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Russian and East European Studies professor Mitchell Orenstein discussed his recent book, “The Lands in Between: Russia vs the West and the New Politics of Hybrid War."

Credit: Celia Kreth

Russian and East European Studies professor Mitchell Orenstein talked about Russia’s new hybrid warfare tactics and how they affect foreign policy with the United States and the European Union at a book talk on Thursday night. 

Orenstein discussed his recent book, “The Lands in Between: Russia vs the West and the New Politics of Hybrid War,” which was published this past April. More than 40 students and community members attended the event, which was hosted by Penn Law’s Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law. Orenstein's book details Russia’s use of nontraditional hybrid war tactics, such as blackmailing, hacking, inciting violence over social media, and promoting propaganda. Orenstein explained these tactics and detailed their effects in contemporary political situations, including the ongoing Trump impeachment inquiry. 

Orenstein said Russia first used these hybrid tactics against Ukraine but began using them against the United States around the time of the 2016 election. He added that Russia adopted these tactics because of its weakness in global politics.

“It’s very clear that economically and militarily, the U.S. and Western institutions, NATO and European Union, have a preponderance of economic power and military power,” Orenstein said. “As a result, Russia has tried to attack the West through more covert methods.” 

Orenstein also said Russia has funneled money into anti-Western and anti-E.U. parties in an attempt to destabilize nations. He mentioned a recent scandal in the United Kingdom where  Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to release a parliamentary report on Russian attempts to influence the outcome of Britain’s 2016 EU referendum and 2017 general election. Orenstein also mentioned that in the United States, Republicans blocked an in-depth investigation of allegations that Russia made illegal donations to the National Rifle Association to benefit Trump’s 2016 campaign. 

Orenstein touched on the current impeachment inquiry and his thoughts on President Trump’s relationship with Russia. He said Trump is a close supporter of Russia who would be open to dropping sanctions against the country, but because he was unable to lift sanctions he turned to supporting Russia’s foreign policy agenda against Ukraine. 

“Trump is offering to send Ukraine missiles to shoot at Russian tanks at a time when he is currently allied with Russia, he’s clearly sympathetic to Russia and wants to drop sanctions and is happy to have Russia take over Ukraine,” Orenstein said. 

Orenstein claimed Russia’s hybrid war tactics are effective because of the mystery that surrounds them. These create confusion within target countries and prevents them from responding to attacks. 

“Warfare is conducted to disable and prevent them from attacking us,” he said. 

1971 Law graduate Warren Reintzel, a retired lawyer in Pennsylvania, said he attended the event to fulfill his CLE requirements to maintain his law license but was also interested in the topic itself. 

“I want to get kind of an update on conditions in these countries,” he said, citing Ukraine and Belarus. 

College senior Spencer Kersh said he heard about the lecture because he previously took a course on communism with Orenstein which discussed the former Soviet states. 

“I had never really heard of the hybrid warfare concept before,” Kersh said. “The way you articulate sort of lesser known aspects of warfare between Russia and the West was really interesting to hear about.” 

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