Staunton, May 17 – Last year, Russia’s Military University (the former Military-Political Academy) introduced a special course on psychological warfare to prepare officers to counter the West’s “culture war” against the country in general and its armed forces during hybrid wars in particular, Anton Chablin reports.
That war, the Svobodnaya pressa commentator says, plays an increasing role in Western strategy which involves using non-military communications technology to change the behavior of its targets, in this case, Russian soldiers and sailors, and thus open the way to their defeat even before the battle is joined (svpressa.ru/war21/article/232972/).
Leading the charge to develop the necessary skills to counter such Western efforts, Chablin says, is Ruslan Tsalikov, the first deputy defense minister, who has been pushing to elevate such abilities to the same level as mastery of more conventional weapons because as he has said, “ever more often, non-military means are used to achieve political and strategic goals.”
From Soviet times onward, Russian officers have been concerned with countering such psychological operations in war-time situations. What is new is that the defense ministry now views this as a full-time focus, given that Russia’s opponents may use psychological warfare at any time.
The Internet has expanded the West’s ability to produce behavioral changes in Russians. But even before the world wide web appeared, the West was able to bring down the Soviet Union, Russian military personnel believe, through the use of Western movies, consumer goods and values.
As one would expect, Russian officers and commentators like Chablin stress that Moscow is developing a defensive capability in this area. But the same skills needed to defend against psychological warfare of the culturological kind can be used to practice it against an opponent.
That suggests three conclusions that Chablin and his defense ministry interlocutors do not draw in public but almost certainly have drawn in private. First, ever more Russian military personnel are being trained to operate in hybrid war situations, places where their ability to counter and use psychological warfare techniques are key.
That is an indication that the military is positioning itself to be the dominant Russian force in such conflicts, shouldering aside both the so-called “private military companies” and the intelligence agencies – or at least laying down an argument as to why the army rather than the others should be in charge.
Second, the defense ministry is moving ever more massively into the propaganda operations of the Russian state, drawing on the principles of psychological warfare to play an ever larger role in defining the efforts acknowledged and not of Moscow to affect populations in other countries.
Given that much of the Russian defense budget is classified or otherwise hidden, the Russian defense ministry may be able to play a far larger role earlier than anyone else. That in turn means that Russian spending on such subversive activities is now greater than thought and may become greater still.
And third, this concern about psychological warfare now suggests that senior commanders are worried about the rapidly changing attitudes of Russians drafted into military service. Because of the consumerist values many of these young people have, officers cannot count on the same level of unquestioned obedience they received in the past.
Consequently, concern about countering what Russian military theorists call “cultural warfare” may presage an expanded military presence in civilian activities like schools in order to counter unwelcome outside influences on young people even before they put on uniforms as soldiers or sailors.