Inside the “Bear Hug”: Fostering Resilience in the Belarusian and Ukrainian Security Sectors

March 02, 2021
Pavel Hanchuk
2 min read
Photo credit: K_E_N /


With the ongoing drastic transformation of the Euro­pean security environment, problems of national resilience against hybrid destructive activity occupy a major place in policymaking at the state and inter­national levels. This paper looks at how to foster the capacities of the security sectors of Eastern European countries to withstand the newly emerged combina­tion of threats emanating from Russia. Its assertive actions that have already led to territorial and human losses represent a serious challenge to state sovereignty and societal well-being. The issue is vital especially for the Eastern European countries that constitute the front line of resistance to Russia’s malign activity.

This paper looks at two very close and yet consid­erably different countries—Belarus and Ukraine— to illustrate the challenges of adapting to a volatile geopolitical environment. It presents a comparative overview of transformations in their security sectors in response to Russia’s hybrid activities since 2014. It also reveals the main drawbacks in the security poli­cies of Belarus and Ukraine in response to the changed security landscape.

In particular, Ukraine still struggles to overcome the limitations of its oligarch- and clan-based power structure, corruption, and the economic repercussions from conflict with Russia that impede smooth trans­formation processes. Despite being vocal regarding the priority of the security sector reform, since 2014 the country’s leadership has made little progress in reforming its intelligence sector, establishing an effective territorial defense, and enhancing strategic communications abroad.

At the same time, despite increased integration pressure from Russia, Belarus has moved more in the direction of securing the political regime rather than developing the whole-of-society approach to security required to counter hybrid activity. The clear divide between the state and society deepened further with the insufficient state reaction to the coronavirus pandemic and a new wave of repression against civil society linked to the 2020 presidential election. This exposed addi­tional vulnerabilities that may be exploited by Russia to strengthen control over the regime.

This paper suggests a three-component capacity framework to enhance national resilience against hybrid activity. It introduces the notion of national cohesion, reflecting the convergence of the state appa­ratus and society’s interests as well as the ability of the population to influence national policymaking. In conclusion, the paper provides recommendations to national and international actors on possible ways to improve the awareness, coordination, and resource capacity of Belarus and Ukraine to better counter challenges coming from the east.

Photo credit: K_E_N /