Hybrid Warfare: Origins and Evolution

Aleksanyan Arman
School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University

Borodkin Andrey
School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University

Slobodan Aleksey
School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University


In the chaotic 21st century many states face different challenges and one of them is the pressure with non-military tools via the mass media and other channels of information.

The paper examines the nature of hybrid warfare and its evolution throughout the history. The introductory part of the article is dedicated to the period during which the first hybrid war was conducted as different attributes of hybrid warfare can be observed even during Assyrian wars more than 3000 years ago. The research explores Gallics wars as hybrid warfare attributes can be more clearly identified. Based on historical, empirical and comparative analysis as well as case study, the article touches upon the origin and evolution of hybrid warfare.

Starting with the Roman Empire led by Julio Ceasar the article observes the evolution of unconventional warfare, exemplifying with Vikings and Byzantine, Italy and condottiere. It also puts a special stress on the events around Kievan Russia, Tsardom of Russia, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and the modern state of Russia. Moreover, the article distinguishes between Russian and the US actions and how these actions are viewed by the world community. Additionally, the article attempts to determine a required societal ground to refrain from hybrid influence and to suggest optimal ways to fight others' information aggression. The article represents key reasons for the existence of hybrid warfare, its essential features and a little prediction.

The findings of the article suggest that the concept of hybrid warfare has a multifaceted and long-existing nature, encompassing both conventional and unconventional tactics, the main objective of which is to produce instability leading to exhausting the adversary.

Overall, these results enhance our understanding that the technology advancement causes the enhancement of the hybrid warfare toolkit, which threatens international security. In order to cope with it, nations and international organizations need to cooperate to defend peace and security in the modern world.


The history of humanity is filled with surprises, making it challenging to discern between real events, buildings and myths. In this context, it is intriguing to discover that "hybrid warfare" is not solely a product of the 20th and 21st centuries. The term "hybrid" was originally coined and used during the Roman Empire, referring to individuals born to parents from different social and ethnic backgrounds. Over time, the term evolved to denote something "mixed" or combining different elements. Scholars suggest that Julius Caesar may have been the first to employ a form of hybrid warfare during the Gallic wars, engaging both Gallic troops on the battlefield and targeting their minds, including the minds of their women. And generally little has changed since then. Warfare has always been a dynamic and evolving concept, adapting to the changing nature of conflicts and technological advancements. This article aims to explore the origins and evolution of hybrid warfare, shedding light on its development as a complex and multifaceted approach to modern warfare.

The nature of hybrid warfare

Hybrid warfare is rooted in the combination of military strategy, political objectives, and the utilization of various non-military tools. Hybrid warfare challenges the traditional understanding of war and peace because it implies non-military means of goal accomplishment instead of straightforward military ones. Hybrid warfare thrives on exploiting asymmetries between adversaries. Rather than engaging in direct, symmetrical confrontations, hybrid warfare seeks to exploit the vulnerabilities and weaknesses of the opponent. This can involve leveraging non-state actors, irregular forces, or unconventional methods to offset the adversary's military superiority. It relies on ambiguity and deniability to achieve its objectives. This allows state actors to maintain plausible deniability and avoid direct attribution for their actions. By blurring the lines between state-sponsored and non-state actors, it becomes challenging for the international community to respond effectively and hold responsible parties accountable. Hybrid warfare blurs the boundaries between different domains of conflict. It combines the elements of conventional warfare, irregular warfare, information warfare, cyber warfare, economic warfare, and psychological operations. The integration of these domains creates a complex and interconnected battlefield, where traditional military forces interact with non-state actors, cyber threats and information manipulation.

Evolution of hybrid warfare

The origins of hybrid warfare can be traced back to ancient times when military strategists employed a combination of different tactics to gain an advantage in conflicts. One of such is mercenaryism. In the absence of international legal frameworks, mercenary activities were not considered as criminal ones and were openly conducted, treated as private affairs between the mercenaries themselves and their employers. During the Middle Ages, Vikings were among the earliest mercenaries hired into the personal guard of Byzantine emperors. In the Late Middle Ages, condottieri (derived from the Italian term "condotta," meaning a contract for military service) emerged as prominent figures in the internal wars between city-states in Italy. From the 15th to the 17th centuries, European wars were significantly influenced by landsknechts, independent mercenary detachments hailing from various European countries. The prevalent use of mercenaries during this era stemmed from economic considerations, as maintaining a standing army was expensive and hiring professionals for specific tasks before conflicts proved to be more cost-effective. Gradually, the hybrid war became more multifaceted. Methods of conducting it have evolved, new tools have been added. One such tool is information warfare. Information warfare, a key component of hybrid warfare, has been adeptly utilized in the West. An illustrative example is the British campaign to create a negative image of Russia during the reign of Ivan IV. The information campaign against Russia commenced when the Moscow state entered the Livonian War in 1558, coinciding with the proliferation of leaflets produced by Western printing houses. These leaflets depicted alleged atrocities committed by Russian forces and were accompanied by fitting illustrations. In 1569, Ivan the Terrible organized a military campaign against Great Novgorod to suppress rebellious citizens. Western sources seized the opportunity to portray the Russian tsar as a tyrant. British diplomat Jerome Gorsay, in his work "Notes on Russia," alleged that the oprichniks, Ivan's personal military force, massacred up to 700 thousand Novgorodians, despite the fact that the population of Novgorod at that time did not exceed 400 thousand inhabitants. These types of actions by Western neighbors persisted even after the Romanov dynasty replaced the Rurik dynasty on the Russian throne, indicating a sustained effort to shape negative perceptions of Russia.

A new turn of evolution

Thus, the prerequisites for the development of a combined approach to the conduct of wars have been formed for a very long time. However, the term "hybrid warfare" gained prominence in the 21st century, particularly following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and plebiscite in Crimea in 2014, after which the region became part of Russia and the Russian Federation found itself under the most severe sanctions pressure from the entire Western world. The evolution of modern hybrid warfare can be attributed to several factors, including technological advancements, global interconnectivity and the blurring of boundaries between different domains of warfare. The ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, such as the Syrian civil war, demonstrate the multifaceted nature of hybrid warfare. State and non-state actors engage in a complex web of alliances, proxy support, information warfare and vile tactics to achieve their objectives. Addressing hybrid threats requires a comprehensive approach that includes robust intelligence capabilities, cybersecurity measures, enhanced cooperation among international actors and a proactive stance in countering disinformation campaigns. Building resilience within societies, improving infrastructure security, and investing in technological advancements are vital components of countering hybrid warfare.


Hybrid warfare represents a significant shift in the nature of warfare, incorporating conventional and unconventional tactics across multiple domains. Hybrid warfare often involves protracted conflicts with no clear-cut resolution. Rather than seeking decisive victories on the battlefield, the objective is to create enduring instability, maintain a low-intensity conflict and exhaust the adversary over an extended period. This approach allows hybrid actors to exploit weaknesses and gradually achieve their political objectives. Origins of Hybrid warfare can be traced back to ancient times but its recent prominence highlights the need for a comprehensive understanding and effective countermeasures. As technology continues to advance, hybrid warfare is likely to evolve further, necessitating ongoing adaptation and preparedness by nations and international organizations to safeguard peace and security in the modern world.


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