Russia’s war in the Ukraine

Russia’s war in the Ukraine drags on.  While Russia’s ‘new generation warfare’ tactics have proven highly effective, a decisive victory seems increasingly unlikely.  Russia seems trapped, unable to end or exit a conflict that has so far killed almost 10,000 people, including some 500 Russian soldiers.  Even so, Russia’s new way of warfare, so impressively demonstrated in the Ukraine, is increasingly worrying the US and NATO. There are real concerns that these tactics might be used elsewhere, particularly in the small Baltic States of Latvia and Estonia where the population includes sizeable ethnic Russian groups.

Over the past decade Russia has become increasingly concerned about countries on its borders joining the NATO alliance. Perhaps by accident, Russia stumbled onto a way of stopping this. Russia intervened militarily in Georgia in 2008 in a short sharp conflict that created two micro-states, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. With Georgia so divided, the country’s strong push to join NATO suddenly stalled. NATO countries now did not want a state with an incipient civil war joining.

In 2014 Ukraine seemed to be falling under European Union influence, and for Russia, this appeared the precursor to this important border country joining NATO. The Georgian model suggested that if the Ukraine could be similarly divided then it would be prevented from joining NATO, an organisation today seen as Russia’s greatest national security threat.

Ukraine with 45 million people is however a much larger country then Georgia with its four million Moreover, the Russian armed forces had performed poorly in the 2008 Georgian War. Since then though a major modernisation program had extensively reformed the Russian armed forces and a new military strategy had been devised.

Colloquially termed the ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’, the strategy was first revealed in a 2013 article written by the Chief of the Russian General Staff. This article laid out an aggressive three-stage strategy to overthrow hostile regimes through “colour revolutions” that exploited fissures in a country’s society. In the first step, small peaceful protests would be begun, aiming to become progressively larger and larger, and make the country ungovernable. If this failed, external states could then place pressure on the threatened government not to use force to restore order while providing military and financial assistance to the rebels. If this proved still not enough, external states could then launch military operations to defeat the by-now much weakened government and bring the rebels to power. This strategy could quickly destroy a state from within and crucially at a low cost to the external aggressors.

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