Options for the West to Address Russia’s Unconventional Tactics

This article is published as part of the Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options Writing Contest which runs from March 1, 2019 to May 31, 2019.  More information about the writing contest can be found here.


Jesse Short was enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps infantry and served in the Republic of Iraq between 2005 and 2008.  He currently works as a security contractor in the Middle East and recently finished his M.S. in Global Studies and International Relations from Northeastern University.  He can be found on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/jesse-s-4b10a312a. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  The Russian Federation’s limited forms of warfare against western states and associated influence in other regions challenges the world as it is conducted below the threshold of war.

Date Originally Written:  March 3, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  March 25, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a veteran of the infantry in both the United States Marine Corps and United States Army. The author believes in checking clear threats to western states with strong and decisive, but intelligent responses. This article is written from the point of view of western states under the threat of the ‘unconventional’ actions of the Russian Federation.  

Background:  Russia, under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, has established its foreign policy in the last ten years on interrupting and negatively influencing the stability of other states. This foreign policy has largely gone unanswered by the international community and only serves to reinforce the use of these actions by Russian actors. Georgia was the first case and Ukraine is a much more dynamic second example of this policy[1]. These two policy tests have proven to Russia, and in some sense to other states like China, that limited forms and unconventional forms of coercion, intimidation, and violence will go unchecked so long as they do not go too far with these actions. The West’s lack of imagination and adherence to one-sided western rules and laws are its glaring weakness. This weakness is being exploited relentlessly with little meaningful response.   

Significance:  Since around the time of Russia’s incursion into the Republic of Georgia in 2008, Putin has been operating unchecked around the world. Putin’s actions have been disastrous for what is an already tumultuous world order. If continued, these actions will create more direct and indirect issues in the future and increase the threat to western stability. 

Option #1:  The West influences Russia within its border.

The equal and opposite response to Russian transgressions around the world would be to attempt to spread misinformation and potentially destabilize Russian society by targeting the citizenry’s trust in Putin and his government. The aim with this approach is to distract the Russian government and intelligence services to preoccupy them with trouble within their own borders as to limit their ability to function effectively outside of their state borders. 

Risk:  While this approach is opposite to what actions most western societies are willing to take, this option can also have severely negative consequences on a political level in domestic politics in the West. While Russia can take similar actions as a semi-authoritarian state with little repercussion, the proposed actions would be a bigger issue in western democracies which are at the mercy of public opinion[2]. Russian media also has greater pull and influence within its community than western media does in the West, so Russia can shape its truth accordingly. Another large issue is that the Russian people should not be made to suffer for the actions that are mostly to be blamed on what appears to be their poorly representative government. This option could serve to galvanize polarity between Russians and western citizens unjustly if discovered. Finally, it is unlikely that western intelligence services would be given the support or be able to maintain the secrecy required to conduct these actions effectively without it being made public and having even more severe consequences once those actions were exposed[3]. 

Gain:  A misinformation campaign or the exposure to hidden truths covered up by the Russian government may have a positive effect on Russians and their relationship with / control of their government. Exposing voters to what their government is doing around the world with state funds may influence that relationship in a more positive manner. Also, if things did work out according to plan, Russia may be forced to withdraw somewhat from its politically divisive ventures in Georgia, Ukraine, Syria, and perhaps Africa and Belarus.     

Option #2:  The West responds outside of Russia.

Western states could act more aggressively in checking Russian support of small political factions and insurgencies in specific regions. The issue of Russian occupation in the Republic of Georgia and Russian material and personnel support in eastern Ukraine are the best places to start. A greater commitment to supporting the incoming regime following Ukraine’s upcoming elections and the involvement of western states in more intensive training and operations with Ukrainian forces would be a welcomed adjustment of policy[4]. The West’s turning of the other cheek that has largely followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for the Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples’ Republics send the wrong messages to the friends and enemies of western powers.

Risk:  The risks that are ever-present with a stronger approach to Russian interventionist tactics are mainly geared at avoiding a larger conflict. The reason behind Russia’s low-intensity application of force and influence is to scare the faint-hearted away[5]. It is working. No state wants a war. War with Russia would not end well for any party that is involved. While war is unlikely, it is still a possibility that needs to be considered when additional states become involved in these limited conflicts. Again, politics must be factored into the commitment of force with warfighters, financial support, or materiel support. Democratic leaders are going to be hesitant to become involved in small wars with no strategy to back them up. Afghanistan and Iraq have already done enough damage to western powers with their lack of direction and their continued drain on resources to no end. 

Gain:  Showing aggressive states that their divisive actions will be met with a sure and solid response is the best thing that could happen for international stability in the coming years. The negligence the world community has shown to an overaggressive Russia and China in recent years has set a very dangerous precedent.  

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] United States Congress: Commission on Security Cooperation in Europe. (2018). Russia’s Occupation of Georgia and the Erosion of the International Order: Hearing before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, One Hundred Fifteenth Congress, Second Session, July 17, 2018.

[2] Zakem, V., Saunders, P., Hashimova, U., & Frier, P. (2017). Mapping Russian Media Network: Media’s Role in Russian Foreign Policy and Decision-Making (No. DRM-2017-U-015367-1Rev). Arlington, Virginia: CNA Analysis and Solutions. 

[3] Reichmann, D. (2017). “CIA boss Mike Pompeo says ‘leaker worship’ compromising American intelligence”. Global News. Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/3554008/mike-pompeo-leakers-us-intelligence/

[4] Deychakiwsky, O. (2018). “Analysis: U.S. Assistance to Ukraine”. U.S. Ukraine Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.usukraine.org/analysis-u-s-assistance-ukraine/

[5] Khramchikhin, A. (2018). “Rethinking the Danger of Escalation: The Russia-NATO Military Balance”. Carnegie Endowment of International Peace. Retrieved from https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/01/25/rethinking-danger-of-escalation-russia-nato-military-balance-pub-75346.    

Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) Jesse Short Option Papers Russia Small Wars Journal Writing Contest

Assessing Military Thought in Post-Soviet Russia

Jonathan Hall is a security and political risk analyst focused on Eurasian geopolitics, military affairs, and emerging technologies.  Follow Jonathan on Twitter at _JonathanPHall.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessing Military Thought in Post-Soviet Russia

Date Originally Written:  January 21, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  February 4, 2019.

Summary:  While the geopolitical landscape of the 21st century is characteristically different than it was during the time of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Russia’s underlying political interests remain largely unchanged. As such, rather than any abeyance to the previously popular strategies of the USSR, Russia’s activities in the information sphere and on the battlefield are no more than the continuation, and refinement, of Soviet-era tactics and operational concepts. 

Text:  Predominantly following the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, the assumption that Russian tactics have drastically changed may be chiefly explained by the growing popularity of the terms “hybrid warfare” and the “Gerasimov Doctrine.” The former, a potentially applicable military concept to modern day examples of war has yet to find an agreed upon definition. Despite lacking agreement, hybrid war is, unfortunately, used as a for label nearly every example of Russian strategy. The latter, however, is neither a real doctrine, nor fully Gerasimov’s idea. The term originates from an article written by Dr. Mark Galeotti[1]. In it, Galeotti provides his commentary on a 2013 piece written in the Military-Industrial Kurier by Russian General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation. Galeotti’s article included a disclaimer that the term “Gerasimov Doctrine” was merely used for its value as a title, however that did little good as many began to quote the term without reading the article, or likely even knowing where it came from. 

Gerasimov’s article, “The Value of Science in Prediction,” was his response to the then-recent Arab Springs, and how the face of warfare is evolving. Gerasimov’s most widely cited statement, “The very ‘rules of war’ have changed. The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness,” has interestingly been used by some to form their conclusion that Russian military thought has undergone a transformation. However, rather than anything new, Gerasimov’s writing – largely building on the work of his predecessor, Nikolai Makarov – repeatedly cites Soviet military strategists such as Aleksandr Svechin who wrote, “Each war represents a partial case, requiring the establishment of its own peculiar logic, and not the application of some sort of model[2].” 

Svechin’s quote provides evidence that he was invariably familiar with the writings of Carl von Clausewitz, who similarly posited that “Every age has its own kind of war, its own limiting conditions, and its own peculiar preconceptions[3].” Taken from On War, written between 1816 and 1830, Russia’s current General Staff not only anchors its strategy in Soviet-era thought – it is founded upon the principles Clausewitz first presented in the early nineteenth century. For analysts and defense planners today, understanding that they are currently facing Soviet adaptations is critical. The notion that history repeats itself is alive and well in the Russian General Staff.  

A perennial component in the Kremlin’s toolbox has been its disinformation campaign. This concept finds its roots in spetspropaganda, or special propaganda. First taught as a subject at the Russian Military Institute of Foreign Languages in 1942, it was removed from the curriculum in the 1990s. Unsurprisingly, it was reinstated by Putin, a former Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB) officer, in 2000[4].  

Specific tactics within Russia’s strategy of information warfare are based upon the idea of “reflexive control.” Developed during the Soviet Union, the theory of reflexive control states that, “control can be established through reflexive, unconscious responses from a target group. This group is systematically supplied with (dis)information designed to provoke reactions that are predictable and, to Russia, politically and strategically desirable[5].” Allowing the Kremlin to exploit preconceptions and differences in opinion amongst its enemies, this tactic which was prolific during the Soviet Union is once again being used against Ukraine and North Atlantic Treaty Organization member countries. 

All of these so-called nonmilitary tactics, as the current Russian General Staff defines them, are no more than “active measures” which date back to the 1920s[6]. Once used by Cheka (the Soviet secret police organization), the OGPU (Unified State Political Administration), the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs), and the KGB during the Soviet Union, the practice is being continued by the Federal Security Service (FSB), Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU), and other government agencies. Founded in Leninist-thinking, these subversive activities may be used within or without the framework of a larger kinetic operation. Detailed by former KGB general Oleg Kalugin, they were designed to “weaken the West,” and, “to drive wedges in the Western community alliances[7].” 

These concepts, alluded to by Gerasimov, more narrowly focus on the non-kinetic components of the Kremlin’s strategy. However, official Russian documents, while echoing similar language, combine them with more traditional military means of executing operational plans. The 2010 Russian Military Doctrine highlighted the importance of integrating nonmilitary resources with military forces. This was further detailed in 2014 to include, “participation of irregular armed force elements,” and, “use of indirect and asymmetric methods of operations[8].

Illustrating this in practice, the best example of Russia’s use of irregular armed forces would be – in post-annexation parlance – its “little green men.” This tactic of sending Russian Spetsnaz without insignia into a foreign country to destabilize its political environment and assume control has been discussed as somewhat of a novel concept. However, going back to December 1979, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan began with around 700 Spetsnaz, many of them Soviet Muslims, in Afghan uniforms taking Afghanistan President Amin’s palace by storm, along with several key military, media, and government installations[9]. 

With many other useful parallels to draw upon, the idea here is not to deny change has occurred in the nearly three decades since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Thanks to emerging technologies and progressive military thinking, tactical choice in Post-Soviet Russia has certainly advanced. But in many ways these advancements are no more than superficial – fitting in with the argument that the characteristics of war may change, but its nature may not[10]. 

The ideas Russia has presented in both word and deed surely deserve detailed analysis. That analysis, however, should be conducted with an understanding that the concepts under review are the continuation of Soviet thinking, rather than a departure. Moving forward, the Kremlin will continue to design, perfect, and implement new strategies. In looking to respond, history remains our greatest tool in discerning the practical applications of Russian military thinking. As Gerasimov would likely agree, the theoretical underpinnings of the Soviet Union provide us with a more perceptive lens of inspection than any new model of warfare ever could.


Endnotes:

[1] Galeotti, M. (2014). The “Gerasimov doctrine” and Russian non-linear war. Moscow’s Shadows, 6(7), 2014. https://inmoscowsshadows.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/the-gerasimov-doctrine-and-russian-non-linear-war/

[2] Gerasimov, V. (2013). Tsennost Nauki V Predvidenii. Military-Industrial Kurier. https://vpk-news.ru/sites/default/files/pdf/VPK_08_476.pdf 

[3] Howard, M., & Paret, P. (1976). On War (Vol. 117), pg. 593. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

[4] Smoleňová, I. (2016). The Pro-Russian Disinformation Campaign in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. per Concordiamhttps://www.marshallcenter.org/MCPUBLICWEB/mcdocs/files/College/F_Publications/perConcordiam/pC_V7_SpecialEdition_en.pdf 

[5] Snegovaya, M. (2015). “Reflexive control”: Putin’s hybrid warfare in Ukraine is straight out of the Soviet playbook. Business insider.https://www.businessinsider.com/reflexive-control-putins-hybrid-warfare-in-ukraine-is-straight-out-of-the-soviet-playbook-2015-9

[6] Watts, C. (2017). Disinformation: A Primer in Russian Active Measures and Influence Campaigns. Statement prepared for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.https://www.intelligence.senate.gov/sites/default/files/documents/os-kalexander-033017.pdf 

[7] Pomerantsev, P., & Weiss, M. (2014). The menace of unreality: How the Kremlin weaponizes information, culture and money (Vol. 14). New York: Institute of Modern Russia.http://www.galerie9.com/blog/the_menace_of_unreality_fin.pdf 

[8] Kofman, M., & Rojansky, M. (2015). A Closer Look at Russia’s’ Hybrid War. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/190090/5-kennan%20cable-rojansky%20kofman.pdf 

[9] Popescu, N. (2015). Hybrid tactics: neither new nor only Russian. EUISS Issue Alert, 4. https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/187819/Alert_4_hybrid_warfare.pdf 

[10] Gray, C. S. (2015). The future of strategy. John Wiley & Sons.

Assessment Papers Jonathan Hall Russia

Assessing the Failure of Minsk II in Ukraine and the Success of the 2008 Ceasefire in Georgia

Sarah Martin is a recent graduate of George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, where she wrote her thesis on Chechen foreign fighters in Syria.  She was previously a fellow at NatSecGirlSquad, supporting the organization’s debut conference on November 15, 2018.  She can be found on Twitter @amerikitkatoreo. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title: Assessing the Failure of Minsk II in Ukraine and the “Success” of the 2008 Ceasefire in Georgia

Date Originally Written:  December 16, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  January 21, 2019.

Summary:  In 2019 the Donbass War in Ukraine will enter its fifth year. Over 10,000 people have been killed, 3,000 of them civilians, and one million displaced. Two ceasefire agreements between Moscow and Kyiv have failed, and no new agreements are forthcoming. When compared to the agreement of the 2008 August War between Russia and Georgia, ending the stalemate in Ukraine and determining a victor might be the key to brokering a lasting ceasefire.

Text:  It is easy to find comparisons between the ongoing Donbass War in Ukraine and the 2008 August War between Russia and Georgia. However, despite their similarities, one ended swiftly, in less than a month, while the other continues without even the slightest hint of deescalation in the near future. This paper seeks to assess the endpoints of these conflicts in order to begin a conversation exploring why the conflict in Georgia ended, and why the conflict in Ukraine continues.

The ceasefire agreement between Russia and Georgia did not necessarily bring about the end of hostilities, especially at first. Indeed, even into 2018, Russia has been in violation of this agreement in a number of ways, including inching the South Ossetian border fence deeper into Georgia[1]. However, major operations between Moscow and Tbilisi have ceased, while they have not in Ukraine.

The current conflict in Ukraine involves two main players: the central government of Kyiv, and factions under the self-ascribed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). The DPR and LPR are heavily supported by Moscow by way of private mercenary forces such as the Wagner Group[2] and regular soldiers and weapons [3]. Kyiv is supported by the United State (U.S.), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU). This support is mostly political with some weapons sales and training, though the U.S. has recently begun to sell lethal weapons[4].

Kyiv seeks to maintain internal state integrity and political independence from Russia[5]. The DPR and LPR are keen not to be independent states, but to be united with the Russian Federation, as they see themselves as an ethnolinguistic minority with closer ties to Russia than their Ukrainian-speaking counterparts[6]. Other stakeholders have their own objectives. Western partners wish to maintain international order and to guarantee Ukraine’s national right to self-determination. Russia has always struggled with the concept of an independent Ukraine and is wary of any attempts of “democratic reform,” which it sees as a Western plot pursuing regime change within the Kremlin[7].

There have been two major attempts to bring this conflict to an end: the September 2014 Minsk Protocol and February 2015 Minsk II. In 2015, DPR representatives openly considered the possibility of reintegration with Kyiv[8]. Current Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, ran on a platform of ending the conflict and achieving peace[9]. There was, at one time, at least some political will to see the violence stop. But the Minsk Protocol fell apart practically overnight, and despite early hopes, Minsk II did not stand much longer[10].

The August War in 2008 between Georgia and Russia was equally complex. The war broke out that summer as the endpoint of a series of escalating tensions between Tbilisi, South Ossetia/Tskhinvali Region, Abkhazia, and Moscow. Although the European Council’s fact-finding mission pointed to Georgia as the actor responsible for the start of the war by firing heavy artillery into Tskhinvali, the region’s main town, the report noted Georgia’s actions came in response to pressure and provocation from Moscow[11].

The primary actors in the August War were the Georgian government in Tbilisi and rebellious factions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are two ethnic minority regions of Georgia and have sought independence from Tbilisi since the 1990s. Other stakeholders were Russia, the U.S., and the broader Western alliance. Russia acted unilaterally in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, overtly using their fleets and their soldiers, claiming to be defending peacekeepers and South Ossetians who were, as they claimed, Russian citizens[12].

In the months leading up to the outbreak of violence, Georgia sought EU and NATO membership, and Russia found such steps away from their influence unacceptable[13]. The U.S. and its Western allies supported Georgia’s desires to varying degrees; most agreed that the integration ought to happen, though when exactly it should, was left to some innocuous “future” date[14].

Moscow responded to the situation in Georgia with overwhelming force and had the city of Tbilisi in their sights within days. Having positioned themselves on the border during their quadrennial Kavkaz (Caucasus) military exercises and having a much more sophisticated army and modern weapons, Moscow was ready for combat. Georgia scrambled, underestimating Moscow’s interest in South Ossetia and overestimating Western willingness to intervene[15].

There are many similarities between the 2008 August War in Georgia and the ongoing Donbass War in Ukraine. However, what is strikingly different, and perhaps the most important element, is the swiftness and assuredness by which the conflict came to an end. There was a clear winner. When Nicolas Sarkozy, then acting president of the European Commission, and then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to the terms which officially brought the August War to an end, Medvedev said, “the aggressor was punished, suffering huge losses[16].”

While both Ukraine and Russia have much to gain by keeping the conflict ongoing, Ukraine—on its own—does not have the capability to bring the war to an end[17]. Ending the Donbass War is squarely in Moscow’s court, so long as Kyiv bears the brunt of its own defense. Moscow is, after all, in charge of the separatists driving the conflict[18]. The failure of both Minsk agreements is an example of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. To both Kyiv and Moscow, the end of this conflict is positioned as a lose / lose situation. Compromise is not an option, but on a long enough timeline, something has to give.

An end of the violence will not be the end of the conflict in the Donbass, as noted in the case of Russo-Georgian relations. However, a cessation of shelling and the laying of mines means that people can return home and the dead can be properly mourned. A ceasefire is not the final step, but the first one. The road to peace in the Donbass is a long and winding journey, but it cannot and will not begin without that first step.


Endnotes:

[1] Oliphant, R. (2015, July 16). EU condemns Russia over ‘creeping annexation’ of Georgia. The Telegraph. Retrieved December 18, 2018, from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/georgia/11745510/EU-condemns-Russia-over-creeping-annexation-of-Georgia.html

[2] Sukhankin, S. (2018, July 13). ‘Continuing War by Other Means’: The Case of Wagner, Russia’s Premier Private Military Company in the Middle East. The Jamestown Foundation. Retrieved December 18, 2018, from https://jamestown.org/program/continuing-war-by-other-means-the-case-of-wagner-russias-premier-private-military-company-in-the-middle-east/

[3] RFE/RL. Kyiv Says 42,500 Rebels, Russian Soldiers Stationed In East Ukraine. (2015, June 8). Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved December 18, 2018, from https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-russian-troops-fighting-poltorak/27059578.html

[4] Borger, J. (2018, September 01). US ready to boost arms supplies to Ukraine naval and air forces, envoy says. The Guardian. Retrieved December 18, 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/31/ukraine-kurt-volker-us-arms-supplies

[5] International Republican Institute, & The Government of Canada. (2016, January 01). Public Opinion Survey Residents of Ukraine: May 28-June 14, 2016 [PPT]. Washington, DC: International Republican Institute. Retrieved December 18, 2018, from https://www.iri.org/sites/default/files/wysiwyg/2016-07-08_ukraine_poll_shows_skepticism_glimmer_of_hope.pdf

[6] Al Jazeera News. (2017, February 17). ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ seeks sense of nationhood. Al Jazeera. Retrieved December 18, 2018, from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/02/donetsk-people-republic-seeks-sense-nationhood-170217043602195.html

[7] Ioffe, J. (2018, January/February). What Putin Really Wants. The Atlantic. Retrieved December 18, 2018, from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/01/putins-game/546548/

[8] VICE News. (2015). The War May be Over: Russian Roulette (Dispatch 110). Clip. United States: Vice News. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsr1J6F76XY

[9] Webb, I. (2017, February 6). Kiev Is Fueling the War in Eastern Ukraine, Too. Foreign Policy. Retrieved December 18, 2018, from https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/02/06/its-not-just-putin-fueling-war-in-ukraine-trump-donbas/

[10] The Economist. (2016, September 14). What are the Minsk agreements? The Economist. Retrieved December 18, 2018, from https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2016/09/13/what-are-the-minsk-agreements

[11] Council of the European Union. (2009). Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia: Report (Vol. 1, Publication). Brussels: The European Council. https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/HUDOC_38263_08_Annexes_ENG.pdf

[12] Allison, R. (2008). Russia resurgent? Moscow’s campaign to ‘coerce Georgia to peace’. International Affairs, 84(6), 1145-1171. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2346.2008.00762.x

[13] Percy, N. (Producer). (2012). Putin, Russia and the West, Part III: War. Documentary movie. United Kingdom: BBC.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Waal, T. D. (2010). The Caucasus: An Introduction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

[16] Finn, P. (2008, August 13). Moscow Agrees To Georgia Truce. Washington Post Foreign Service. Retrieved December 19, 2018, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/12/AR2008081200365.html

[17] Webb, I. “Kiev War.”

[18] Pifer, S. (2017, February 15). Minsk II at two years. Retrieved December 19, 2018, from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2017/02/15/minsk-ii-at-two-years/

Assessment Papers Georgia Russia Sarah Martin Ukraine

Assessment of the Future of “Russkiy Mir” in Russia’s Grand Strategy

Gabriela Rosa-Hernández was the U.S.-Russia Relationship Research Intern at the American Security Project.  Rosa-Hernández is a David L. Boren Scholar and a Critical Language Scholarship recipient for Russian Language.  Collectively, she’s resided for nearly two years in post-soviet spaces such as Russia, Latvia, and the Republic of Georgia.  Rosa-Hernández can be found on Twitter @GabrielaIRosa.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Editor’s Note:  All translations were done by the author.

Title:  Assessment of the Future of “Russkiy Mir” in Russia’s Grand Strategy

Date Originally Written:  December 10, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  December 31, 2018.

Summary:  In October 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke at the 6th World Congress of Compatriots Living Abroad and approved a migration policy.  In 2014, Russia utilized its “Russian World” rhetoric to justify its illegal annexation of Crimea and its support of secessionist groups in the Donbass.  Following Russia’s demographic decline, and its economic issues; it is likely that the “Russian World” narrative will continue and focus on compatriot resettlement.

Text:  “Russian World” is perhaps Russia’s most controversial piece of policy.  While the terms “Compatriots” and “Russian Diaspora” were not new when President Vladimir Putin took office, the first time he officially mentioned the term “Russian World” was in 2001 before the first World Congress of Compatriots Living Abroad[1].  Specifically, Putin stated, “the notion of the Russian World extends far from Russia’s geographical borders and even far from the borders of the Russian ethnicity[2].”  From this moment on, the Russian government erased the boundaries between ethnic Russians and those who identified themselves belonging to the cultural-linguistic-spiritual sphere of the Russian Federation.  “Russian World,” can be best described as the ideological concept guiding the way in which Russia’s responsibility to “compatriots” abroad manifests itself into concrete policy[3].  Overall, “Russian World” is such a versatile piece of policy that it can be observed in Russia’s 2015 National Security Strategy just as it can be seen in Russia’s 2018 “Decree on the Concept of the State Migration Policy.”

On December 31, 2015, the Russian government released its National Security Strategy and the term “compatriot” was mentioned twice therein.  The first mention of “compatriot” was located under the “Russia in the Contemporary World” section[4].  The document directly read that “Russia has shown the ability to defend the rights of compatriots abroad.”  Right after this, the strategy remarked how Russia’s role has increased in solving important world problems.  The strategy posed “defending the rights of compatriots abroad” as an international issue where Russia could bolster its role in the international arena. “Compatriot” was also casually mentioned under the “Culture” section[5]. 

The “Culture” section of the strategy regarded Russian language as not only a tool of interethnic interaction within the Russian Federation but the basis of integration processes in the post-Soviet space.  It remarked that the function of the Russian language as a state language was also a means of meeting the language and cultural requirements of “compatriots” abroad.  Essentially, Russia visualized Russian language as something far more than its state language.  Instead, Russia views the Russian language as the means to interethnic communication in the post-Soviet space, particularly Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) member states.  The document also mentioned that Russia supported Russian language and cultural programs in CIS member states to further the Eurasian integration process[6].  Overall, Russian language was politicized in the document, and Russia declared its intent to keep Russian language alive in at least CIS member states.  This intent is crucial to understand because Russia considers all those former-Soviet citizens with a linguistic affiliation to the Russian Federation under its compatriot policy. 

In October 2018, nearly three years after the release of Russia’s National Security Strategy, Putin stated in the 6th World Congress of Compatriots Living Abroad, “all together – represent a huge community of Russian-like compatriots, represent one large, huge, Russian world, which has never been exclusively built on only ethnic, national, or religious ground[7].”  Putin further commented that Russian World unites all with a spiritual connection with Russia and all those who consider themselves carriers of Russian language, Russian culture and Russian history[8].  Putin’s words followed the same line as Russia’s national security strategy; a strategy which listed the lowered role of Russian language in the world and the quality of its teaching as a national security threat[9].

Russia effectively visualizes the use of Russian language and culture as a soft power tool to be employed not only in the international arena but the domestic arena as well.  During the same speech, Putin declared that Russia would defend the interests and rights of compatriots by using all the international and bilateral mechanisms available to do so[10].  Putin made this statement after accusing the Baltics and Ukraine of altering historical monuments and Russian language[11].  While Putin’s speech reflected the principles written in Russia’s national security strategy, the speech did not reflect the narrative within the decree he signed and released on the same day on Russia’s state migration policy.

Instead of highlighting the role of the interests of compatriots abroad, the decree focused on facilitating conditions for compatriots to resettle in the Russian Federation.  This decree was a shift from a rhetoric which focused on international presence of foreign citizens who are native carriers of the Russian language.  The shift signaled a change in narrative from an international policy brought down to the domestic level.  Ultimately, the decree stated that the migration influx (2012-2017) into Russia compensated for Russia’s natural population decline before discussing state programs towards compatriots[12].  This present change of emphasis regarding compatriots is likely due to Russia’s demographic decline.  Overall, Russia’s new state migration policy shows how the concept of “Russian World” is adapted to fit the needs of the Russian state in a time of demographic decline. 

In conclusion, the rhetoric of “Russian World” served as justification for Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in the Donbass[13].  Because of this, Russia’s “Russian World” is looked upon with suspicion by its neighbors[14].  However, in the latest piece of policy regarding “compatriots,” instead of focusing on “Eurasian integration,” Russia seeks to attract “compatriots” into its territory.  Following Russia’s demographic decline, and its economic issues, it is likely that “Russian World’s” narrative on compatriot resettlement will become stronger.  This narrative will hold more importance over the “defending the rights of compatriots abroad” narrative.  Due to the lack of tangible benefits of “defending the rights of compatriots abroad,” compatriot resettlement is likely to play a larger role in Russia’s future national security strategy. 


Endnotes:

[1] Laurelle, M. (2015, May). The ‘Russian World’: Russia’s Soft Power and Geopolitical Aspirations. Retrieved from http://globalinterests.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/FINAL-CGI_Russian-World_Marlene-Laruelle.pdf

[2] Ibid.

[3] Zevelev, I. (2016, August 22). The Russian World in Moscow’s Grand Strategy. Retrieved from https://www.csis.org/analysis/russian-world-moscows-strategy

[4] President of Russia. (2015, December 31). On the National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation. Retrieved from http://static.kremlin.ru/media/events/files/ru/l8iXkR8XLAtxeilX7JK3XXy6Y0AsHD5v.pdf

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] President of Russia. (2018, October 31). World Congress of Compatriots Living Abroad. Retrieved from http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/59003

[8] Ibid.

[9] President of Russia. (2015, December 31). On the National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation. Retrieved from http://static.kremlin.ru/media/events/files/ru/l8iXkR8XLAtxeilX7JK3XXy6Y0AsHD5v.pdf

[10] President of Russia. (2018, October 31). World Congress of Compatriots Living Abroad. Retrieved from http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/59003

[11] Ibid.

[12] President of Russia. (2018, October 21). Decree on the Concept of the State Migration Policy of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025. Retrieved from http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/58986

[13] Zevelev, I. (2016, August 22). The Russian World in Moscow’s Grand Strategy. Retrieved from https://www.csis.org/analysis/russian-world-moscows-strategy

[14] Ibid.

Assessment Papers Gabriela Rosa-Hernández Russia Strategy

Assessing the Widening Russian Presence in Africa

Harrison Manlove is a Cadet in the U.S. Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps at the at the University of Kansas and is currently studying History and Peace and Conflict Studies. Harrison has also written for The Strategy Bridge, where he examined Russia’s strategy in Syria and the Middle East. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of the Widening Russian Presence in Africa

Date Originally Written:  November 26, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  December 17, 2018.

Summary:  Africa is quickly regaining its past place in world affairs as a proxy battleground. Amidst a potential U.S. military drawdown in Africa, Russia seeks to maintain and expand political and economic influence on the continent through military deployments and arms deals with several states. While Russia may face potential blowback due to a ham-fisted approach, lack of U.S. presence in Africa could enable Russian success.

Text:  The deployment of advisers – military and civilian – and the provision of security assistance to several African states is indicative of a renewed Russian interest on the continent. Russia’s speed of action in this line of effort has caught many observers off-guard, causing the issue to be an under-reported element of Russian foreign policy actions.

Russia’s national security strategy, published at the end of 2015, identifies instability in several regions – including Africa – as a security threat. Ethnic conflict and terrorism are outlined as two key concerns. The strategy places emphasis on “reliable and equal security,” trade partnerships, and the use of diplomacy to preclude conflict. The strategy dictates force as a last resort[1].

Counter-terrorism operations and civil wars dominate the Sub-Saharan region of Africa. Continued volatility has undermined Western influence there and opened opportunities for exploitation. For the Russians, old Soviet allies in Africa – like Angola and Sudan – offer opportunities to provide military equipment, training, and technical assistance. Over the last three years, the Russian government has signed approximately 19 “military cooperation deals” with sub-Saharan states, to include U.S. allies, such as Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria and Niger. Russian cooperation ranges from arms shipments to joint exercises[2]. Resource acquisition is also potential motivating factor for Moscow, as seen in the Central African Republic with its large deposits of gold. Regarding instability, attempts to intervene with marginal force, and the provision of aid packages and security assistance is standard Russian practice. Russian aid programs are growing, however that line of effort is not covered in this assessment.

The Central African Republic (CAR) has seen a major increase in violence since the start of its civil war at the end of 2012. In 2013, an arms embargo against the CAR was put in place by the United Nations (UN) after an outbreak of violence. Outside the capital, Bangui, the rule of law is scant, enforced instead by local Muslim and Christian militias and armed groups. A French military operation, Operation Sangaris, ended in October 2016 after reports of “sexual violence and abuse against civilians” battered the deployment. A UN peacekeeping mission in the CAR has also come under attack by armed groups, losing a total of fourteen peacekeepers thus far[3]. Security in the CAR is generally limited to the capital. In December 2017, Russia was given UN authorization to supply arms to the CAR after repeated requests by CAR President Faustin Archange Touadéra[4]. Some 175 Russian advisers have deployed to supply arms and provide equipment training. Five advisers are Russian military personnel, while most others are civilians working with private contracting firms[5].

The Russian approach in the CAR is destabilizing. Brokering talks between rebel factions and the presence of Russian personnel assisting “prospectors” in mining operations in areas controlled by the primary rebel group in the CAR, the Front Populaire Pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC), is exacerbating an area already under crisis. Recently, FPRC leadership has called for the withdrawal of Russian personnel from the CAR, placing the Russian mission and its objectives – even at the regional level – in danger[6].

Cameroon is a likely area for Russian influence. In February 2018, reports surfaced that Russian military equipment was seized from a ship sailing for Douala, Cameroon. The ship docked at Sfaz, Tunisia due to major mechanical problems. It was searched by customs authorities who found the weapons shipment inside. To be sure, the ship’s track and timeline was followed by a Russian maritime blog, which found the ship’s track unusual for a course to Cameroon[7]. A plan for U.S. Special Forces to exit Cameroon was submitted by United States Marine Corps General Thomas Waldhauser, Commander of U.S. Africa Command, as part of an alignment with the U.S. National Defense Strategy released at the beginning of the year. The strategy moves to a focus on great power competition, rather than counterterrorism. The exit would be continent-wide, affecting several U.S. missions in Africa[8].

Elsewhere on the continent, military to military cooperation is integral to Russia’s relationship with Egypt. Bilateral airborne exercises have been held in both countries since 2015. Recent Russian arms sales and deliveries to Egypt include some 50 MiG- 29 fighter aircraft, 46 Kamov Ka- 52 Alligator attack and reconnaissance helicopters, the Ka-52K model helicopter designed for maritime use, and an advanced model of the S-300 mobile air defense system. In keeping with traditional policy stemming from its colonial history, Egypt has been careful in sidestepping foreign aid dependency. This dependence avoidance is evident in Egyptian purchases of fighter aircraft, ships, and submarines from countries like France, Germany, and South Korea[9].

Libya’s continued instability has offered another arena in which Russian influence can take hold. In March 2017, Reuters reported a possible Russian special operations unit operating near Egypt’s western border with Libya. This presence was denied by Russian officials, however U.S. military sources have posited that Russia has deployed to the region to “strengthen its leverage over whoever ultimately holds power” in Libya’s civil war[10]. Russian support for Khalifa Hiftar, the primary challenger to the Government of National Accord in Libya, seems to indicate a desire to re-forge old overseas Soviet relationships.

In early 2017, members of Russian private military contractor RSB Group were reportedly operating in Libya[11]. Similarly, Wagner – a Russian contracting firm with ties to a Putin associate – has had a reported presence in Syria, supplementing Syrian government forces in ground operations. Reporting on Wagner’s deployments to Syria have shown a high level of security and potential consequences for those members who disclose any information about the firm. The Russian government has denied any presence of contractors in Syria[12]. In August 2018, three Russian journalists were murdered in the Central African Republic under murky circumstances[13]. While investigating the Wagner deployment there, the journalists were gunned down in what has been officially called a robbery. However, Western suspicion surrounds the incident and the story has been called into question, casting even greater light on the proliferation of contractors operating in Russia’s areas of interest[14].

The Russian approach in Africa is indicative of a general trend set in its 2014 intervention in Ukraine: low-visibility, low-cost exploitation of instability to secure political and economic objectives through marginal force deployments and security assistance to areas that once held Soviet influence. The potential decline of a U.S. military presence on the continent could drive further expansion, while access to resources provides a set of economic objectives for Russia to act upon.


Endnotes:

[1] Russian National Security Strategy. 31 Dec. 2015, www.ieee.es/Galerias/fichero/OtrasPublicaciones/Internacional/2016/Russian-National-Security-Strategy-31Dec2015.pdf.

[2] “Factbox: Russian Military Cooperation Deals with African Countries.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 17 Oct. 2018, uk.reuters.com/article/uk-africa-russia-factbox/factbox-russian-military-cooperation-deals-with-african-countries-idUKKCN1MR0KZ.

[3] “Global Conflict Tracker.” Council on Foreign Relations, 2018, www.cfr.org/interactives/global-conflict-tracker#!/conflict/violence-in-the-central-african-republic.

[4] “UN Gives Green Light on Russia Arms to C Africa.” News24, 16 Dec. 2017, www.news24.com/Africa/News/un-gives-green-light-on-russia-arms-to-c-africa-20171216.

[5] McGregor, Andrew. “How Russia Is Displacing the French in the Struggle for Influence in the Central African Republic.” The Jamestown Foundation, 15 May 2018, jamestown.org/program/how-russia-is-displacing-the-french-in-the-struggle-for-influence-in-the-central-african-republic/.

[6] Goble, Paul. “Moscow’s Neo-Colonial Enterprise Running Into Difficulties in Central African Republic.” The Jamestown Foundation, 6 Nov. 2018, jamestown.org/program/moscows-neo-colonial-enterprise-running-into-difficulties-in-central-african-republic/.

[7] Voytenko, Mikhail. “Secret Russian Arms Shipment? Cargo Ship with Arms Detained in Tunisia. UPDATE.” Maritime Bulletin, 9 Apr. 2018, maritimebulletin.net/2018/02/16/secret-russian-arms-shipment-cargo-ship-with-arms-detained-in-tunisia/.

[8] Cooper, Helene, and Eric Schmitt. “U.S. Prepares to Reduce Troops and Shed Missions in Africa.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Aug. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/08/01/world/africa/us-withdraw-troops-africa.html.

[9] McGregor, Andrew. “How Does Russia Fit Into Egypt’s Strategic Plan.” The Jamestown Foundation, 14 Feb. 2018, jamestown.org/program/russia-fit-egypts-strategic-plan/.

[10] Stewart, Phil, et al. “Exclusive: Russia Appears to Deploy Forces in Egypt, Eyes on Libya…” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 14 Mar. 2017, www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-russia-libya-exclusive-idUSKBN16K2RY.

[11] Tsvetkova, Maria. “Exclusive: Russian Private Security Firm Says It Had Armed Men in…” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 13 Mar. 2017, www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-libya-contractors-idUSKBN16H2DM.

[12] “Secret Flights and Private Fighters: How Russia Supports Assad in Syria.” Public Radio International, PRI, 6 Apr. 2018, www.pri.org/stories/2018-04-06/secret-flights-and-private-fighters-how-russia-supports-assad-syria.

[13] Plichta, Marcel. “What Murdered Russian Journalists Were Looking For in the Central African Republic.” World Politics Review, 22 Aug. 2018, www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/25640/what-murdered-russian-journalists-were-looking-for-in-the-central-african-republic.

[14] Higgins, Andrew, and Ivan Nechepurenko. “In Africa, Mystery Murders Put Spotlight on Kremlin’s Reach.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 7 Aug. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/08/07/world/europe/central-african-republic-russia-murder-journalists-africa-mystery-murders-put-spotlight-on-kremlins-reach.html.

Africa Assessment Papers Harrison Manlove Russia

Call for Papers: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Union, Russia, & the former Soviet Republics

map-soviet-warsaw-624.png

Map derived from https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2014/09/03/344044582/can-nato-find-a-way-to-contain-russia

map-russia-eu-nato-624

Map derived from https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2014/09/03/344044582/can-nato-find-a-way-to-contain-russia

Background:

Divergent Options is a non-politically aligned national security website that, in 1,000 words or less, provides unbiased, dispassionate, candid articles that assess a national security situation, present multiple options to address the situation, and articulate the risk and gain of each option.  Please note that while we assess a national security situation and may provide options, we never recommend a specific option.

Call for Papers:

Divergent Options is calling for national security papers assessing situations or discussing options related to countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, countries in the European Union, Russia, and the former Soviet Republics.

Please limit your article to 1,000 words and write using our Options Paper or Assessment Paper templates which are designed for ease of use by both writers and readers alike.

Please send your article to submissions@divergentoptions.org by December 14, 2018.

If you are not interested in writing on this topic, we always welcome individual articles on virtually any national security situation an author is passionate about.  Please do not let our call for papers cause you to hesitate to send us your idea.  We look forward to hearing from you!

To inspire potential writers we offer the following writing prompts:

– Assess whether Russia will learn to cooperate with the other great powers.

– Assess the national security impacts of Brexit.

– What options remain to solve or address concerns related to the conflict in Ukraine?

– Assess the impact on North Atlantic Treaty Organization activities if the European Union were to deploy forces under the Common Security and Defense Policy.

– What options exist to ensure that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union’s Common Security and Defense Policy complement each other rather than conflict?

– Assess whether U.S. President Donald Trump or Russian President Vladimir Putin will have more impact in determining the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

– Assess how friction between the United States, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the European Union over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action could affect other portions of the relationships between these countries.

– What options exist for the Baltic States to address the threats posed by Russia?

– Assess a national security issues that can be best addressed by working with Russia.

– What options are available to address threats posed by Russian cyber activities?

– Assess whether Russian cyber activities are part of an integrated national security strategy or a low-cost / high-gain pursuit of a country with a small economy.

– Assess the impact of nationalism.

– What options exist to address the re-emergence of nationalism?

Call For Papers European Union North Atlantic Treaty Organization Russia

Assessment of Russia’s Cyber Relations with the U.S. and its Allies

Meghan Brandabur, Caroline Gant, Yuxiang Hou, Laura Oolup, and Natasha Williams were Research Interns at the College of Information and Cyberspace at National Defense University.  Laura Oolup is the recipient of the Andreas and Elmerice Traks Scholarship from the Estonian American Fund.  The authors were supervised in their research by Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Feehan, United States Army and Military Faculty member.  This article was edited by Jacob Sharpe, Research Assistant at the College of Information and Cyberspace.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of Russia’s Cyber Relations with the U.S. and its Allies

Date Originally Written:  August 7, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  October 1, 2018.

Summary:  Russia frequently employs offensive cyber operations to further its foreign policy and strategic goals.  Prevalent targets of Russian activity include the United States and its allies, most recently culminating in attacks on Western national elections by using cyber-enabled information operations.  Notably, these information operations have yielded national security implications and the need for proactive measures to deter further Russian offenses.

Text:  The United States and its allies are increasingly at risk from Russian offensive cyber operations (OCOs).  Based on the definition of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, OCOs are operations which aim “to project power in or through cyberspace[1].”  Russia utilizes OCOs to further their desired strategic end state: to be perceived as a great power in a polycentric world order and to wield greater influence in international affairs.  Russia uses a variety of means to achieve this end state, with cyber tools now becoming more frequently employed.

Since the 2007 cyber attacks on Estonia, Russia has used OCOs against the United States, Great Britain, France, and others[2].  These OCOs have deepened existing societal divisions, undermined liberal democratic order, and increased distrust in political leadership in order to damage European unity and transatlantic relations.  Russian OCO’s fall into two categories: those projecting power within cyberspace, which can relay kinetic effects, and those projecting power indirectly through cyberspace.  The latter, in the form of cyber-enabled information operations, have become more prevalent and damaging. 

Throughout the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, Russia conducted an extended cyber-enabled information operation targeting the U.S. political process and certain individuals whom Russia viewed as a threat[3].  Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, known for her more hawkish views on democracy-promotion, presented a serious political impediment to Russian foreign policy[4].  Thus, Russia’s information operations attempted to thwart Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations. 

At the same time, the Russian operation aimed to deepen existing divisions in the society which divided U.S. citizens along partisan lines, and to widen the American public’s distrust in their democratic system of government.  These actions also sought to decrease U.S. primacy abroad by demonstrating how vulnerable the U.S. is to the activity of external actors.  The political reasoning behind Russia’s operations was to promote a favorable environment within which Russian foreign policy and strategic aims could be furthered with the least amount of American resistance.  That favorable environment appeared to be through the election of Donald J. Trump to the U.S. Presidency, a perception that was reflected in how little Russia did to damage the Trump operation by either OCO method.

Russia also targeted several European countries to indirectly damage the U.S. and undermine the U.S. position in world affairs.  As such, Russian OCOs conducted in the U.S. and Europe should not be viewed in isolation.  For instance, presidential elections in Ukraine in 2014 and three years later in France saw cyber-enabled information operations favoring far-right, anti-European Union candidates[5]. 

Russia has also attempted to manipulate the results of referendums throughout Europe.  On social media, pro-Brexit cyber-enabled information operations were conducted in the run-up to voting on the country’s membership in the European Union[6].  In the Netherlands, cyber-enabled information operations sought to manipulate the constituency to vote against the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement that would have prevented Ukraine from further integrating into the West, and amplified existing fractions within the European Union[7].

These cyber-enabled information operations, however, are not a new tactic for Russia, but rather a contemporary manifestation of Soviet era Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (K.G.B.) techniques of implementing, “aktivniye meropriyatiya,” or, “‘active measures’”[8].  These measures aim to “[influence] events,” and to “[undermine] a rival power with forgeries,” now through the incorporation of the cyber domain[9]. 

Russia thus demonstrates a holistic approach to information warfare which actively includes cyber, whereas the Western viewpoint distinguishes cyber warfare from information warfare[10].  However, Russia’s cyber-enabled information operations – also perceived as information-psychological operations – demonstrate how cyber is exploited in various forms to execute larger information operations [11].

Although kinetic OCOs remain a concern, we see that the U.S. is less equipped to deal with cyber-enabled information operations[12].  Given Western perceptions that non-kinetic methods such as information operations, now conducted through cyberspace, are historically, “not forces in their own right,” Russia is able to utilize these tactics as an exploitable measure against lagging U.S. and Western understandings of these capabilities[13].  Certain U.S. political candidates have already been identified as the targets of Russian OCOs intending to interfere with the 2018 U.S. Congressional midterm elections[14].  These information operations pose a great threat for the West and the U.S., especially considering the lack of consensus towards assessing and countering information operations directed at the U.S. regardless of any action taken against OCOs. 

Today, cyber-enabled information operations can be seen as not only ancillary, but substitutable for conventional military operations[15].  These operations pose considerable security concerns to a targeted country, as they encroach upon their sovereignty and enable Russia to interfere in their domestic affairs. Without a fully developed strategy that addresses all types of OCOs including the offenses within cyberspace and the broader information domain overall Russia will continue to pose a threat in the cyber domain. 


Endnotes:

[1] Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2018). “JP 3-12, Cyberspace Operations”, Retrieved July 7, 2018, from http://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/pubs/jp3_12.pdf?ver=2018-06-19-092120-930, p. GL-5.

[2] For instance: Brattberg, Erik & Tim Maurer. (2018). “Russian Election Interference – Europe’s Counter to Fake News and Cyber Attacks”, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.; Burgess, Matt. (2017, November 10). “Here’s the first evidence Russia used Twitter to influence Brexit”, Retrieved July 16, 2018 from http://www.wired.co.uk/article/brexit-russia-influence-twitter-bots-internet-research-agency; Grierson, Jamie. (2017, February 12). “UK hit by 188 High-Level Cyber-Attacks in Three Months”, Retrieved July 16, 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/12/uk-cyber-attacks-ncsc-russia-china-ciaran-martin; Tikk, Eneken, Kadri Kaska, Liis Vihul. (2010). International Cyber Incidents: Legal Considerations. Retrieved July 8, 2018, from https://ccdcoe.org/publications/books/legalconsiderations.pdf; Office of the Director of National Intelligence. (2017, January 6). “Background to ‘Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections’: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution” Retrieved July 9, 2018, from https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf. 

[3] Office of the Director of National Intelligence. (2017, January 6). “Background to ‘Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections’: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution” Retrieved July 9, 2018 https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf p.1.

[4] Flournoy, Michèle A. (2017).  Russia’s Campaign Against American Democracy: Toward a Strategy for Defending Against, Countering, and Ultimately Deterring Future Attacks Retrieved July 9, 2018, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt20q22cv.17, p. 179. 

[5] Nimmo, Ben. (2017, April 20). “The French Election through Kremlin Eyes” Retrieved July 15, 2018, from https://medium.com/dfrlab/the-french-election-through-kremlin-eyes-5d85e0846c50

[6] Burgess, Matt. (2017, November 10). “Here’s the first evidence Russia used Twitter to influence Brexit” Retrieved July 16, 2018, from http://www.wired.co.uk/article/brexit-russia-influence-twitter-bots-internet-research-agency 

[7] Cerulus, Laurens. (2017, May 3). “Dutch go Old School against Russian Hacking” Retrieved August 8, 2018, from https://www.politico.eu/article/dutch-election-news-russian-hackers-netherlands/ ; Van der Noordaa, Robert. (2016, December 14). “Kremlin Disinformation and the Dutch Referendum” Retrieved August 8, 2018, from https://www.stopfake.org/en/kremlin-disinformation-and-the-dutch-referendum/

[8] Osnos, Evan, David Remnick & Joshua Yaffa. (2017, March 6). “Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War” Retrieved July 9, 2018 https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/03/06/trump-putin-and-the-new-cold-war 

[9] Ibid.

[10] Connell, Michael & Sarah Vogler. (2017). “Russia’s Approach to Cyber Warfare” Retrieved July 7, 2018, from  https://www.cna.org/cna_files/pdf/DOP-2016-U-014231-1Rev.pdf ; Giles, Keir. & William Hagestad II (2013). “Divided by a Common Language: Cyber Definitions in Chinese, Russian and English”. In K. Podins, J. Stinissen, M. Maybaum (Eds.), 2013 5th International Conference on Cyber Conflict.  Retrieved July 7, 2018, from  https://ccdcoe.org/publications/2013proceedings/d3r1s1_giles.pdf, pp. 420-423; Giles, Keir. (2016). “Russia’s ‘New’ Tools for Confronting the West – Continuity and Innovation in Moscow’s Exercise of Power” Retrieved July 16, 2018, from https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/publications/2016-03-russia-new-tools-giles.pdf, p. 62-63.

[11] Iasiello, Emilio J. (2017). “Russia’s Improved Information Operations: From Georgia to Crimea” Retrieved August 10, 2018 from https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/parameters/issues/Summer_2017/8_Iasiello_RussiasImprovedInformationOperations.pdf p. 52. 

[12] Coats, Dan. (2018, July 18). “Transcript: Dan Coats Warns The Lights Are ‘Blinking Red’ On Russian Cyberattacks” Retrieved August 7, 2018, from https://www.npr.org/2018/07/18/630164914/transcript-dan-coats-warns-of-continuing-russian-cyberattacks?t=1533682104637

[13] Galeotti, Mark (2016). “Hybrid, ambiguous, and non-linear? How new is Russia’s ‘new way of war’?” Retrieved July 10, 2018, from Small Wars & Insurgencies, Volume 27(2), p. 291.

[14] Geller, Eric. (2018, July 19) . “Microsoft reveals first known Midterm Campaign Hacking Attempts” Retrieved August 8, 2018, from https://www.politico.com/story/2018/07/19/midterm-campaign-hacking-microsoft-733256 

[15] Inkster, Nigel. (2016). “Information Warfare and the US Presidential Election” Retrieved July 9, 2018, from Survival, Volume 58(5), p. 23-32, 28 https://doi.org/10.1080/00396338.2016.1231527

Caroline Gant Cyberspace Jacob Sharpe Laura Oolup Matthew Feehan Meghan Brandabur Natasha Williams Option Papers Psychological Factors Russia United States Yuxiang Hou

Alternative Futures: An Assessment of Ongoing North Korean Troop Rotations to Finland

Mr. Jason Hansa is a retired U.S. Army officer that served in Germany, Korea, and CONUS, with two deployments each to OIF and OEF. He currently works as a military contractor at CASCOM on Fort Lee, Virginia. His twitter address is @HauptmannHansa. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Alternative Futures: An Assessment of Ongoing North Korean Troop Rotations to Finland

Date Originally Written:  July 12, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  September 24, 2018.

Summary:  Finland is a fiercely independent country that has suffered the yoke of Russian occupation twice in its short history as a sovereign nation.  Unaligned with but reluctant to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Finland is very concerned of their vulnerability to a sudden Russian annexation attempt.  In this alternative future, Finland arrived at an out-of-the-box solution, to accept North Korean troops deploying to its border with Russia.

Text:  Mr. President, as we enter 2025 Finland stands ready to welcome the arrival of the fifth rotational North Korean infantry division since we formalized our mutual defense treaty in 2020.  As you recall, five years ago, we were in a very difficult situation.  Russian invaded the Ukraine to seize the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and was rotating units through Syria to both gain deployment experience and test new equipment or doctrine under combat conditions.  NATO saw the weaknesses of their Baltic flank and began stationing troops and conducting rotational operations to shore up the defense of their member states.

It is no secret Russia craves warm-water access ports, and our lack of membership in NATO put us at risk of a Russian annexation.  Our nation is still young but proud, achieving independence in the nineteenth century from Sweden that lead to almost immediate occupation by the Russians.  Independence in the twentieth century led to reoccupation in World War 2 and a failure to prepare may well have invited Moscow to occupy us again.

Five years ago, our military strength was approximately 32,000 military members on active duty, with 23,500 of them in the Army.  Our nation has compulsorily conscription and maintains a robust reservist infrastructure, with approximately 900,000 personnel available under full mobilization.  The danger to our nation—then and now—lies in a sudden Russian offensive.  If the Russians strike before we can fully mobilize, our nation is at risk of a quick overrun[1].

The mutual defense treaty of 2020 recognized we are one of the few nations with semi-open diplomatic channels to North Korea, a famously isolationist nation who, at that time, were looking to expand trade around the world.  North Korea had promised to make good on debts they owe us from the 1970s—ones we long ago wrote off—hoping proof of fiscal responsibility would lead to global investment and the lifting of sanctions[2].

In 2020 we moved carefully, knowing that others would react with surprise, anger, and possibly disgust if we struck a formal agreement with North Korea.  It took months of quiet diplomacy with our Nordic partners and NATO neighbors ahead of the announcement for them to understand our reasoning.  We understood that we would also receive “guilt by association,” and possibly even get blamed for “not doing more” during any North Korean-created diplomatic incident.

We knew that with the North Koreans being an isolationist regime, who treated their citizens with brutality, any treaty would result in our citizens demanding immediate and real humanitarian reform in the North Korean political re-education work camps.  We prepared for that reaction, working with the North Korean embassy on what to do once the agreement became public.

The gains were worth the risks.  Militarily, the size of our ground combat forces almost doubled with the deployment of a North Korean division to our border with Russia.  With over twenty-five divisions in the North Korea People’s Army and over 5 million reservists, North Korea assumes very little risk to the defense of their nation, and can maintain rotations in Finland for decades without repeating units[3].  The presence of our North Korean friends forces the Russian Army to increase the size of any potential invasion force, an action that would not go unnoticed by intelligence agencies and give us time to mobilize.  There’s an expression gaining in popularity that Finland and North Korea are two nations only separated by one country, and it’s accurate.  In the event of a Russian invasion of North Korea, our mutual defense treaty ensures Russia must worry about war on a second front – the border they share with North Korea.

The most dangerous phase of the treaty negotiations were the months between announcing it and receiving the final North Korean reinforcements: we were concerned that tensions with Russia could spark the very invasion we were hoping to avoid.  However, our gambit took the world so completely by surprise that Russia didn’t have time to do more than issue a sputtering, angry speech at the United Nations.  Since then, the North Korean deployments have gone off smoothly, leaving their equipment in-place and simply rotating the 10,000 personnel annually.

As we expected, our people demanded humanitarian changes, and the North Koreans opened their borders to us.  It was at first a very grudging admission by North Korea, the nation leery of putting their past on display to the world.  But our persistence enabled access to their now-shuttered political prisons and we provided blankets and food by the container-full during that first, harsh winter.  The North Koreans eventually agreed to our offers of asylum to their prisoners, and we moved the last of them to our nation eighteen months ago.  This mutually benefited both nations, as they showed progress to the world in shutting down their gulags, while we received an infusion of fresh blood into our nation.  We gained thousands of refugees willing to work hard for their new home and—on a side note—helping arrest our declining birth-rate[4].

Accepting the North Korean prisoners was the catalyst for the significant changes we are now seeing in that nation.  It was inevitable, the rotation of divisions through our lands showing the North Korean troops a world outside their borders and sparking the desire for a better life back home.  But our cultural influences have been wildly successful, the North Koreans laying down the initial plans to slowly convert their monolithic realm into something akin to the British model, a democracy with the Kim family as symbolic royalty.  Their introversion is turning into a fierce independence that matches ours in a kinship they’ve never had before; they are asking for our help in economic and legal domains, assistance our populace has eagerly given back.

I must point out that our economic sector isn’t completely reaching out to the North Koreans for altruistic reasons.  While our tourism industry and globally renowned businesses did lose sales in the first couple years because of our political decision, they worked overtime to show investors that our nation did not lose our values in reaching such an accord.  Now, our businesses and banks are eagerly investing in North Korea, taking advantage of an untapped labor market next-door to over one-billion Chinese consumers.

In closing, I assess that our mutual-defense agreement with North Korea has succeeded.  Not only has it helped prevent an invasion by Russia, it has let our people help the needy of another nation, let our businesses expand into a new market, and has allowed our nation to maintain and display our values while guiding another onto the path of recovery.


Endnotes:

[1] European Defense Information, Finnish Defense Forces. Retrieved 14 June 2018.  http://www.armedforces.co.uk/Europeandefence/edcountries/countryfinland.htm

[2] Yle, (2017, April 30). North Korea owes Finland millions in decades-old debt. Retrieved 14 June 2018. https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/north_korea_owes_finland_millions_in_decades-old_debt/9588973

[3] Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, (May 1997). North Korea Country Handbook, page 122.

[4] Smith, L. (2017, September 20). Finland’s birth rate plummets to its lowest level in nearly 150 years. Retrieved 12 July 2018. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/finland-birth-rate-drop-lowest-level-150-years-children-welfare-state-annika-saarikko-a7957166.html

Assessment Papers Finland Jason Hansa North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) Russia

Assessment of the Security and Political Threat Posed by a “Post-Putin” Russia in 2040

Sarah Martin is a recent graduate from George Mason University, where she received her Master of Science in Conflict Analysis and Resolution.  Her thesis examined the motivations of Chechen foreign fighters in Syria fighting for the Islamic State.  She can be found on Twitter @amerikitkatoreo.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of the Security and Political Threat Posed by a “Post-Putin” Russia in 2040

Date Originally Written:  June 5, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  July 9, 2018.

Summary:  In the upcoming decades, news feeds will probably continue to have a healthy stream of Russian meddling and Russian cyber attack articles.  However, a reliance on cyber attacks may be indicative of deeper issues that threaten Russia’s stability.

Text:  As Americans gear up for the midterm elections in November 2018, there have been a number of articles sounding the alarm on continuing disinformation campaigns from Russia[1].  Vulnerabilities exposed in 2016 have not been adequately addressed, and worse yet, the Kremlin is making their tools and methods more sophisticated, jumping even more steps ahead of policymakers and prosecutors[2].  However, in another 20 years, will the West be engaged in these same conversations, enmeshed in these same anxieties?

In short, yes.

In long—yes, but that might be an indicator of a much deeper problem.

Moscow has been deploying disinformation campaigns for decades, and when it knows the target population quite well, these operations can be quite successful.  Barring some kind of world-altering catastrophe, there is little doubt that Russia will stop or even slow their course.  Currently, disinformation stands as one of many tools the Russian Foreign Ministry can use to pursue its objectives.  However, there are political and economic trends within the country that might make meddling one of Russia’s only diplomatic tool.  Those trends are indicative of rather deep and dark issues that may contort the country to react in unpredictable ways, thus threatening its immediate neighbors, and spark trouble for the Transatlantic security apparatus.

Disinformation is a well-used tool in Russia’s foreign policy arsenal. Its current form is an inheritance from old Soviet tactics.  Under the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB), Service A was responsible for meddling in the West’s public discourse by muddying the waters and sowing discord between constituents, ultimately to affect their decisions at the polling booth[3].  These campaigns were known as “active measures.”  Some of America’s most popular conspiracy theories—like the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) having a role in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy—actually originated as a Service A disinformation campaign[4].  Russia has the institutional knowledge to keep the momentum rolling well into the future.

Not every campaign delivers a home run (see the French 2017 presidential elections).  However, Russia has the capability to learn, adapt, and change.  Perhaps the most appealing aspects of disinformation is its efficiency.  Cyber active measures also have the added benefit of being incredibly cost-effective.  A “regiment” of 1,000 operatives could cost as little as $300 million annually[5].

The economy is one of the trends that indicates a boggier underbelly of the Russian bear.  Russia may have to rely on its cyber capabilities, simply because it cannot afford more aggressive measures on the physical plane.

Russia, for all of its size, population and oil reserves, has no right having an economy smaller than South Korea’s[6].  Its economy is unhealthy, staggering and stagnating, showing no sign of any degree of sustained recovery.  That Russia is a petrostate is one factor for its economic weakness.  Politics—sanctions and counter-sanctions—also play a part in its weakness, though it is mostly self-inflicted.  However, each of these factors belies responsibility from the true culprit—corruption.  According to Transparency International, Russia is as corrupt as Honduras, Mexico and Kyrgyzstan[7].

Corruption in Russia isn’t simply a flaw to be identified and removed like a cancer; it is built into the very system itself[8].  Those who participate in corruption are rewarded handsomely with a seat at the political table and funds so slushie, you could find them at 7-11.  It is a corrupt system where the key players have no incentive of changing.  Everyone who plays benefits.  There has always been an element of corruption in Russia’s economy, especially during the Brezhnev years, but it only became systematic under Vladimir Putin[9].  Corruption will remain after Putin leaves the presidency, because he may leave the Kremlin, but he will never leave power.

Many Kremlin observers speculate that Putin will simply stay in politics after his final term officially ends[10].  If this does happen, taking into account that Putin is 65 years old, it is likely that he could reign for another 10-20 years.  Physically and practically then, Putinism may continue because its creator is still alive and active.  And even if Putin stepped back, the teeth of his policies are embedded so deeply within the establishment, that even with the most well-intentioned and capable executive leadership, it will take a long time to disentangle Putinism from domestic governance.

Another component of Putinism is how it approaches multilateralism.  Putinism has no ideology.  It is a methodology governed by ad hoc agreements and transactionalism.  Russia under Putinism seeks not to build coalitions or to develop friendships.  Russia under Putin is in pursuit of its former empire.  Nowhere is this pursuit more evident than with its Eurasian Economic Union.  While the European Union has its functional problems, it at least is trying to build a community of shared values. None of that exists in the EAEU[11].

Putinism, combined with a foreign policy designed to alienate potential allies and to disincentivize others from helping in times of crisis, connotes fundamental and systematic failures, that in turn, indicate weakness.  The tea leaves are muddy, but the signs for “weak” and “failing state” are starting to form, and weak states are erratic.

Weakness is what pressed Putin into Crimea and the Donbass in 2014, when the possibility of a Western-embracing Ukraine looked more probable than speculative.  Weakness is what pushed Russian troops into Georgia in 2008.  Russia had no other means of advancing their foreign policy objectives than by coercion and force.  One must wonder then what “Crimea, But Worse” might look like.

Russia will continue to use disinformation campaigns to pursue its foreign policy goals, and currently, this is one of many ways it can interact with other countries.  However, disinformation may be the only tool Moscow can afford to keep around.  This lack of other tools would indicate a rotting and faulty economic and political structure, which Russia currently has no incentive to change and may not have the ability to change after President Putin.  A sick Russia is already challenging for the world.  A failing Russia could be absolutely disastrous.


Endnotes:

[1] Rasmussen, A. F., & Chertoff, M. (2018, June 5). The West Still Isn’t Prepared to Stop Russia Meddling in Our Elections. Politico Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/06/05/russia-election-meddling-prepared-218594

[2] Ibid.

[3] Kramer, M. (2017, January 1). The Soviet Roots of Meddling in U.S. Politics. PONARS Eurasia. Retrieved from http://www.ponarseurasia.org/memo/soviet-roots-meddling-us-politics

[4] Ibid.

[5] Bergmann, M. & Kenney, C. (2017, June 6). War by Other Means. Center for American Progress. Retrieved from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/security/reports/2017/06/06/433345/war-by-other-means/

[6] The World Bank. (2016). World Development Indicators. Retrieved from https://datacatalog.worldbank.org/dataset/gdp-ranking

[7] Transparency International. (2017). “Russia.” Corruption Perceptions Index 2017. Brussels. Retrieved from https://www.transparency.org/country/RUS

[8] Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe (2017). In Brief: Corruption in Russia: An Overview. Washington, DC: Massaro, P., Newton, M. & Rousling, A. Retrieved from https://www.csce.gov/international-impact/publications/corruption-russia-overview

[9] Dawisha, K. (2015). Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? New York City.

[10] Troianovski, A. (2018, March 19). Putin’s reelection takes him one step closer to becoming Russian leader for life. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/putins-reelection-takes-him-one-step-closer-to-becoming-russian-leader-for-life/2018/03/19/880cd0a2-2af7-11e8-8dc9-3b51e028b845_story.html

[11] Chatham House. (2018). The Eurasian Economic Union Deals, Rules and the Exercise of Power. London: Dragneva, R. & Wolczuk, K.

Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Assessment Papers Russia Sarah Martin

Assessment of Alexander Zakharchenko’s “Malorossiya” Proposition

Michael Sheldon is a recent graduate of the Peace and Conflict Studies BA at Malmo University.  Through his academic pursuits and private initiatives, Michael has conducted analysis on the conflict in eastern Ukraine since 2014, specializing in rebel forces.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of Alexander Zakharchenko’s “Malorossiya” Proposition

Date Originally Written:  August 16, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  August 21, 2017.

Summary:  The Malorossiya proposition, as presented on July 18, 2017 by head of Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Alexander Zakharchenko, was intended to absorb Ukraine in its entirety under rebel control, relocating the capital to Donetsk.  While success seemed unlikely, there were local political objectives to be gained.  After less than a month, the project was cancelled, likely to be succeeded by similar proposals.

Text:  On July 18, ‘Head of the Republic’ of ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ Alexander Zakharchenko announced the Malorossiya project at a press briefing[1].  The news came as a surprise to virtually everyone in-and-outside of rebel territory.  Along with the press briefing, two papers were released to the public through a local “DNR” news organization “DNR-Pravda”, one being a political statement in relation to the project, and the other being a “constitutional act”[2].

Recalling the “DNR” constitution as presented in 2014[3] during the early days of separatism, the constitutional act as it was presented in written form differed in several respects.  Firstly, this act is technically not a legal document and only serves as a guideline for an actual constitution to be adopted by referendum.  The primary goal of the Malorossiya proposal was Ukrainian unification under the federal umbrella of ‘Malorossiya’, literally meaning ‘little Russia.’  The proposed capital for this new federation would be the city of Donetsk, the current capital of ‘DNR,’ granting Kyiv the status of cultural capital.  Other political provisions were also made, reflecting the Soviet nostalgia that has been salient in the separatist states.  This was made apparent especially in the clauses stipulating a union of states between Russia, Belarus and ‘Malorossiya,’ and “Rehabilitation of the Soviet legacy.”

Zakharchenko’s move came long after the apparent failure of a previous ‘Novorossiya’ (New Russia) project, which aimed to create a confederation between the two rebel entities ‘DNR’ and ‘Lugansk People’s’ Republic’ (LNR/LPR)[4].  While the Novorossiya project by and large turned out fruitless, it had come to hold great cultural value ever since the beginning of the conflict early 2014.  The very concept of Novorossiya stipulates a regional type of brotherhood in the region of Ukraine spanning from Odessa to Kharkov, regions with larger Russian ethnic populations.  This concept has come to have not only great cultural significance for inhabitants in regions controlled by rebel authorities, but has also come to dictate cooperation between the two rebel entities LNR and DNR.  This cooperation primarily comes in military support from DNR, which has lended its 7th Separate Mechanized Brigade[5] to LNR, and assisted in providing security and rapid reaction forces to internal instability in LNR[6].

In part, at least on a broader grassroots level, these factors have contributed to the chilled reception that the notion of an analogous Malorossiya project experienced.  The concept of Novorossiya and its flag had come to symbolize separatism in the east, for which many had given their lives, but would now be scrapped in favor of a unification project.  This combined with the lack of progress made with the Novorossiya project over the past three years left Zakharchenko with a skeptical population.  Denis Pushilin, chairman of the People’s Soviet (Council) of the ‘DNR’ also came out reserved on the topic of Malorossiya, stressing the need for parliamentary process, but also that there was no legal or normative basis for what Zakharchenko planned to carry out [7].  Igor Plotnitsky, head of ‘LNR’, was not enamored with the idea of ‘Malorossiya’ either, claiming that ‘LNR’ had not been notified of Zakharchenko’s plans prior to the press conference.  The Kremlin also denied involvement in the project [8], and while it is hardly a reliable source for this conflict, it is difficult to imagine that they would have any stake in a power struggle between the two rebel ‘republics.’

At first it seemed that the project could yield some positive results for Zakharchenko and solidify his personal power within ‘DNR.’  As it was planned, the project would have thrown the participating states into what was referred to as a “transitional period” for three years[9].  Possibly a motivating factor for announcing the proposition, this transitional period clause could have helped Zakharchenko put off elections even further, enabling a perpetual state of deferral.  Neither ‘DNR’ nor ‘LNR’ are strangers to putting off elections, something which each have done twice the past three years[10].  The constitutional act also speculates denying political parties to act as ‘political subjects’, and proposes transitioning to personal representations.  Other positives for Zakharchenko in this proposal are the political points he likely hopes to win with it.  For one, pushing for a ‘Malorossiya’ encompassing all of Ukraine (Crimea included) sends a signal of reconciliation, albeit on his terms, enabling him to further the narrative of an uncooperative and unreasonable Kyiv, these notions are echoed by Vladislav Surkov, advisor to president Vladimir Putin[11].  Secondly, Zakharchenko effectively brought up the notion of Donetsk having sovereignty over ‘LNR’, which had seen its fair share of instability and coup attempts in the past.

Zakharchenko soon became aware of the criticism that the proposition had received, and clarified that he was never establishing a new state, but merely proposing one shortly after the announcement[12].  Not even a month had passed before, on August 9, 2017, Zakharchenko officially abandoned the proposal as a result of the early resistance he had faced with regards to the name “Malorossiya” especially[13].  Nonetheless, Zakharchenko maintained that the proposal had not been in vain, as it had given way to a range of new interesting proposals.  Moving forward, it will be pertinent to keep an eye on similar proposals relating to a federal Ukraine under rebel control, undoubtedly other a different name.  Whether this would mean a revival of the Novorossiya project or a similar project under a new name is uncertain, but it is likely that Zakharchenko will continue to push for the underlying notions of the Malorossiya proposition.  This would entail a confederation of Ukrainian states under a pro-Russian leadership in Donetsk.  While such an undertaking is virtually impossible outside of rebel territory, it is possible that a Donetsk-led DNR-LNR confederation could gain enough local support to be feasible.  If one can ignore the overarching theme of Ukrainian unification, the proposal of a Malorossiya project serves as an important glance into the intentions of ‘DNR’ head Zakharchenko.


Endnotes:

[1] DAN-news. (2017, July 18). Представители ДНР, ЛНР и регионов Украины объявили в Донецке о создании государства Малороссия (Representatives of the DNR, LNR and regions of Ukraine announced in Donetsk the creation of the Malorossiya state). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://dan-news.info/politics/predstaviteli-dnr-lnr-i-regionov-ukrainy-obyavili-v-donecke-o-sozdanii-gosudarstva-malorossiya.html

[2] DNR-Pravda News Editor (2017, July 18). Декларация и Конституционный акт государственного образования Малороссия (Declaration and Constitutional act of the state formation Malorossiya). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from http://dnr-pravda.ru/2017/07/18/deklaratsiya-i-konstitutsionnyiy-akt-gosudarstvennogo-obrazovaniya-malorossiya/

[3] DNR Official Website. (2014, May 14). Конституция ДНР (DNR Constitution). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from http://dnr-online.ru/konstituciya-dnr/

[4] Lenta. (2014, June 24). ДНР и ЛНР объединятся в конфедерацию с единой конституцией (DNR and LNR will join the confederation with a single constitution). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://lenta.ru/news/2014/06/24/novorossia/

[5] DNR People’s Militia, 1st Army Corps. (2015, October 20). VK post. Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://vk.com/dnrarmy?w=wall-51146063_5569

[6] Andrey, G. (2016, September 22). Захарченко: Для предотвращения переворота в ЛНР был переброшен батальон “Спарта” (Zakharchenko: To prevent the coup in the LNR, “Sparta” battalion was sent). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://life.ru/t/новости/907002/zakharchienko_dlia_priedotvrashchieniia_pierievorota_v_lnr_byl_pieriebroshien_batalon_sparta

[7] DAN-News. (2017, July 18). Вопрос создания Малороссии целесообразно вынести на обсуждение парламента и общественности – Пушилин (The issue of creating Little Russia is expedient for discussion of the parliament and the public – Pushilin). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://dan-news.info/politics/vopros-sozdaniya-malorossii-celesoobrazno-vynesti-na-obsuzhdenie-parlamenta-i-obshhestvennosti-pushilin.html

[8] TASS. (2017, July 18). Malorossiya project is personal initiative of self-proclaimed republic’s leader. Retrieved July 26, 2017, from http://tass.com/politics/956825

[9] DNR-Pravda News Editor (2017, July 18). Декларация и Конституционный акт государственного образования Малороссия (Declaration and Constitutional act of the state formation Malorossiya). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from  http://dnr-pravda.ru/2017/07/18/deklaratsiya-i-konstitutsionnyiy-akt-gosudarstvennogo-obrazovaniya-malorossiya/

[10] 112.ua. (2016, July 24). “DNR” again postponed “elections” in the occupied Donbas. Retrieved July 26, 2017, from http://112.international/conflict-in-eastern-ukraine/dnr-again-postponed-elections-in-the-occupied-donbas-7515.html

[11] Denis, A. (2017, July 20). Реакция на Малороссию (Reactions to Malorossiya). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://cont.ws/@artemevsepar/668685

[12] Korrespondent.net. (2017, July 26). Захарченко рассказал о проблемах с “Малороссией” (Zakharchenko spoke about problems with Malorossiya). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from http://korrespondent.net/ukraine/3872258-zakharchenko-rasskazal-o-problemakh-s-malorossyei

[13] av-zakharchenko.su. (2017, August 9). Переформатирование Украины. Дискуссия продолжается… (Reform of Ukraine. The discussion continues…). Retreived August 16, 2017, from http://av-zakharchenko.su/inner-article/Zayavleniya/Pereformatirovanie-Ukrainy-Diskussiya-prodolzhaetsya2/

Assessment Papers Irregular Forces Michael Sheldon Russia Ukraine

Assessment of the Search for Security in the Eastern Baltic

Jeremiah Cushman is a senior analyst at Military Periscope, where he writes about weapons.  He holds an M.A. in European and Eurasian Studies from the George Washington University.  He can be found on Twitter @jdcushman.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of the Search for Security in the Eastern Baltic

Date Originally Written:  July 15, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  August 14, 2017.

Summary:  For much of the last 800 years, the natives of the Baltic States and Finland were ruled by others, whether Baltic Germans, Swedes, Russians or Hitler’s Germany.  History shows these countries that, to retain independence, they must be willing and able to fight for it, and possibly join collective security organizations.

Text:  Lithuania existed as an independent nation prior to 1918, in contrast to Estonia, Latvia and Finland.  In 1385, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania joined with the Kingdom of Poland via a dynastic marriage.  Although not specifically made for security purposes, the result was a great Central European power that eventually spread from the Baltic to the Black Sea.  This was, however, an unstable union, with divergent interests between the Lithuanian and Polish halves.  (Poland ultimately became the dominant power.)  Efforts were made to strengthen the union, culminating with the establishment of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569.  The commonwealth eventually succumbed to its own weaknesses and the machinations of neighboring powers, Austria, Prussia and Russia, which divided it among themselves in the partitions of 1772, 1790 and 1795.  If ultimately unsuccessful, the commonwealth nevertheless provided security for the Lithuanians for centuries.

Upon gaining independence in 1918, the Baltic States struggled to navigate their security environment.  For the most part, they sought refuge in the collective security arrangements of the League of Nations.  Different threat perceptions, a territorial dispute over Vilnius between Lithuania and Poland, and the maneuvers of the Germans and Soviets hindered trilateral defense efforts.  A proposed four-way alliance among Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Poland foundered on Finnish reservations.  Helsinki elected to focus on a Scandinavian orientation.  Estonia and Latvia managed to conclude a defense alliance in 1923.

The Soviet Union saw Baltic cooperation as a threat and worked to undermine it.  The Baltic States concluded their own treaty of cooperation and friendship in 1934, although little came from it.  Non-aggression pacts signed with Moscow and Berlin came to nought and the three nations were occupied by Soviet forces in 1940 and annexed.  While Finland fought for its independence and survived World War II, Baltic failures to prepare, and the overwhelming strength of the Soviet and German states that opposed them, ended their initial experiment with independence.

Finland was able to maintain its independence during and after World War II, fighting the Soviet Union twice in the Winter War of 1939-1940 and the Continuation War of 1941-1944.  The Finnish state was saved, though it lost the Karelia region to the Soviets.  Viewing Moscow as a direct threat, Helsinki allied with the Nazi regime as Berlin prepared its own attack on the Soviet Union.  The Finnish government took pains to portray its own war as separate from that of Germany’s, without much success.

At the end of the war, Finland was left with an 830-mile border with Russia and a difficult position between its preferred partners in the democratic West and the Soviet Union.  Moscow was able to dictate terms as the Finnish war effort collapsed in 1944 along with the fortunes of its German allies.  In 1948, the Finnish government concluded a mutual assistance treaty with Moscow, including military obligations to come to the Soviet Union’s assistance in the event of an attack by Germany or its allies, or an attack from Finnish territory.  The goal was to maintain independence and reduce the chance of conflict in Northern Europe.

By resolving Moscow’s security concerns, Finland was able to pursue trade with Western countries and play an active role in détente during the 1970s.  The Nordic country benefited from trade with its eastern neighbor, while holding off Soviet efforts to tighten military relations.  While this “Finlandization” policy ensured the nation’s sovereignty during the Cold War, it came at a cost to Finland’s freedom of action.  Habits formed over those decades continue to influence national policy, including hindering those who might prefer new security arrangements in light of Russia’s increasingly aggressive posture.

The Baltic States declared their independence from the Soviet Union in 1990.  Remembering the lessons of 1940, they immediately focused on trilateral cooperation and integration with European security organizations to secure their freedom.  Their security bodies focused on developing modern, capable forces on the Western model with the object of joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU).  These goals were achieved in 2004.  NATO’s Article 5 pledge that an attack on one is an attack on all is seen as the cornerstone of Baltic security.  Accordingly, all three countries recognize the United States as their most important security partner.  The Baltic States also pursue regional cooperation with their Nordic neighbors.  These multilateral cooperation efforts have, in some cases, detracted from trilateral endeavors. Small countries have limited resources.

Accession to NATO and the EU, which has its own security mechanisms, seemed to resolve the security concerns of the Baltic States.  However, the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. has led to uncertainty about the wisdom of relying on Washington.  Trump has threatened to assist only those NATO members who meet the alliance’s defense spending goals and his commitment to Article 5 appears uncertain, despite efforts from other administration officials to reinforce American support for the Baltic allies.  Trump’s apparent ties to Russia cause additional discomfort in the region.

Officially, the governments of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania emphasize the continued importance of security ties with the U.S. and a belief that Trump will live up to Washington’s NATO commitments should it become necessary.  So far, U.S. and NATO activities in the Baltic region have been unchanged from the previous administration, with multinational battalion task groups active in all three countries.

As for Finland, it has eschewed its former relationship with Moscow in favor of closer security relations with NATO and the U.S., and strengthened ties with neighboring Sweden.  Helsinki still sees a strong national defense capability as vital for its security.  NATO membership remains politically challenging, although Finland potentially benefits from E.U. mutual assistance mechanisms.

The lessons of history for this region are simple.  To retain independence, one must first be willing and able to fight for it.  States as small as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania must additionally find allies to bolster their own defense efforts.  If one cannot be a great power, joining a great power organization, such as NATO, is the next best thing.


Endnotes:

[1]  Kirby, David. (1998). Northern Europe In The Early Modern Period: The Baltic World 1492-1772. New York, NY: Addison Wesley Longman.

[2]  Kirby, David. (1998). The Baltic World 1772-1993: Europe’s Northern Periphery in an Age of Change. New York, NY: Addison Wesley Longman.

[3]  Kasekamp, Andres. (2010). A History of the Baltic States. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

[4]  Plakans, Andrejs. (2011). A Concise History of the Baltic States. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Aggression Assessment Papers Baltics Estonia European Union Finland Jeremiah Cushman Latvia Lithuania North Atlantic Treaty Organization Russia Trump (U.S. President) United States

Options for U.S. Sanctions Towards Russia for Aggression in Ukraine

Michael Martinez is a graduate student at University of Maryland University College where he is currently obtaining his master’s degree in intelligence management.  He also holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Coastal Carolina University.  He can be found on Twitter @MichaelMartinez.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  U.S. economic sanctions towards Russia following its aggressive actions in Ukraine.

Date Originally Written:  March 1, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  April 17, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the standpoint of the U.S. national security community regarding future plans or movement on Russian sanctions.

Background:  In February 2014 the Olympic winter games had just concluded in Sochi.  Russia was in the midst of invading the Crimea region and portions of Eastern Ukraine.  The U.S. placed targeted economic sanctions on Russia as a reaction to its invasion.  While these sanctions have been detrimental to Russia’s economy, President Vladimir Putin is still holding portions of Eastern Ukraine and attempting to annex the Donbas region as Russian territory.  The first round of the sanctions from the U.S. were a response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, while a second round began as the ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia failed to take hold[1].  The future of Russian aggression towards Ukraine is undetermined at this time.

Significance:  In the U.S., the Trump Administration is taking a significantly more laissez-faire approach to Russia and Russian government officials, including Putin, than President Barack Obama did.  Any change in U.S. policy towards Russia will have significant impacts in Eastern Europe and on North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members – as matters of economics, trade, and territorial occupation are concerned.  A declining Russian populous and economy, being backed into a corner, can provide for dangerous consequences, especially since its military and nuclear stockpiles are quite viable.

Option #1:  The U.S. continues current economic sanctions until Russia withdrawals its forces from Crimea and the Donetsk region, including other areas of Eastern Ukraine.

Risk:  As the U.S. keeps economic pressure on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine’s sovereign territory, a new Cold War may develop as a stalemate between the U.S. and the Russian plays out.  Russia will hold on to the territory it occupies at this point in time and continue cross border skirmishes into the Donetsk region.

Gain:  If U.S. economic sanctions against Russia were to remain in place, these sanctions  and NATO pressure in the form of expanded presence is put upon the Russian government to rethink its strategy in Ukraine.  If these sanctions continue, the Ruble will sustain its downward trajectory and inflation will continue to rise, especially for consumer goods.  Economic contraction will put pressure on the Russian government to take corrective action and rethink their position to counter public opinion.  In 2015, the Russian economy contracted by 3.7%, while it shrank another 0.7% in 2016[2].

Option #2:  The U.S. lifts economic sanctions against Russia to give the Russian population economic stability in a country that heavily relies on oil and gas exports as the main driver of its economy and much of its wealth.

Risk:  Lifting sanctions may send a signal to the Russian administration that its behavior is warranted, acceptable, and falls in line with global norms.  President Putin may feel emboldened to keep moving his forces west to annex further portions of Ukraine.  Most of Eastern Ukraine could become a war zone, and humanitarian efforts would have to be implemented by the United Nations and other Non-Governmental Organizations if more grave violations of the Minsk (II) Protocol occurred.  Putin’s ultimate plan might involve gaining influence in other former Soviet satellite nations.  As such, a Ukraine-like effort may repeat itself elsewhere.  Lifting sanctions might give Putin a green light for his next conquest.

Gain:  The Russian people may take a friendlier view and role towards the U.S. and allow for more trade.  President Putin may be more open to multilateral trade negotiations.  A new trade agreement may become possible between Russia and the U.S., including countries that have been targeted by Russian aggression such as – Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic States.  A restoration and expansion of the Commonwealth of Independent States Free Trade Agreement or similar agreement, would be prudent to economic activity in the region[3].  Of note is that Ukraine is in a position where it now relies on Germany and Western European nations for imports and likely cannot stand on its own.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendations:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Baer, Daniel. (24, February 2017). Don’t forget the Russian sanctions are Russia’s fault. Foreign Policy. Retrieved March 1, 2017. http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/02/24/dont-forget-the-russia-sanctions-are-russias-fault/

[2]  Kottasova, Ivana. (26, February 2017). What would rolling back U.S. sanctions mean for Russia? CNN Money. Retrieved March 1, 2017 http://money.cnn.com/2017/02/16/news/economy/russia-sanctions-trump/index.html

[3]  “Russia Trade Agreements”. (23, June 2016). Exports.gov. Retrieved March 1, 2017 https://www.export.gov/article?id=Russia-Trade-Agreements

Economic Factors Michael Martinez Option Papers Russia Ukraine United States

Options to Arm Volunteer Territorial Defense Battalions in Ukraine

Daniel Urchick is a defense and foreign policy analyst and a Young Professionals in Foreign Policy East Europe and Eurasia Fellow.  Daniel tweets at @DanielUrchick.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  Ukrainian-Separatist conflict in the Donbas.

Date Originally Written:  February 20, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  March 2, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the perspective of a Ukrainian National Security Advisor, offering options on the possible utilization of the pro-Ukrainian government territorial defense battalions, supplementing the regular military and Ukrainian Government’s efforts to either defeat the separatists in the Donbas region, or create a more favorable situation on the ground for the next round of peace talks.

Background:  The Ukrainian military appears to have begun what has been characterized as a “creeping offensive [1]” to the north of Donetsk City in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR).  Ukrainian Military forces have made limited advances into the neutral space between government and separatist-controlled territory, known as the “gray zone,” to capture several contested villages such as Novoluhanske north of the city of Horvlika.  It is estimated that about 5,000 Russian troops remain in the Donbas in various capacities along with about 40,000 pro-Russian separatists.  The Ukrainian Military has an estimated 60,000 soldiers along the line of contact with an additional unofficial estimate of 10,000-11,000 “territorial defense battalion” personnel along the front and dispersed around the country.  There are currently 40 territorial defense battalions operating in Ukraine today[2].

Most of the territorial defense battalions were formed by wealthy business oligarchs who provide the majority of the funding and limited supplies.  As a result, most men in any given battalion are likely more loyal to the oligarch that formed the organization than to the State.  Most battalions are integrated into the Ukrainian Military to some degree.  Some remain completely outside the official Ukrainian Military structure.  Still others are in the process of being more fully integrated into the Ukrainian Military structure.  Non-integrated defense battalions do not receive sufficient materiel and logistical support from the military thus they cannot adequately defend against or attack the heavily armed separatists.  Integrated battalions fair little better in their armament and have been provided second tier light armor assets.

Significance:  The arming of territorial defense battalions is an important question aimed at winning the conflict with the Separatists in the Donbas, or at the least, producing a more favorable situation on the ground in future peace negotiations.  The battalions are an important source of manpower with high morale that could be better utilized.  Providing better equipment to the battalions could radically impact the domestic political situation in the Ukraine.  Thus, the right answer to the question of arming the battalions is important to both the defense and political communities in Ukraine, but also to every Western nation supporting Ukraine.

Option #1:  Supply territorial defense battalions full access to the Ukrainian Military’s arsenal of modern heavy armored equipment and other advanced weapon systems.

Risk:  Territorial defense battalions may still not fully submit to the authority of the Ukrainian Military and remain more loyal to their oligarch founders, increasing warlordism.  Battalions with low discipline may also choose to upgrade their equipment in an unauthorized manner, endangering their safety and the safety of friendly forces around them.  The obligation to maintain, fund, and supply armored assets fall on the Ukrainian State which has faced budget constraints since the September 2015 sovereign debt restructuring deal.  Providing territorial defense battalions with heavy armor assets could give Russia, the DNR and LNR pretext for an overt arms race and security dilemma, leading to a breakdown in the relative stability of the Minsk II Agreement.

Gain:  If used in a defensive capacity, the fully equipped territorial defense battalions could become a highly capable reinforcement to the normal line of contact against any possible separatist (counter)offensives, raising the level of deterrence.  As a credible deterrent force, the battalions will allow the military to mass its regular forces for local superiority should it choose to go on a larger offensive.  Supplying the battalions with better equipment is a popular political move.  Option #1 would reinforce the coalition government of President Poroshenko, which has right-wing elements, who have been the most supportive of past armament plans.  Territorial defense battalions are incentivized to remain operating within the Ukrainian military force structure and supporting the government that has now adequately supported them.  Equipment interoperability is maintained throughout Ukrainian forces operating along the line of contact, easing logistical problems that have plagued the military.

Option #2:  Continue to restrict the supply of modern heavy armor assets and other advanced vehicle systems to the territorial defense battalions.

Risk:  The territorial defense battalions, as an important pool of military manpower that can be utilized along the line of contact for both defensive and offensive operations, is deprived of equipment that would be critical to their survival in such operations.  The Poroshenko Government risks increased public dissent by going against public support for arming these battalions.  President Poroshenko also risks further splintering his coalition and pushing the right-wing elements of parliament further away from cooperation.  The battalions will not have an important incentive to remain operating within an official force structure, as their perception of being cannon fodder grows.

Gain:  Right-wing affiliated territorial defense battalions, or battalions with particularly strong loyalty to an oligarch who could be potentially hostile to the Poroshenko regime in the future, are denied heavy weaponry.  Battalions that have low morale, or are facing discipline or disbandment, will not be able to defect to the Separatist-controlled territory with important heavy weapon stocks.  The Ukrainian government does not have to provide funding and supplies for an expensive military equipment program during a time of fiscal constraint.  The restriction helps prevent the flow of weapons onto the black market from these battalions low on funds, morale or discipline.  The DNR and LNR, as well as Russia, are not given a pretext for breaking off the Minsk Agreements entirely or for launching a preemptive offensive.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Webb, Isaac. (2017, January 26). “Ukrainian forces creep into war’s gray zone,” KyivPost, retrieved from: http://www.pressreader.com/ukraine/kyiv-post/20170127/281500750970900

[2]  Pejic, Igor. (2016, October 05). “Kiev’s Volunteer Battalions in the Donbass Conflict,” South Front, retrieved from: https://southfront.org/kievs-volunteer-battalions-in-the-donbass-conflict/

Daniel Urchick Irregular Forces Option Papers Russia Ukraine

Options to Deter Russia Through U.S.-NATO Military Exercises

Barefoot Boomer is a U.S. Army officer and has served in both the Infantry and Armor.  He is currently a Strategic Planner serving in Texas.  Boomer has a Bachelor of Arts degree in history with an emphasis in military history from the University of Missouri at Saint Louis and a Master of Science degree in Strategic Intelligence from the National Intelligence University at the Defense Intelligence Agency.  He can be found on Twitter at @BarefootBoomer.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, organization, or group.


National Security Situation:  Deterring Russia through military exercises between the U.S. and Member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Date Originally Written:  January 12, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  January 23, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Barefoot Boomer is a Strategic Planner with the U.S. Army and has previously served in the Operation Inherent Resolve Coalition headquarters which leads the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  His current focus is mainly on Northern European and NATO security interests.

Background:  For decades during the Cold War the U.S. and its NATO allies conducted REFORGER (REturn of FORces to GERmany) exercises in order to deter aggression and ensure U.S. military forces could respond quickly to a Soviet and Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe.  REFORGER was also designed to be the operational defensive plan executed if a Soviet and Warsaw Pact attack occurred.  Annually, large numbers of U.S. military forces would rapidly deploy from bases in the U.S. to Europe and conduct exercises with NATO partner nations at training sites across Germany.  The last REFORGER exercise was formally conducted in 1993.

Significance:  As tensions have risen the last few years between Russia and the West, NATO has begun to increase its defense posture as well as member’s defense spending.  Russian incursions into Crimea, their invasion of Ukraine, and operations in Syria have also strained Russia-NATO relations.  In response, since 2014 the U.S. and her NATO allies have conducted Operation Atlantic Resolve[1], small-scale exercises and military-to-military training with northern and Baltic NATO nations.  Examples include the U.S. 2nd Cavalry Regiment executing Operation Dragoon Ride[2], a show of support to NATO allies by conducting a road march through six nations while training with host nation partner forces, and the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade sending units to train with their counterparts in the Baltic region.  Other NATO countries have sent forces east to conduct joint air patrols and exercises with partner nations.  These exercises and alliance contacts are designed to not only deter Russian threats to these partner nations but also to increase the capability, interoperability and responsiveness of the force.

Option #1:  Continue Operation Atlantic Resolve.

Risk:  The risk to continuing Operation Atlantic Resolve is minimal to NATO as well as to the U.S. overall yet could be higher to those NATO countries closest to the border with Russia.  The small-scale deployments of U.S. forces to the Baltic region with NATO partners such as Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, as well as with larger ally Poland, have been conducted by forces regionally aligned to Europe.  These deployments are focused mainly at the company-level or lower and concentrated on building partner capacity, military-to-mililitary cooperation, and integration into NATO command structures.  These small deployments and exercises may not be substantial enough to enable NATO to deter Russia.

Gain:  Any exercises conducted to strengthen NATO resolve and foster a more secure environment is a gain.  Operation Atlantic Resolve has shown this to be valid as it has grown larger over the past couple years to include more NATO partners eager to participate.  The positive response from the local population in each nation has also born this out.  If Atlantic Resolve continues at its current size and pace any further gain may be minimal at best.

Option #2:  Expand Operation Atlantic Resolve into a reconstituted large-scale REFORGER exercise.

Risk:  The risk from NATO executing larger, more rigorous exercises is that this may further increase tensions between Russia and NATO.  Even though NATO conducted large exercises in the past, and Russia has been conducting some themselves, increasing NATO’s footprint along Russia’s border may be seen as provocative and escalatory.

Gain:  There is much to gain from conducting wider-scale exercises like REFORGER that may outweigh any increased risk.  This gain includes everything from shrinking deployment timelines as our forces get better at rapidly deploying, sharpening the U.S. logistics capability, and increasing the cohesion of partner forces at higher command echelons.  In essence, conducting exercises as large as REFORGER can do certain things that smaller exercises cannot.  For example, decades of executing REFORGER were instrumental in the deployment of forces to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Storm.  Moving thousands of pieces of equipment, men, and materiel and the logistics to support them is a large part of any exercise and must be trained along with combined arms maneuver[3].  The deployment of an Armored Brigade Combat Team to Poland is a start but incorporating higher echelons of command, such as Divisions and Corps,  should be a priority to ensure the interoperability and close coordination with NATO partner forces.

Other Comments:  Deterrence only works when there is sufficient force behind it to threaten escalation and reaction, if required.  Smaller exercises are good for conducting exchanges with partner forces but executing larger scale exercises and deployments ensures that, if deterrence fails, NATO forces have the ability to react with enough size, strength, and most of all interoperability, to defend NATO Member States.  Larger exercises will also allow the inclusion of all members of the Joint Force, to include the Reserves and National Guard.  It has been over two decades since NATO has conducted a REFORGER, and while NATO has experience working together from years of operations in Afghanistan, they have lost the “muscle memory” of executing large, coalition operations and must regain it in order to deter Russia.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Atlantic Resolve | U.S. Army in Europe. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2017, from http://www.eur.army.mil/atlanticresolve/

[2]  Vandiver, J. (2015, March 12). Dragoon Ride will send US troops through eastern Europe in show of support. Retrieved January 12, 2017, from http://www.stripes.com/news/dragoon-ride-will-send-us-troops-through-eastern-europe-in-show-of-support-1.334021

[3]  Scales, Robert H., Certain Victory: The U.S. Army in the Gulf War, Brassey’s Inc., 1994, pg. 46.

Barefoot Boomer Deterrence North Atlantic Treaty Organization Russia

Syria Options: U.S. Grand Strategy

Mark Safranski is a Senior Analyst for Wikistrat, LLC.  His writing on strategy and national security have appeared in Small Wars Journal, Pragati, War on the Rocks  as well as in recent books like Warlords, inc., Blood Sacrifices:Violent Non-State Actors and Dark Magico-Religious Activities and The Clausewitz Roundtable.  He is the founder and publisher of zenpundit.com.


National Security Situation:  The Syrian Civil War.

Date Originally Written:  December 23, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  January 16, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  An analyst considering U.S.  national interest in terms of grand strategy.

Background:  Aleppo has fallen and with it the last shreds of credibility of President Obama’s policy on Syria.  None of Obama’s policy goals for Syria since the Arab Spring revolt were achieved.  In Syria, the Assad regime has crushed western-backed opposition fighters with direct Russian and Iranian military ground support; the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) still controls swaths of Syrian territory[1] and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally Turkey has conspired with Iran and Russia to exclude the U.S. and UN[2] from Syrian settlement talks.

Significance:  While Syria itself is of little strategic value to the U.S. beyond secondary implications for Israeli security, the utter failure of the Obama administration has brought U.S. diplomatic prestige to a nadir reminiscent of the Iranian hostage crisis or the fall of Saigon.  Worse, defeat in Syria occurred in a broader context of successful Russian aggression in Ukraine, uncontested Russian meddling in an U.S. presidential election, and perceptions of U.S. strategic concessions to Tehran in the Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA[3]).  Should the next administration want to accomplish more than Obama, it is vital that they  1) address Syria within the context of increased Russian-U.S. competition and 2) seize the initiative in restoring the influence of U.S. leadership with substantive and symbolic policy changes in regard to Syria and Russia.

Option #1:  Salvage Syria primarily in terms of a comprehensive re-ordering of U.S.-Russian relations to reduce threats to international stability from inter- and intra- state conflict.  Henry Kissinger’s concept of “linkage[4]” should be revived as a guiding principle rather than treating all points of international conflict or cooperation with Moscow as unrelated and occupying separate boxes.  Russian misbehavior needs to be met with appropriate countermeasures.  If U.S.  diplomats are assaulted by Federal Security Service (FSB) thugs, Russian diplomats in the U.S. are restricted to their embassies.  If U.S.  elections are hacked, Russia’s large number of intelligence officers under diplomatic cover in the U.S. are promptly expelled.  If “little green men” appear in friendly states, the U.S. instigates tough banking, economic or security aid pressure on Moscow.  Likewise, instead of trading public insults, the U.S. under Option #1 should negotiate frankly over Russian concerns and be prepared to build on points of cooperation and make concessions on a reciprocal basis.  If the U.S. could strike deals with Brezhnev we can do so with Putin.

Risk:  The U.S. begins from a position of weakness in regional conflicts, having little direct leverage over events on the ground in Syria or eastern Ukraine, which is why U.S. policy must shift to focus on systemic and strategic levels.  U.S. bureaucratic and political stakeholders have simultaneously pursued incompatible goals (i.e. overthrow Assad, stop ISIS, keep Syria intact, support rebels, fight terrorism, non-intervention) and will strongly resist a genuine strategy that forces choices.  Demonstrations of political will may be required by the new administration to convince partners and adversaries now skeptical of U.S. resolve or capability.

Gain:  Russian-U.S. relations could eventually shift to a “new detente” that replaces a high level of friction and peripheral aggression to if not friendly, at least business-like engagement.  Regional conflicts and attendant humanitarian crises could be moderated or settled in a stable diplomatic framework.  Progress on issues of mutual security concern such as Islamist terrorism could be made.  Trust in U.S. leadership could be regained.

Option #2:  A second strategy would be to address Syria narrowly with the objective of a settlement that cuts U.S. losses and attempts to return to as much of the status quo ante as possible – a weak state governed by Assad with minimal ability to threaten neighbors, guarantees for minorities, no ISIS or Islamist terror group in control of territory, and a removal of foreign military forces.

Risk:  While preferential to the current situation, Option #2 could be perceived as a U.S. retreat due to dropping longstanding unrealistic policy goals (i.e. regime change, Syria becoming a liberal democracy) in return for real increases in regional security and stability.  Domestic opposition in the U.S. from neoconservative and liberal interventionists is apt to be fierce.  The effort may fail and Syria could see a large-scale military build-up of Russian and Iranian military forces, threatening Israel.

Gain:  A diplomatic end to the conflict in Syria would have multiple benefits, not least for Syrian civilians who bear the brunt of the costs of civil war.  Preventing permanent state failure in Syria would be a strategic win against the spread of ISIS and similar radical Islamist Sunni terror groups.  The flow of refugees to Europe would markedly decline and those abroad in states like Turkey or Jordan could begin to return to Syria.  Finally, Syria would not become a major military outpost for Russia or Iran.

Other Comments:  It is most important that the new administration not begin by leaping into any particular foreign policy problem, including Syria, but start with a grand strategic end of improving U.S. global position and capacity, which in turn increases U.S. ability to uphold a stable, rules-based, international order. 

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Euan McKirdy and Angela Dewan, “Reports: ISIS retakes ancient Syrian city of Palmyra”, CNN, December 12, 2016.  http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/12/middleeast/palmyra-syria-isis-russia/index.html

[2]  Ben Hubbard and David E. Sanger, “Russia, Iran and Turkey Meet for Syria Talks, Excluding U.S.” New York Times, December 20 2016.  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/20/world/middleeast/russia-iran-and-turkey-meet-for-syria-talks-excluding-us.html

[3]  United States Department of State, “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” January 17, 2016.  https://www.state.gov/e/eb/tfs/spi/iran/jcpoa/ 

[4] Makinda, S. M., “The Role of Linkage Diplomacy in US‐Soviet Relations,” December, 1987.  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8497.1987.tb00148.x/abstract

 

Mark Safranski Option Papers Russia Strategy Syria United States

Syria Options: Russian Naval Activity in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea

Captain Robert N. Hein is a career Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy.  He previously commanded the USS Gettysburg (CG-64) and the USS Nitze (DDG-94).  He can be found on Twitter @the_sailor_dog.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.  


National Security Situation:  A resurgent Russia is operating extensively in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea in support of Syria, undermining U.S. efforts to protect the people of Aleppo, and U.S. efforts against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Date Originally Written:  December 9, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  January 5, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Bob Hein, a career Naval Officer, believes a resurgent Russia may be at a tipping point in its ability to continue operations on a global scale.  However, Russia’s current actions continue to affect world order.  His views in no way reflect those of the U.S. government, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Navy.  He also likes to play blackjack, smoke cigars, and drink scotch.

Background:  In a show of strategic nostalgia, and in an attempt to reassert itself on the global stage, Russia has stationed its fleet, to include the carrier Kuznetsov, in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.  The Kuznetsov is present under the auspices of supporting a faltering Syrian Regime, while thwarting U.S. efforts against both ISIS and U.S. support to anti-Assad forces.  Russia has turned the Eastern Mediterranean Sea into “a dangerous place[1].”

Significance:  If we are indeed in a return to great power competition, then a resurgent Russia operating off the coast of Syria, at best, undermines U.S. influence from the Eastern Mediterranean Sea through the Middle East, to include key maritime choke points such as the Suez Canal and the Strait of Gibraltar.  At worst Russia’s activities at sea provide an opportunity for a miscalculation that could lead to war.

Option #1:  The U.S. Navy provides a force to serve in the Mediterranean Sea as a credible deterrent to Russian expansionism.  Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the  U.S. maintained a credible deterrent force in the Mediterranean Sea.  In addition to large numbers of ground forces based in Germany, the U.S. Navy provided a near continuous Aircraft Carrier Strike Group (CSG) presence.  That presence deterred Soviet aggression through its ability to deny the Soviets their objectives, and if necessary, provide a level of punishment that would make Soviet expansionism futile.  This strategy resulted in an undeniable victory for the U.S. in the Cold War.

Risk:  The risk is medium for Option #1 as it is primarily resource driven, both in hardware and dollars.  The U.S. Navy of the Cold War consisted of almost 600 ships and one major threat.  In the decades since, more threats have emerged in addition to a resurgent Russia.  These emerging threats include a rising China, a nuclear North Korea, a volatile Iran, and violent extremist organizations that have swept across the Middle East and North Africa.  Placing a CSG in the Mediterranean Sea would require either moving ships away from other priority missions such as strikes on ISIS or an aggressive build rate of ships which could not be supported by either current industrial capacity or the current U.S. Navy budget.  There is also an increased risk of miscalculation.  Russia is not the Soviet Union and memories of the Soviet fall will continue to ferment for the foreseeable future.

Gain:  Medium.  If Option #1 is successfully undertaken, the results would be a reassurance of our allies globally, an affirmation of U.S. global power and influence, and the ability to influence events in Syria that fully support U.S. interest and intent.

Option #2:  Ignore the Russians.  Like a high school baseball all-star seeking out prior glory, the Russians are mortgaging their future to bring back the glory days.  The deployment of their carrier the Kuznetzov did little more than gain derision as it steamed trailing a thick black cloud across to the Mediterranean Sea[2].  The Kuznetzov ultimately did little more than demonstrate the ailing Russian fleet and the two aircraft crashes[3] did little to demonstrate Russian ability to project power from the sea.  Furthermore, Russia is draining its reserve fund to fund government operations to include its military expansionism.  Additionally, Russia has been bleeding economically due to Western sanctions and the low-cost of oil[4].  Once Russia’s reserve fund runs out their options are limited.  Russia can choose to either operate and stop modernization their military, or modernize their military and stop operating.  History has shown that Russia will attempt to keep operating and slow its rate of modernization and this will push maintenance costs up.  Russia’s last foray into deploying vessels on the cheap resulted in the loss of a ballistic missile submarine Kursk.

Risk:  High.  If the U.S. were to ignore the Russians and miscalculate their ability to operate in an austere environment then the U.S. runs the risk of demonstrating an inability to operate on the global stage.   U.S. inaction and miscalculation will solidify that Russia has the influence and ability they claim thus bolstering Russian credibility globally.  The political risk is high and the risk to the people of Syria is high.

Gain:  High.  Similar to holding on 17 in blackjack and waiting for the dealer to bust, the U.S. takes minimal risk while Russia busts.  The U.S., with minimal effort and minimal cost, watches while Russia overextends itself, wipes out its cash reserves, and struggles to maintain its ability to even minimally influence its neighbors.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  British warship docks in Israel amid rising tensions in Mediterranean Audrey Horowitz-Eric Cortellessa-Nina Lamparski-Elie Leshem-Avi Issacharoff-JTA Ahren-Ralf ISERMANN-Times staff-Cathryn Prince-Rich Tenorio-Rebecca Stoil-Nicholas Riccardi-Steve North-Sue Surkes – http://www.timesofisrael.com/british-warship-docks-in-israel-at-time-of-rising-tensions-in-mediterranean/

[2]  Farmer, B. (2016)  Belching smoke through the Channel, Russian aircraft carrier so unreliable it sails with its own breakdown tug. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/21/russian-carrier-plagued-by-technical-problems/

[3]  Lockie A. (2016)  Russia has just given up on trying to launch strikes from its rickety aircraft carrier – http://www.businessinsider.com/russia-gave-up-airstrikes-kuznetsov-aircraft-carrier-2016-12

[4]  Readhead, H. (2016). Russia is rapidly running out of cash. http://metro.co.uk/2016/09/08/russia-could-run-out-of-money-by-the-end-of-this-year-economists-predict-6115802/

Bob Hein Maritime Option Papers Russia Syria United States

Syria Options: Safe Zone

Carlo Valle has served in United States Marine Corps and the United States Army.  A graduate of History at Concordia University (Montreal) he is presently pursuing a Masters in Geopolitics and International Relations at the Catholic University of Paris.  He can be found on Twitter @cvalle0625.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


National Security Situation:  Civil war, humanitarian, and international crisis in Syria.

Date Originally Written:  December 4, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  January 2, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author is a former enlisted member of the United States military and a constructivist who believes that international relations are influenced by more than just power and anarchy but also by the construction of identity.  The article is written from the point of view of the U.S. towards the Syrian Civil War.

Background:  The Syrian Civil War has moved into its fifth year.  A combination of intertwined and conflicting interests has created a stalemate for all sides thus prolonging human suffering.  Attempting to break the stalemate, Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air forces are bombing civilian targets in rebel-controlled areas, despite claims of targeting only the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Al-Nusra-held areas.

Significance:  The conflict has sparked a mass exodus of refugees fleeing the fighting.  This mass exodus has overwhelmed neighboring countries and Europe.  To ease this refugee burden and human suffering, some have proposed establishing safe zones.

Option #1:  Establish a safe zone.  A safe zone is a de-militarized area intended to provide safety to non-combatants.

Risk:  For Syria and Russia to respect a safe zone it must protect non-combatants and remain neutral.  If Syrian opposition forces use the safe zone as a place from which to mount operations Syria and Russia could then justify attacking the safe zone [1].  If the safe zone is attacked by Syria and Russia, and U.S. and Coalition troops protecting the safe zone are killed or wounded, the U.S. risks war with Syria or Russia [2].  Additionally, if U.S. and Coalition troops discover Syrian opposition forces in the safe zone hostilities could erupt.  These hostilities could be used by ISIL or Al-Nusra to recruit new fighters and be a political embarrassment for the U.S. and the Coalition.

Establishing a safe zone will require a sizable neutral military presence that can deter attack and dissuade the Syrian opposition attempting to occupy the safe zone [3].  The military personnel protecting the safe zone must have clear rules of engagement and the overall safe zone mission will require a conditions-based arrival and exit strategy.  Just as important as establishing a safe zone is knowing when and how to extract oneself.  This goes beyond fear of media or political accusations of “being stuck in a quagmire” or “appeasement.”  Instead, the concern is based in judging whether the safe zone is becoming an obstacle to peace or worsening the situation.

Gain:  Establishing a safe zone will protect non-combatants thereby reducing the number of refugees overwhelming Syria’s Mid-East neighbors and Europe.  In the long-term, refugees that are unable to return to their homeland may destabilize the region by being unable to integrate into their host-nation’s society or by falling into the trap of radicalism[4].  Similar situations have happened in the 20th century with the Palestinian refugee crisis and Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

Option #2:  Forgoing a safe zone.

Risk:  Not establishing a safe zone runs the long-term risks of regional instability or a new wave of radicalism that could be a problem for decades.  According to Stephen Walt, the U.S. has no interests in Syria to justify any involvement[5].  However, the Syrian Civil War has brought social and economic strain upon Syria’s neighbors and Europe.  In the Middle East, U.S. regional partners could turn their backs on the U.S. if they feel that the U.S. is not acting in their interests i.e. taking actions to stem the flow of refugees.  U.S. relationships in the Middle East are already strained due to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran.  In Europe, refugee migration has ushered a wave of anti-European Union populism that questions the very international system of cooperation the U.S. has benefitted from since the end of World War II.  Were this questioning of the international system to fracture Europe, it would not be able to counter Russian aggression.

Gain:  The biggest advantage to forgoing the safe zone is the ability to keep other options open. U.S. and Coalition forces could be better used elsewhere, likely focusing on near-peer competitors such as Russia or China.  U.S. and Coalition forces could be employed in the Baltic States, or in the Pacific Rim to counter Russian aggression and China’s rise.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Joseph, E. P., & Stacey, J. A. (2016). A Safe Zone for Syria: Kerry’s Last Chance. Foreign Affairs. Accessed from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/syria/2016-10-05/safe-zone-syria

[2]  Bier, D. J. (2016). Safe Zones Won’t Save Syrians. National Interest. Accessed from http://nationalinterest.org/feature/safe-zones-wont-save-syrians-17979

[3]  Stout, M. (2015). [W]Archives: When “Safe Zones” Fail. War on the Rocks. Accessed from http://warontherocks.com/2015/07/warchives-when-safe-zones-fail/

[4]  Kristoff, N. (2016). Obama’s Worst Mistake [Op-Ed]. The New York Times. Accessed from http://nyti.ms/2aCJ54F

[5]  Walt, S. M. (2016). The Great Myth About U.S. Intervention in Syria. Foreign Policy. Accessed from http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/10/24/the-great-myth-about-u-s-intervention-in-syria-iraq-afghanistan-rwanda/

Carlo Valle Civil War Islamic State Variants No-Fly or Safe Zone Option Papers Russia Syria United States

Syria Options: No Fly Zone & Syrians Rebuilding Syria Program

Abu Sisu and Seshat are intelligence analysts currently working in the field of homeland security.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  Civil war, humanitarian, and international crisis in Syria.

Date Originally Written:  November 30, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  December 26, 2016.

Authors and / or Article Point of View:  Abu Sisu has more than 20 years of experience as a military and homeland security intelligence analyst.  Seshat is an intelligence analyst with over six years of experience living in the Middle East and focuses on local solutions to local problems.   

Background:  The complex and protracted nature of the conflict in Syria has continued for almost six years with no side achieving a definitive political or military victory.  While estimates vary, between 250,000 to 500,000 Syrians have died since 2011 and around eleven million were displaced from their homes, with almost five million having fled Syria[1].  The Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) has intentionally targeted civilians since the civil war began.  In September 2015 the Russian military began assisting Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime through airstrikes against rebel held territory which inflicted thousands of civilian casualties.

Significance:  The widespread targeting of civilians violates international law and has fueled the largest refugee and displacement crisis since World War II, further destabilizing the region[2].

Option #1:  A U.S.-led Coalition imposes a no-fly zone in Syria.  A no-fly zone is airspace designated as off limits to flight-related activities[3].  The SyAAF depopulates territory as a way to eliminate support for opposition groups.  A U.S.-led Coalition could restrict SyAAF movement thus protecting critical areas in Syria.  As with earlier no-fly zones in Iraq (Operation Southern Watch/Focus) and Bosnia (Operation Deny Flight), U.S. and Coalition forces would likely be authorized to attack other targets—anti-aircraft assets for example—that threaten the mission.  On October 24th, 2016 Secretary of the U.S. Air Force Deborah Lee James said she was confident that it would be possible to impose a no-fly zone in Syria[4].  Mike Pence, the U.S. Vice President-Elect, announced his support for a no-fly zone during the Vice-Presidential debate on October 4th, 2016[5].

Risk:  Russian government activity supports the Assad regime and a no-fly zone may be interpreted as an attempt to undermine Russian national security goals.  If the U.S. cannot reach an agreement with the Russians on the implementation of a no-fly zone, the U.S. can expect the Russians to respond in one or more of the following ways:

Rejecting cooperation on Middle East issues.  Russian support is important for maintaining the Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—and for concluding a peace agreement to the Syrian Civil War.  If Russia withdrew or chose to undermine efforts related to the Iran nuclear deal or the Syrian Civil War, it is likely that neither situation would achieve an acceptable resolution.

Escalating pressure on North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Members or U.S. Allies and Partners.  Russia has threatened to cut off natural gas supplies to Europe in the past and made aggressive military moves in the Baltics as a warning to Finland and Sweden to reject NATO membership[6][7].

Direct military confrontation between Russian forces currently supporting the Assad regime and U.S.-led Coalition forces in the region.  With both Russian and U.S.-led Coalition aircraft flying in Syrian airspace, the possibility exists for conflict between the two, either accidentally or when attempting to evade or enforce the no-fly zone.  Additionally, Russian forces deployed anti-aircraft missiles to Syria and, as of October 6th, 2016 declared that any Coalition airstrikes against territory held by the Syrian government would be interpreted as a “clear threat” to Russian forces[8].

Gain:  A no-fly zone could eliminate the threat to civilians from the SyAAF.  Displaced persons would have more options to relocate within Syria rather than making a perilous journey to other countries.  A no-fly zone would reduce the capabilities of the Assad regime which has relied on airpower to counter attacks by opposition forces.  A reduction in Syria’s ability to use airpower may serve as another incentive for the Assad regime to seek a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

Option #2:  A pilot program that provides Syrian refugees with the training and skills to rebuild Syria in the aftermath of the conflict—Syrians Rebuilding Syria (SRS).  SRS will solicit the assistance of volunteer engineers and architects—specifically those involved with the post-conflict reconstruction and development in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Lebanon—to train refugees.  The aim is to equip teams of refugees with the appropriate vocational training in architecture, city planning and development, brick laying, constructing roads, installing or repairing electrical grids, operating heavy construction machinery, and implementing sewage and drainage systems among other things.

Risk:  As the intensity of the Syrian Civil War increases the refugee flow the SRS will require increased funding to train them.  The accumulated costs of the SRS program in the short-term are unlikely to yield a tangible return on investment (ROI) and success will be difficult to measure.  Without a way to demonstrate ROI, the U.S. Congress may hesitate to appropriate continued funding for SRS.  Additionally, the success of the program depends on the outcome of the Syrian Civil War.  If Assad is not defeated, graduates of SRS may be viewed as American-trained spies, whose goal is to infiltrate and undermine the regime. Further, without a specific plan as to where the SRS-trained refugees will return to in Syria, or who they will meet once they arrive, the trainees will likely face unpredictable conditions with no guarantee of success.

Gain:  A militarily agnostic option that trains refugees to rebuild Syria could prove to be a strategically effective tool of U.S. soft power.  SRS would not burden the U.S. with nation building, but instead provide Syrians with the necessary tools to rebuild their own country.  These factors would likely assist in countering anti-Americanism, particularly among Syrians, and serve as a model for effective non-military assistance in future conflicts. Additionally, as the conflict is prolonged, graduates of SRS will likely become more attractive refugees to other countries in the region due to their employability.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  CNN, L. S.-S., Jomana Karadsheh and Euan McKirdy. (n.d.). Activists count civilian toll of Russian airstrikes in Syria. Retrieved November 10, 2016, from http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/30/middleeast/un-aleppo-condemnation/index.html

[2]  United Nations. (2016, March 15). Syria conflict at 5 years: The biggest refugee and displacement crisis of our time demands a huge surge in solidarity. Retrieved December 02, 2016, from http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/press/2016/3/56e6e3249/syria-conflict-5-years-biggest-refugee-displacement-crisis-time-demands.html

[3]  Hinote, C. (2015, May 05). How No-Fly Zones Work. Retrieved November 23, 2016, from http://blogs.cfr.org/davidson/2015/05/05/how-no-fly-zones-work/

[4]  OMelveny, S. (n.d.). SecAF: US Could Create Syria No-Fly Zone While Fighting ISIS [Text]. Retrieved November 10, 2016, from http://www.military.com/daily-news/2016/10/24/secaf-us-could-create-syria-no-fly-zone-while-fighting-isis.html

[5]  Syria Draws a Rare Source of Accord in Debate Between Kaine and Pence – The New York Times. (n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/06/us/syria-vice-presidential-debate.html?_r=1

[6]  Russia Gazprom risks another gas standoff with Ukraine – Business Insider. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2016, from http://www.businessinsider.com/russia-gazprom-risks-another-gas-standoff-with-ukraine-2015-2?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+businessinsider+(Business+Insider)

[7]  Russia Issues Fresh Threats Against Unaligned Nordic States. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2016, from http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/international/2016/05/05/russia-issues-fresh-threats-against-unaligned-nordic-states/83959852/

[8]  Oliphant, R. (2016, October 06). Russia warns it will shoot down alliance jets over Syria if US launches air strikes against Assad. Retrieved December 04, 2016, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/06/russian-air-defence-missiles-would-respond-if-us-launches-air-st/

Abu Sisu Aid and Development Civil War No-Fly or Safe Zone Option Papers Refugees Russia Seshat Syria

Syria Options: No Fly Zone & Remove Assad

Barefoot Boomer is a U.S. Army officer and has served in both the Infantry and Armor.  He is currently a Strategic Planner serving in Texas.  He can be found on Twitter at @BarefootBoomer.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, organization, or group.


National Security Situation:  Civil war, humanitarian, and international crisis in Syria.

Date Originally Written:  November 23, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  December 19, 2016.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Barefoot Boomer is a Strategic Planner with the U.S. Army and has previously served in the Operation Inherent Resolve Coalition Headquarters which leads the U.S. effort against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Background:  Since the civil war in Syria began in 2011 there has been no limit to the suffering of the Syrian civilian population.  Not only has the violence caused regional instability and the largest refugee crisis in recent history, but the cost in civilian lives has grown exponentially, the siege of Aleppo being a prime example.  Thousands of civilians have been under siege in Aleppo for over two years, victims of Syrian and Russian aerial attacks.  Civilian targets, including hospitals and neighborhoods, have been bombed killing many.  Aid convoys attempting to relieve the siege have also been attacked by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian supporters.

Significance:  Nature abhors a vacuum.  So does U.S. foreign policy, hence the reason why the U.S. seeming inaction in Syria is mind-boggling to some.  Disturbing images of dead civilians, including heartbreaking pictures of young children, have provoked calls for the international community to “do something.”  The lawlessness and indiscriminate targeting of civilians as well as the huge flood of refugees streaming out of Syria has turned a civil war into an international crisis.  As the U.S. is the leader of the anti-ISIS Coalition, and would be the main executor of, and bear the brunt of any operation, it is prudent to understand the U.S. position as well as implications.  Any intervention by the U.S. and her allies is also significant to regional neighbors and actors, such as Syria and Russia.

Option #1:  Establish a no-fly zone in part of Syria.  A no-fly zone is airspace designated as off-limits to flight-related activities[1].

Risk:  There are numerous risks involved in establishing a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians and refugees fleeing the ongoing fighting.  Militarily, attempting to set up a no-fly zone that could reasonably protect civilians would be a tremendous task.  The U.S. and her allies would have to use air power to establish air superiority to protect the area from Syrian and Russian air attacks.  This would mean conducting actions to suppress air defenses and destroy Syrian and Russian aircraft, either in the air or possibly on the ground.  It would also have to include hundreds, if not thousands, of U.S. ground troops to support air operations.  The logistics involved would also be incredibly complex.  The political risks are just as daunting.  Seizing sovereign Syrian territory in order to establish a no-fly zone with U.S. troops would be a de facto invasion, which would anger Assad’s main ally, Russia.  The threat of U.S. and Russia confronting each other would rise exponentially, just as the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, United States Marine Corps General Joseph F. Dunford Jr has insinuated[2].

Gain:  There would be little gain from establishing a no-fly zone in Syria.  Not only would the immediate risks outweigh any perceived gains in the long-term but it would not necessarily help those people still trapped inside Aleppo or other population centers.

Option #2:  Remove Assad.

Risk:  Ultimately, the underlying cause of civilian deaths and suffering in Syria is the Syrian regime itself, led by President Bashar al-Assad.  If the U.S. and its’ Coalition of willing allies decided, under the auspices of a Responsibility to Protect[3] Syrian civilians, to attempt to address the underlying cause, they would become directly involved in the civil war and remove Assad from power.  The risks in doing so are enormous, not only to the U.S. and the Coalition, but to the Syrian people they would be attempting to help.  It would take hundreds of thousands of Coalition troops to do regime change similar to what the U.S. did in Iraq in 2003.  The U.S. public has little stomach for another Middle East regime changing war or the spending of blood and treasure that comes with it.

Gain:  Removing Assad would most assuredly lift the siege of Aleppo and relieve the horror civilians are experiencing on the ground but it would not necessarily stop the sectarian strife and political upheaval that are at the heart of the civil war.  If nothing else U.S. involvement would increase tensions with not only Russia and other regional actors but would embroil U.S. forces in another possibly decade-long occupation and stability operation.  More civilians, not less, may be caught up in the post-Assad violence that would certainly hamper efforts at rebuilding.

Other Comments:  Any decision made regarding involvement in Syria must come down to risk.  How much risk are the U.S. and her allies willing to take to ensure the safety of the Syrian people, and how much is there to gain from that risk.  Also, with a new U.S. President assuming office in January 2017, there is uncertainty about whether U.S. Syrian policy will stay the same or radically change.  Ultimately, weighing the spending of blood and treasure to establish a no-fly zone in Syria must be bounded within the confines of U.S. national security interests.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Hinote, C. (2015, May 05). How No-Fly Zones Work. Retrieved November 23, 2016, from http://blogs.cfr.org/davidson/2015/05/05/how-no-fly-zones-work/

[2]  Dunford tells Wicker controlling airspace in Syria means war with Russia. (2016, September 25). Retrieved November 19, 2016, from https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4621738/dunford-tells-wicker-controlling-airspace-syria-means-war-russia-mccain-throws-tantrum-dunford

[3]  Office of The Special Adviser on The Prevention of Genocide. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/adviser/responsibility.shtml

Barefoot Boomer Civil War Islamic State Variants Leadership Change No-Fly or Safe Zone Option Papers Russia Syria United States