I’m writing this post to react to many articles I’ve read trying to discuss what became known as Russian Hybrid Warfare. Although I’m glad people finally woke up, there’s still too much misunderstandings about what it is and what it is not. The latest article I’ve read is Michael Kofman’s “Russian Hybrid Warfare and Other Dark Arts.” It’s a good one. Although he lost the target by some centimeters, the article is good to stimulate discussion.
Overall (Kofmann excluded), the first mistake is to believe that the Russians used Hoffman’s framework to shape their own strategy. They didn’t. Instead, they’ve been learning from previous experiences of warfare, mostly from the WWII, the ones based on the concepts of Low Intensity Conflict, Network Centric Warfare, and General Slipchenko’s 6th Generation Warfare. Therefore, it might be characterized as hybrid, only if it means “mix of tools.” It’s completely wrong to believe that the Russian strategy is limited to non-linear, hybrid, call as you wish, methods. They part of it, but don’t define it. The main goal is to achieve the objectives with the minimum application of kinetic force. It should be self-evident, that force will be employed when necessary, including linear and conventional capabilities. See my paper discussing Russian New Generation Warfare. The phases I discuss are not mutually exclusive and can be operationalized simultaneously or independently.
The second it the idea it’s not new. I don’t really understand why some people rush saying it’s not new. Probably, because it is self-reassuring: it’s not new = we know it = we know how to cope with it = everything is fine. Problem solved. I’m afraid it’s not that easy. It’s true, that many, if not most aspects of the Russian strategy isn’t new. However, its novelty appears in two aspects. First, on the combination of factors to achieve a strategic objective. As I said once in a conference, eggs and oil are not new. Someday, someone made mayonnaise. It’s different, but its components are not new. Second, the technological development of the last 30 years gave new breath to old tactics and strategies that weren’t really significant in the operational theater. In this sense, it’s about using old instruments in a new way. If it was simple as “it’s not new,” we wouldn’t be debating it as much as we are.
Third, there isn’t a Gerasimov doctrine. His presentation later published in VPK just reflected the main points some military thinkers, notably Chekinov and Bogdanov, have been doing for years. It’s the resume of many years of development. Let’s not forget that it was about the role of Military Science in prediction. Gerasimov’s latest article on VPK just made the same point again, claiming that he expects Military Science to help military leaders to think about practical problems of were. He seems to be worried about Russia’s lack of strategy to defend itself against what he called “hybrid threats”.
One should note that this is how the Russians refer to the color revolutions, fundamentally a Western strategy (in their eyes). In reality, as Charles K. Bartles noted in his excellent article “Getting Gerasimov Right,” he perceives the primary threats to Russian sovereignty as stemming from U.S.-funded social and political movements such as color revolutions, the Arab Spring, and the Maidan movement. He also sees threats in the U.S. development of hypersonic weapons and the anti-ballistic missile and Prompt Global Strike programs, which he believes could degrade Russian strategic deterrence capabilities and disturb the current strategic balance.” However, there’s a problem with his conclusion that “Gerasimov’s article is not proposing a new Russian way of warfare or a hybrid war, as has been stated in the West.” There are two interconnected points to be taken in consideration. First, it represents the Russian understanding of how warfare is conducted nowadays. It’s based on many articles being published along the years in Voienaya Misl, Orientir, Red Star, VPK, and other military publications. Second, of course the Russians learn from experience. It’s also very interesting to see how it is reflected on the military reform and the latest ZAPAD exercise.
Therefore, it’s not hybrid. We can call it hybrid, but I exactly dislike it because it becomes implicit that there’s no conventional warfare. There is, and a lot of it.