assumed power in Georgia and began steering the country towards joining NATO, Russia felt the urge to interfere in order to keep Georgia within its sphere of influence, especially considering its importance as a transit route for Azerbaijan’s oil and gas. Therefore, the outbreak of war in August 2008 was not decided by the presidents of Russia or Georgia, the decision was made much earlier. During NATO’s 2008 Bucharest summit, Georgia was given hope with regard to becoming a full member of NATO, and that served as the main catalyst behind the hybrid war launched against it by Russia. Thus, the so-called August War of 2008 constitutes just one small battle in the ongoing longterm conflict between the two countries, while secessionist Abkhazia and South Ossetia are just pawns used by Russia to influence Georgia.


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