March 16, 2022No Comments

Russian Military Doctrine: An Overview

By: Danilo delle Fave and Marco Verrocchio.

The Russian Military Reform of 2014

The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has now skyrocketed among the news and masses of people are expressing their disapproval for the war through marches and protests worldwide. However, intelligence services and scholars had warned that a regional conflict between the two countries was foreseeable. To better understand the reasons behind Putin’s decision, an analysis of Russia’s 2014 military doctrine is fundamental. A military doctrine is essentially a public document that summarizes in strategic and theoretical terms the military capabilities in defending, offending and retaliating against threats. While Soviet-era doctrines were unpublished, the Russian federation documents are public, and they describe the political direction of Russia in military affairs. The 2014 version is divided in: generic provisions, the military dangers and threats, the military policy and the military economic-defence support. In comparison to the Soviet era, Russian military doctrines emphasize the defensive approach, and they profit from lessons learned from military conflicts and analysis of different scenarios. In the ethos of Russian “Motherland”, Russia is perceived as an object to be protected and a subject capable of reacting.

Military offensive operations are justified under a defensive provision which aims to prevent threats towards Russia. United Nations and international treaties are invoked in supporting this theory. Russia’s allies and partners are clearly mentioned. Belarus is the closest ally, with fully integrated armed forces, infrastructures and coordination. CSTO, CIS and BRICS countries are mentioned “to strengthen the system of collective security”. In comparison to the 2010’s military doctrine, the EU is perceived no longer functional to pursue national security, but an equal partner to maintain a status-quo.

The 2014 version also abandons all possible cooperation with NATO as well. The Russian ambition to pursue a regional defense policy guarantees that border states do not adopt an approach that threatens the Russian Federation. A specific section that implicitly was dedicated to the case of Ukraine mentions that overthrowing of legitimate governments in bordering states is a serious menace for Russia. Another reference regards 2011-12 Russian protests, declaring that anti-nationalistic information led by external parties is a menace. In some issues, Russia has a dualist approach, perceiving an issue both as a threat and as a mean. For instance, the use of private military contractors (PMCs) is a military danger but it is an inevitable component of contemporary warfare. The same idea is applied to the militarization of the information, which undermines Russia from abroad but is also a novel area of improvement. The 2014 also reflects a much more reliance on Russia in using tools of hybrid warfare. While the 2010 version made a generic use of hybrid warfare, the 2014 version highlighted that Russia would rely on military means only after political, diplomatic, judicial, economic, information and other non-kinetic means have been used.

Image Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/monument-to-minin-and-pozharsky-177843/

Gerasimov’s Doctrine and Hybrid Warfare

During an event in the Russian Academy of Military Sciences in 2019, the Russian Chief of General Staff, Valery Gerasimov described Russian military strategy as “Active Defense”. What does he mean by “Active Defense”? It is a strategic concept integrating preemptive measures to prevent conflict and wartime concepts of operations that seek to deny to the enemy a decisive victory in the initial period of war, degrading and disorganizing its effort, while setting the conditions for a counteroffensive or attaining war termination. The strategy privileges a permanent standing force, arrayed as high readiness operational formations in each strategic direction, prepared to execute operations jointly.

At the beginning, the Russian military needs to manipulate an opponent through the demonstration of his readiness, deployments, exercises, weapon tests and demonstrative actions and, if it is necessary, they can include a demonstrative use of force and limited strikes. After the period called “Pre-War”, the aim of the “Active Defense” is to inflict disorganisation on the opponent via long-range strikes against critically important objects at operational depths and beyond, in order to reach the goal of disorganizing the enemy’s effort, degrading his ability to sustain operation and affecting his political and at the same time maximize the survivability of the Russian units and preserve the force.

The “Active Defense” is based on two main tenets: Maneuver Defense and Non contact Warfare. Unlike World War I and World War II, the idea of using their own main effort to create a potential defense and a massive manned front, is totally obsolete in the eyes of the Russian strategists. Maneuver Defense for the Russian Military means that fires and strikes systems will attrit the opponent’s forces as they advance, and his aim is to destroy an opponent’s initial operation plan and buy time for reserves or follow forces to arrive, exhaust the opponent’s forces, and subsequently seize the initiative. Turning to Noncontact Warfare, the term is somewhat muddled, as there is a commonly held Russian military belief that modern warfare will feature forward operating sensors, fires, and precision strike systems. War will be driven by information, command and control systems, and precise means of destruction. However, non contact speaks more to the employment of longer-range capabilities to attack critical objects at substantial operational and strategic ranges.

With the Georgian and Ukrainian crisis of 2008 and 2013, the Russian armed forces have developed the so called New Generation Warfare, 4th Generation Warfare, or Hybrid Warfare. Hybrid warfare does not aim to victory through the defeat of the enemy on the battlefield but regime change and the achievement of the Kremlin’s goals. Therefore, the military became one element of a much larger set of foreign policy instruments aimed to reach political gains. The Hybrid force is composed of conventional forces and special corps, like the Spetsnaz, that operate in coordination with a militarized local population, like Donbass separatist militias. The militias are usually formed not directly by Russian forces, but by contracted forces from outside the area of operations which serves along militias, usually binded by a contract. Moreover, in the Hybrid force is also fundamental the role of Private Military Contractors (PMC), like the Wagner group, that can aid the efforts of regular forces and militias. It is the formalization of war by proxy, which is cleared witnessed by the praxis of Russian armed forces in Syria, Ukraine and Georgia.

The Russian military doctrine emphasizes therefore the political aspect of warfare, and the link between military operations and its ideological and foreign policy aspects: in all the three major fronts (Syria, Ukraine, Georgia), the Russians have carefully prepared the public affairs and the narrations in all their conflicts. They always claimed that their intervention was the result of a request for help, Ossetians and Abcazians in Georgia, russophone separatists in Ukraine, the Assad government in Syria. They deployed their PMCs in Africa, which helped them to further their influence on the Continent, with the successful coups in Mali and Central African Republic. The difficulties in improving their capabilities have inevitably shaped Russian military doctrine from conventional warfare of the Soviet era to a new form of warfare that can be defined as “non-linear”.

March 8, 2022No Comments

Taras Kuzio on the Russia-Ukraine Crisis and the War in Donbass

Professor Taras Kuzio from Henry Jackson Society and Kyiv Mohyla Academy shares his insights on the Russo-Ukraine crisis, Russian invasion of Ukraine, the conflict in Donbass and Ukraine’s membership of NATO and EU. 

Interviewers: Igor Shchubetun, Fabrizio Napoli and Davide Gobbicchi.

March 2, 2022No Comments

Understanding Putin’s Russia

Authors: Davide Gobbicchi, Igor Shchubetun and Fabrizio Napoli.

After months of diplomatic efforts and mutual misunderstandings between Russia and the West, Vladimir Putin finally invaded Ukraine. Although the attack was predicted by experts throughout the world, its ferocity and scale did surprise the majority. Most analysts expected Moscow to enter the Donbass region, conquer it rapidly, and grant it independence from Kiev, in a repetition of what happened to Abkhazia and South Ossetia following the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. Yet on the 24th of February, Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, unleashing the biggest military attack that Europe has witnessed since WWII. After 4 days of fighting a tougher-than-expected Ukrainian resistance and an increasingly involved West, on February 27th Russia’s president put nuclear forces on high alert, in what could be seen as a propagandistic attempt to “flex muscles” at a conflict whose duration and ending seem increasingly uncertain. 

To assess the strategic significance of Ukraine for Russia and motivation behind Putin’s actions, it is imperative to understand how Russia perceives itself. Historically, it has been afflicted with two existential dilemmas. First,  with regards to its position in the East-West dichotomy, where Russia’s geographic position between Europe and Asia creates a unique culture which is neither of both, and allows the country to shift between periods of affinity to the West and periods of closeness to the East; as Dostoevskij famously said, “In Europe we were Tatars, but in Asia we too are Europeans”. Second, the debate of nation-state vs. multinational state, where Russia’s size creates a highly heterogeneous country in which the Russian majority needs to coexist more or less peacefully with the many different minorities having separated languages, religions, and cultures. 

Historically, the Imperial Era, beginning with Peter the Great and ending with the Russian Revolution of 1917, solved the first dilemma by promoting Europeanism. This was represented with the shift of the capital from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. The second dilemma was resolved by choosing between Russianism and multi-nationalism, i.e., Pan-Slavism.Imperial Russia therefore perceived itself as a European power deeply rooted in its orthodox tradition. 

The Soviet Era (1922-1991) provided different solutions to the two dilemmas. The East/West dichotomy was solved by assigning Russia (now USSR) the unique role of Eurasian superpower in between the two worlds, belonging to neither of the two and yet extending its influence on both. The second dilemma was addressed through the policy of коренизация (korenizatsiya), because of which USSR became, at least officially, a multi-nation state of equally important nations. The victory during the WWII further strengthened these two discourses of a Eurasian, multinational state. 

However, the early post-Soviet years of Yeltsin (1991-1999) once again changed Russia’s approach to the two dilemmas, orienting Russia towards the West and promoting Russian identity over that of the minorities (causing backlashes in the Caucasus and central Asia such as the Chechen War and the quasi-independence of Tatarstan). Modern Russia now had to become a Western, nation-state. 

When Putin took power in 2000, Russia in the midst of a strong identity crisis. Its rapid westernization did not grant it the role of equal partner to the USA, but instead relegated Russia to a vassal state which faced economic hardships. The loss of its status in the international arena and the absence of perceived economic gains deriving from it created a resentment throughout the population that a portion of the Russian elite started channeling towards the West; Putin was the leader of such a group. Being a former KGB spy whose childhood had been marked by the horrors of WWII-besieged Leningrad, Vladimir Putin used his private life and the growing popular sentiments to rebuild Russia’s identity from scratch, mainly on two pillars.

First, the worship of WWII (The Great Patriotic War – in Russian); the ultimate expression of Russia’s greatness.  The war was previously used by the Soviets to keep the USSR together (for everyone, from Bishkek to Vilnius, fought in the war). Putin, influenced by his own childhood, continued “exploiting” the war to promote conservative and patriotic values able to legitimize his political orientation and to keep the country together. This is why Putin tried to legitimize the Ukrainian invasion by claiming to “denazify” the country. 

Second, the soviet Nostalgia. Putin’s bittersweet feeling towards the USSR reflects that of a wide portion of the country’s older generations (of which the president himself is part) and derives from the too-rapid transition of Russia from “protagonist in a bipolar world” to “supporting actor in a multipolar one”. This sentiment is used by Putin to promote the reappropriation of Russia’s great power status and justify the actions that “need” to be taken to achieve this goal. Several of Putin’s speeches regarding Ukraine reflect this, where he focuses on Ukraine’s role as “little Russia” and “founding member of the USSR”. 

The two historical dilemmas that afflicted Russia throughout the centuries were reframed by Putin to his own advantage. The East/West dichotomy was deconstructed into two parallel positions, Russia’s relations with the West and the East.

With the West, it changed from an inferiority complex to a principle equality in which Russia no longer had to imitate the West, but could follow its own path of values (those produced by the worship of WWII and Soviet Nostalgia). Hence granting Putin more freedom of action. This was proven in a speech given by Russia’s president in 2013, where he stated that “it is evident that it is impossible to move forward without spiritual, cultural and national self-determination...We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual.” With the East, it shifted from perceiving Asia as a place to teach European values, to perceiving it as a place from which to learn alternative ones. This change helped Putin justify Russia’s approach to China and its simultaneous shying away from the West. 

The multinational state/nation-state dilemma was solved by orienting the country towards becoming a nation-state, promoting discourses aimed at homogenizing the country (such as “Russia for Russians”) and reviving pre-Soviet Russian cultural traits (an example is the gradual social prestige that Putin has granted to the Patriarch of Moscow in the past 15 years). The importance given to Russian ethnicity allows Putin to intervene in foreign countries with Russian minorities without the risk of appearing illegitimate in the eyes of Russian society (the 2014 invasion of the Donbass serves as the best example). 

Having illustrated the pillars of Putin’s conception of Russia, it’s easy to understand the importance of Ukraine to him: Ukraine is currently the transfiguration of WWII Europe that needs to be saved from an enemy whose ideals and values are rotten - that is, the West. Keeping Ukraine away from the West would then be morally tantamount to winning WWII, and it would not only provide Putin’s discourses new strength, but also validate Russia’s identity of a great power by preventing (even if momentarily) the post-Soviet space from disintegrating. 

Vladimir Putin has spent the last 20 years slowly shaping his country into what he believed “Mother Russia” to be, and it is highly unlikely that any agreement will stop him from pursuing his ideals. This however, does not mean that this is what Russia needs to be, and it is for the Russian people to prove.

February 2, 2022No Comments

Sergey Markedonov on Georgia’s Political and Social Polarisation

Sergey Markedonov is an Associate Professor at Russian State University for the Humanities based in Moscow (Russia). From May 2010 to October 2013, he was a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (Washington, DC, USA). In April-May 2015 he was a visiting fellow at the Center for Russia and Central Asia Studies, Institute of International Studies (IIS), Fudan University (Shanghai, China). 

He shares his insights on Georgia's political and social polarisation; its use as a field for NATO-Russian confrontation and its key role in the Caucasus region. 

Interviewing Team: Igor Shchebetun, Fabrizio Napoli and Davide Gobbicchi.

May 13, 2021No Comments

Russia and Ukraine prepare for War

By Igor Shchebetun

     The situation in Eastern Ukraine is heating up.  Videos published on social networks show military columns moving towards Donbass. Kiev has put its troops on high alert. Washington is considering sending the navy to the Black Sea, while Moscow is pulling heavy weapons and landing troops to the border.

     Ukraine is a buffer state located in the center of Europe that serves as a road to an attack to the East or West. Today, the European Union and NATO, mainly represented by Poland, see Ukraine as a place where Russian influence on the European continent can be stopped. Russia sees Ukraine as an indispensable buffer zone against the West. To be fair, both Moscow and Kiev have internal motives for escalating tensions. President Zelensky's rating is rapidly goes down. In 2021, only slightly more than 20% of Ukrainians are willing to vote for him. Putin faces the same problem, his level of support in February 2021 is only 32%. The bottom line is that both sides have reasons to use the tensions in Donbass to influence the opinion of their voters. But let's still imagine that the conflict is not limited to Donbass, but fully involves Ukraine and Russia, what would it look like?  Despite Kiev's efforts to reform the army in recent years, the balance of power between Ukraine and Russia has changed little. Russia has the ability to defeat its adversary and can implement its strategy in a variety of ways. Let's consider which ones? It can conduct small operations along the entire border with Ukraine, which will disperse Ukrainian forces. On the other hand, a small offensive will not bring additional influence in terms of politics or security. Another option for Russia and the Donbass it supports is to expand controlled territory into the rest of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, making the separatists more self-sufficient. However, increasing the buffer territory is too little. Especially considering that such an action would also evoke an even stronger pro-Western sentiment in Ukrainian society and guarantee Moscow additional sanctions, something it cannot afford. 

     A third option for Russia could be to advance along the Southern coast of Ukraine and the Dnieper River and connect Donbass with Crimea creating such an overland corridor would strengthen Russia's control over Crimea and Donbass and allow it to control 75% of the fresh water supplied to Crimea. In such a situation, the supply lines of the overland corridor will be greatly stretched. And that's not to mention their vulnerability for about 400 km this will not be a problem for Russia unless other regional forces are measured in the conflict otherwise the supply will probably be cut off and the whole campaign proves unsuccessful. However, if no outside force intervenes, then technically Russia could advance further it could seize all of Ukraine and link up with its forces in the region of Transnistria (а separatist region of Moldova) in which case Ukraine would be undermined it would lose access to the Black Sea, reducing the importance of its alliance with Turkey. The apathy of the port city of Odessa would cause significant damage to the Ukrainian economy. From Russia's point of view, having a regional territory along the Black Sea would ensure that most of its interests in the region would be achieved. Geographically, if Russia intended to attack Ukraine, the Dnieper River would be the ideal anchoring point. Capturing all of eastern Ukraine and controlling all crossing points across the Dnieper would allow Russia to focus only on specific points. This would have provided it with a much more reliable line of defense than the buffer zone of Donbass. However, the seizure of such vast territory would instantly provoke fierce resistance that would be difficult to pacify. Such cities as Kharkov, Kiev and Dnepr would become particularly problematic and hotspots. In addition, the seizure of Ukrainian territory would be guaranteed to lead to covert or overt interference by other countries, as well as the maximum application of sanctions by the U.S. as in the case of Iran.

      Not much has changed between Ukraine and Russia, at least militarily and politically. Ukraine still does not have the ability to defeat Russia The US is now satisfied with the current situation, Germany does not want to interfere in the situation, and France remains a de facto ally of Russia. Turkey is increasing its support for Ukraine, but they do not have enough resources to affect the status quo. Meanwhile, Russia continues to insist on constitutional autonomy, not wanting direct annexation, so despite all the hype, the resumption of a large-scale conflict is unlikely. However, given the amount of weapons along the borders, it cannot be completely ruled out. In all likelihood, Donbass will remain in limbo, because in political issues diplomats often welcome something new and only when it is actually no different from the old.

April 4, 2021No Comments

Dr Tracey German on Russia and Related Security Concerns

Dr Tracey German (KCL, Defence Studies Department) discusses the relevance of Putin's Russia in international affairs, potential security concerns related to Russian aspirations and capabilities, NATO and post-Brexit UK approaches, and implications of COVID-19 on Russia.