Academic journal article Parameters

Does Russia Have a Gerasimov Doctrine?

Academic journal article Parameters

Does Russia Have a Gerasimov Doctrine?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This article questions the hasty rush to label Moscow's actions in Ukraine and Donbas as proof of an alleged adoption of "hybrid warfare," and raises issues concerning Russia's capacity to replicate such approaches in future conflict.


For two years, commentators, experts, and politicians alike have expressed a myriad of views concerning Russia's involvement in separatist activities in southeastern Ukraine. Opinions and perspectives have emerged especially in non-Russian commentary on the Donbas conflict that either complicate or mislead discussions concerning Moscow's actions or the nature of the challenge Russia represents in NATOs north-eastern and eastern flanks. Among these untested and certainly unproven assertions are the ideas that Moscow has developed a doctrine and operational strategy referred to as "hybrid warfare," or that its operations in Ukraine can be explained by reference to new and evolving defense and security capabilities. (1) Unfortunately, hybrid warfare is an alien concept in Russian military theory and in its approach to modern warfare; almost all Russian military analyses of the concept ascribe its existence and parameters to Western states. (2) In order to understand the actual nature of Russia's involvement in Donbas or the challenges it poses to European security, it is necessary to re-examine Russia's actual defense capabilities, the traditions, training, and hallmarks of its military and how Moscow views its strategic threat environment.

Russia's General Staff and the Utility of Operational Models

All militaries have their own distinctive culture and seek to preserve their traditions. Likewise, Russia's armed forces despite undergoing reform, modernization, and force transformation in recent years have retained their distinctive approaches, traditions, and uniqueness. In assessing developments in the Russian military, force structure, training, exercises or perspectives on strategic issues, it is necessary to contextualize such analyses and eschew reading into the Russian experience Western approaches or assumptions. For example, the term sergeant is common to NATO and Russian militaries, but used very differently in Russia; even in the post-reformed Russian armed forces, the noncommissioned officer is not akin to his western counterpart who plays a critical role in the training of subordinates--a task still mainly in the domain of Russian officers. (3)

Equally, there are a number of additional distinctive features of the Russian armed forces and the way they conduct military operations that are unique to the system. Two examples illustrate the point: the Russian armed forces historically avoid entering into conflict without careful and thorough preparation of the battlefield, which means conducting an analysis of the operational environment and making tangible efforts to shape it according to the requirements of the mission; part of that process avoids the use of "models" of warfare to allow for the differences inherent in each new conflict. General Staff officers are equally well versed in examining historical examples of military conflict to glean lessons relevant to present-day operations, while the top brass retains some level of interest in future warfare, building on how well versed they are in the history of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), strong interest in the events of June 1941 and drawing on a more recent tradition going back to Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov (1917-1994, Chief of the General Staff of the USSR 1977-84) and the Revolution in Military Affairs. (4)

Western advocates of the theory that Moscow devised, adopted, and used a hybrid warfare methodology in its operations in Ukraine, tend to root their arguments to a critical article in the Russian military press. In February 2013, Russia's Chief of the General Staff Army-General Valeriy Gerasimov, authored an article in Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, "The Value of Science is in Foresight. …

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