Who: U.S. and Soviet Union
When: Cold War
In the 1950s and 1960s, both the U.S. and the Soviet Union financed opposing political parties in several European states, such as Italy and Portugal. The CIA funded centrist parties, whereas Soviet agencies supported Communist parties, to further their respective political agendas.
Who: Viet Cong
When: Vietnam War
The Viet Cong altered their warfighting strategy in 1965 to include surprise guerilla attacks instead of engaging in traditional “pitched battles.” They exploited their knowledge of the landscape, including extensive below-ground tunnel systems, to set traps for conventional American forces and gain an advantage.
Who: Soviet Union
When: Cold War
The 1980s disinformation campaign launched by the Soviet Union’s KGB spread the rumor that the U.S. had created HIV/AIDS as a bioweapon. It was an effort to tarnish America’s reputation and sway public opinion in the Soviets’ favor.
Since the mid-2000s, Russia has used its state-sponsored news networks, RT and Sputnik, to spread disinformation in the Baltic states. These campaigns target the Russian populations in the Baltics to undermine unity and create pretexts for Russian interference.
When: Israel-Hezbollah war
In 2006, Hezbollah combined a range of hybrid tactics in its attacks on Israel. For example, their ownership of TV station Al-Manar allowed them to distribute images of the war very quickly, thus shaping people’s perceptions of the conflict. Hezbollah, as a non-state actor, also received substantial state financing from Iran.
Starting in 2006, Russia put an embargo on Georgian agricultural products following Georgia’s arrest of four Russian citizens suspected of spying.
In 2007, Russian cyberattacks on Estonia targeted websites of the Estonian president, the parliament, government ministries, political parties, major news outlets, and Estonia’s two largest banks. The attacks were in retaliation for moving a Red Army statue.
Where: Georgia and Nearby Countries
Russia has manipulated legal tools as part of its hybrid toolkit, including through passportization - the dissemination of Russian passports to people in nearby countries. The Kremlin employed this lawfare technique in Georgia to frame the occupations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as legitimate actions supported by local ‘Russian citizens’, building on Russian legislation which proclaimed Russia’s duty to protect citizens abroad.
In 2014, Russia used unmarked soldiers (aka “little green men”) to illegally invade and annex the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. Kremlin officials employed this tactic to mask the invasion as an organic event by self-defense groups, create confusion, and hinder international responses. They later boasted Russia was behind the maneuver.
In 2015, Russia launched a Black Energy cyber attack on a power station in Ukraine to target its energy supply and assert Russian dominance. The attack left 250,000 people without power for 6 hours.
Where: South China Sea
China has expanded its territorial claims and influence in the South China Sea by building artificial islands. By 2016, the Chinese had built airbases on these islands which were able to house fighter aircraft.
China has invested in critical infrastructure in Europe, such as sea ports, 5G telecommunications, and pipelines, to access Europe’s sensitive data, markets, and entry points for its strategic advantage. For example, in 2016 China bought a major chunk of the Greek port, Piraeus, and attempted to invest in the Lithuanian port, Klaipeda.
Russia tried to finance the nationalist, right-wing Italian political party Lega Nord ahead of the 2019 European elections in an attempt to promote pro-Russia policies and weaken the European Union.
Where: United States and Europe
China has taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to carry out influence operations and disinformation campaigns against the European Union and the United States. Capitalizing on Europeans’ and Americans’ most basic fears and doubts, a coordinated series of texts and social media posts were sent out making false claims about the pandemic. The messages sought to undermine confidence in democracies’ responses to the virus and boost the image of the Chinese government as a better model. Both American intelligence agencies and EU officials later attributed many of these messages to Chinese actors, citing the dangers to public health and safety.