Rus­sia sets strat­egy to gain global in­flu­ence

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitic­s - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

Em­bold­ened by suc­cesses in Syria and in in­flu­enc­ing the 2016 Amer­i­can elec­tion, Rus­sia will use high-tech dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns com­bined with “lim­ited” mil­i­tary ac­tions as the cor­ner­stones of a grand plan to di­vide the West and re-es­tab­lish it­self as a global force — a broad geopo­lit­i­cal strat­egy that an­a­lysts and in­sid­ers fear has caught the U.S. and its al­lies flat-footed.

In re­veal­ing pub­lic re­marks, top Rus­sian mil­i­tary of­fi­cials in re­cent weeks have cast the plan as a nec­es­sary re­sponse to U.S. in­ter­ven­tion around the world. They cited as ex­am­ples Iraq and Libya, along with the more re­cent push for regime change in Venezuela, an ally of Moscow.

The ap­proach will com­bine Rus­sia’s in­fa­mous “hy­brid war­fare” method of us­ing fake news sto­ries and cy­ber­at­tacks to achieve po­lit­i­cal goals. An­a­lysts say the move is on dis­play right now as Moscow tries to in­flu­ence up­com­ing elec­tions in Ukraine with the tar­geted de­ploy­ment of mil­i­tary forces to thwart the U.S. and NATO.

The strat­egy was up­dated in the wake of a U.S. over­haul of mil­i­tary strat­egy last year that de-em­pha­sizes the fight against state­less ter­ror­ist groups and fo­cuses on tra­di­tional big-power state ri­vals such as China and Rus­sia.

The Rus­sian mil­i­tary strat­egy proved ef­fec­tive in Syria, where rel­a­tively small num­bers of troops and para­mil­i­tary forces were able to keep dic­ta­tor Bashar As­sad in power, turn the tide of a civil war and greatly com­pli­cate Amer­ica’s abil­ity to con­duct op­er­a­tions in­side the coun­try.

An­a­lysts say the strat­egy re­tains many tra­di­tional el­e­ments of the Krem­lin’s na­tional se­cu­rity ap­proach but also rep­re­sents a clear, com­pre­hen­sive vi­sion for a quickly chang­ing in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment. Cen­tral to the broader plan is di­vid­ing the U.S. and its NATO al­lies in or­der to pre­vent a strong, co­her­ent in­ter­na­tional re­sponse to fur­ther ag­gres­sion in eastern Europe, in the Mid­dle East and in cy­berspace.

Rus­sia has made no se­cret of its plans, but for­eign pol­icy ob­servers say the West­ern re­sponse is flawed.

“While the U.S. and our al­lies have made some progress, the re­sponse thus far has been in­suf­fi­ciently ro­bust and poorly co­or­di­nated,” said Brad Bow­man, se­nior di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter on Mil­i­tary and Po­lit­i­cal Power at the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies.

“Work­ing with our al­lies, we must more ef­fec­tively counter Rus­sia’s ag­gres­sive dis­in­for­ma­tion op­er­a­tions,” he said. “The ef­fec­tive­ness of the NATO de­ter­rent de­pends on both mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity and the po­lit­i­cal will to op­pose Moscow’s ag­gres­sion.”

‘One step ahead’

Top Rus­sian Gen. Valery Gerasi­mov — whose name­sake, the Gerasi­mov Doc­trine, lays out Rus­sia’s 21st-cen­tury hy­brid war­fare strat­egy — said this month that re­cent U.S. for­eign pol­icy moves ne­ces­si­tate a re­vised re­sponse from Moscow.

“The Pen­tagon has be­gun to de­velop a fun­da­men­tally new strat­egy of war­fare, which has al­ready been dubbed the Tro­jan horse,” Gen. Gerasi­mov said. “Its essence lies in the ac­tive use of the protest po­ten­tial of the ‘fifth col­umn’ for the desta­bi­liza­tion of a sit­u­a­tion while si­mul­ta­ne­ously at­tack­ing the most im­por­tant fa­cil­i­ties with high-pre­ci­sion weapons.”

Mr. Gerasi­mov said Moscow will re­spond in kind and de­clared that the Rus­sian mil­i­tary’s top pri­or­ity is fig­ur­ing out the most ef­fec­tive ways to pro­tect its own in­ter­ests.

“The jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of the mea­sures that are be­ing de­vel­oped should con­sti­tute the sci­en­tific ac­tiv­ity of mil­i­tary sci­en­tists,” he said. “This is one of the pri­or­ity ar­eas for en­sur­ing state se­cu­rity. We must be ahead of the en­emy in the de­vel­op­ment of mil­i­tary strat­egy, one step ahead.”

U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials are well aware of the threat. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Na­tional De­fense Strat­egy, spear­headed by James Mat­tis be­fore he re­signed as de­fense sec­re­tary at the end of last year, and other key pol­icy doc­u­ments have con­sis­tently iden­ti­fied Rus­sia as a pri­mary se­cu­rity chal­lenge.

“They have ac­cel­er­ated their own mil­i­tary mod­ern­iza­tion ef­forts and vig­or­ously pur­sued the de­vel­op­ment and field­ing of ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies with a clear in­tent: cre­ate an asym­met­ric mil­i­tary ad­van­tage against us, our al­lies and our part­ners,” act­ing De­fense Sec­re­tary Pa­trick M. Shana­han told a Se­nate com­mit­tee.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Pen­tagon of­fi­cials stress that the U.S. re­sponse cen­ters on deter­rence: iden­ti­fy­ing spe­cific Rus­sian ac­tions and re­spond­ing to them, or pre­vent­ing them when­ever pos­si­ble. Some an­a­lysts say that phi­los­o­phy makes sense be­cause the U.S. and its al­lies must ac­cept that Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has set­tled on a strat­egy and is un­likely to be de­terred.

“The Rus­sians are the one piece you can’t im­pact. Putin is go­ing to be Putin,” said James Carafano, a lead­ing na­tional se­cu­rity and for­eign pol­icy an­a­lyst at the con­ser­va­tive Her­itage Foun­da­tion. “Putin is an im­mov­able ob­ject.”

On elec­tion med­dling, Moscow clearly in­tends to fol­low the path it carved out in 2016: us­ing cy­ber­at­tacks, fake news and other tools to im­pact votes. The front line in that fight right now is Ukraine, which is set to hold key elec­tions this month.

In ad­di­tion to the use of so­cial me­dia and fake news, Ukrainian of­fi­cials say, they have un­cov­ered ev­i­dence that Rus­sia is work­ing with sym­pa­thiz­ers in­side Ukraine to set up a com­plex bribery sys­tem in or­der to guar­an­tee vic­tory for its fa­vored can­di­dates.

“This ac­tiv­ity is il­le­gal and im­plies an im­pact on the elec­tion re­sults,” top Ukrainian se­cu­rity of­fi­cial Vik­tor Kononenko told the Reuters news agency last month.

Rus­sia has used sim­i­lar tac­tics cou­pled with dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns to tar­get elec­tions across Eastern Europe, along with its more high-pro­file ef­forts to im­pact the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and Britain’s Brexit ref­er­en­dum in 2016.

On the mil­i­tary side, Mr. Gerasi­mov re­peat­edly cited Venezuela as the lat­est ex­am­ple of a U.S. vi­o­la­tion of an­other na­tion’s sovereignt­y by push­ing for regime change. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion now rec­og­nizes Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion leader Juan Guaido as the na­tion’s leader and has en­cour­aged the in­cum­bent pres­i­dent, so­cial­ist Ni­co­las Maduro, to step down.

Al­though it seems un­likely that Moscow would dis­patch troops to Venezuela as it did in Syria, an­a­lysts say, Mr. Putin and his deputies have con­sid­ered a mil­i­tary op­tion to pro­tect the gov­ern­ment from U.S. threats.

“They’ve played with the idea of putting mis­siles in Venezuela or hav­ing a mil­i­tary base there,” said Ariel Co­hen, a se­nior fel­low with the At­lantic Coun­cil.

Di­vid­ing NATO

At the heart of Rus­sia’s strat­egy, an­a­lysts say, is a cal­cu­lated ef­fort to di­vide the U.S. from its NATO al­lies. Moscow be­lieves that fo­ment­ing dis­cord within the al­liance will make the West far less likely to re­sist the move­ment of more Rus­sian troops into Ukrainian ter­ri­tory or to fight even greater cy­beras­saults.

“You want to find a sce­nario where you can do some­thing and win quickly and force NATO to not” re­spond, Mr. Carafano said. “Get NATO to blink … and re­ally show that the em­peror has no clothes.

“We’re all fight­ing the last war,” he said. “We’re all wor­ried about Ukraine, where I think the real threat is not on the fron­tier. It’s in Paris, it’s in Ber­lin, it’s in Is­tan­bul.”

In­deed, Rus­sian pol­icy moves in re­cent years sug­gest that Moscow is in­tent on driv­ing a wedge be­tween Europe and the U.S. wher­ever pos­si­ble.

With Ger­many, for ex­am­ple, Moscow has worked to fi­nal­ize the mas­sive Nord Stream 2 nat­u­ral gas pipe­line. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ve­he­mently op­poses the project for se­cu­rity rea­sons, but Ber­lin is ea­ger to com­plete it be­cause it would bring a fi­nan­cial wind­fall.

Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Giuseppe Conte visited Rus­sia last fall and quickly an­nounced his op­po­si­tion to con­tin­u­ing Euro­pean Union sanc­tions on Moscow. The U.S. strongly sup­ports the con­tin­u­a­tion of those sanc­tions.

Rus­sia also has di­vided the U.S. and Turkey by push­ing a deal for Ankara to buy the Rus­sian S-400 mis­sile sys­tem. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has said the U.S. will cut off sales of F-35 fighter jets if Turkey pro­ceeds with the pur­chase.

Those and other ex­am­ples un­der­score the strat­egy of di­vi­sion, which an­a­lysts say largely has been a suc­cess.

“I think the Rus­sian anti-NATO strat­egy is work­ing,” Mr. Co­hen said.

For Moscow, the ap­proach comes at an op­por­tune time. An­a­lysts say Mr. Putin and other top Rus­sian of­fi­cials are keenly aware that Mr. Trump — through his de­mands that NATO in­crease de­fense spend­ing, his with­drawals from the Paris cli­mate ac­cord and the Iran nu­clear deal, among other moves — has not in­gra­ti­ated him­self with key NATO al­lies.

“You play this card: The Euro­peans al­ready want to hate him,” Mr. Carafano said.


Top Rus­sian Gen. Valery Gerasi­mov — whose name­sake, the Gerasi­mov Doc­trine, lays out Rus­sia’s 21st-cen­tury hy­brid war­fare strat­egy — said this month that Rus­sia needs a re­vised re­sponse to the Pen­tagon’s “Tro­jan horse” ap­proach to war­fare.

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