Friday, June 20, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Actions in Ukraine Following Script by Russian General Staff a Year Ago

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 20 – The strategy and tactics Vladimir Putin has been employing in Ukraine represent an amazingly precise implementation of ideas outlined and published by General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian General Staff more than a year ago, another indication that the Kremlin leader has not been acting extemporaneously in response to events.

            That link is all the more important because it suggests that  both the political and military leaderships of the Russian Federation have agreed upon this strategy, something that makes it more rather than less likely that the Kremlin will apply it elsewhere in the coming months and years.

            At the end of January 2013, Gerasimov spoke the annual general meeting of the Russian Academy of Military Science on “The Role of the General Staff in the Organization of the Defense of the Country in Correspondence with the New Statute about the General Staff Confirmed by the President of the Russian Federation.”

            The full text of his remarks was published by the Academy and is available at  

            Presented in the form of a discussion of the lessons of recent conflicts in the Middle East, Gerasimov’s speech in fact outlines his view about the emergence of a new kind of war in the 21st century, one in which the distinctions between war and peace and between uniformed personnel and covert operatives are continuously diminishing.

            This combination, especially at a time when “wars are not declared but simply begin,” Gerasimov told his audience,  is very different than what most military thinkers traditionally have focused on but has the potential to transform “a completely well-off and stable country  ... into an arena of the most intense armed conflict in a matter of months or even days.”
            In these new conflicts, “the very ‘rules of war’ have been fundamentally changed. The role of non-military means to achieve political and strategic goals has grown,” and “in a number of cases,” this combination has proved to be “significantly more effective” in comparison with what could have been achieved by military means alone.

            In these wars of a new type, Gerasimov says, are “mixed together” a broad range of “political, economic, information, humanitarian and other measures,” all of which are supplemented by covert and thus deniable military measures plus offers of peace-keeping assistance as a means to strategic ends.

            “New information technologies,” the general continues, permit a significant reduction in the spatial, temporal, and information gap between the forces and organs of administration.” And they also mean that “frontal clashes of major military formations ... are gradually receding into the past.”

            All this also means, Gerasimov says, that the customary “distinctions between strategic, operational and tactical levels and between offensive and defensive operations are being wiped out.”  That is something that Russian military theorists and planners must take into ever greater account.

            “Asymmetric methods” also have the capacity to “level the playing field” against an opponent who may enjoy local superiority. Such methods include but are not limited to the use of special operations forces and the recruitment and mobilization of opposition groups on the territory of one’s opponent to make his entire country “a front” in the conflict.

            The United States, Gerasimov says, has shown the way in this kind of new war beginning with Desert Storm in 1991, but the Russian general suggests that Russian military theorists and planners can draw on the record of partisan warfare during World War II, the use of irregular forces during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and more recent operations in the North Caucasus.

            It does not require any leap of faith to see how what Vladimir Putin has been doing in Ukraine reflects exactly Gerasimov’s set of assumptions about how best to conduct such wars of a new type.


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