Reports

June 4, 2018  |  Updated October 12, 2018

A Definition of Contemporary Russian Conflict: How Does the Kremlin Wage War?

By Bob Seely

A Definition of Contemporary Russian Conflict: How Does the Kremlin Wage War? warns that the West faces a new kind of conflict: one in which military and non-military tools are combined in a dynamic, efficient and integrated way to achieve political aims. Until now, there has been no common agreement on what we are fighting – but Seely offers a comprehensive definition.

In his paper, the Conservative MP and Russia researcher offers the term ‘Contemporary Russian Conflict’ to describe the covert and overt forms of malign influence used by the Kremlin.

In this co-ordinated approach to warfare, at least 50 tools of state power are used, grouped into seven elements: Political Conflict; Culture and Governance; Economics and Energy; Military Power; Diplomacy and Public Outreach; and Information and Narrative Warfare. At the heart of this is the seventh element: Command and Control.

This model is less a military art so much as a strategic one, in which all the tools of national power are woven together. Armed conflict – whether overt, covert or via proxy forces – is but one part of a full spectrum of tools used in the pursuit of political aims. The role of the Armed Forces in this definition is supporting, not supported – used to bolster the wider political conflict being waged.

A Definition of Contemporary Russian Conflict examines the ways in which Russia goes to war and how it came to adopt this hybrid warfare model. It highlights how:

  • The Kremlin considers non-military tools to be potentially more powerful than military tools, with instruments such as information warfare, cultural manipulation and social media hacktivism being used to achieve foreign policy goals without the use of direct force.
  • There is an enduring influence of the secret services on Russian strategic planning, with the stages of Contemporary Russia Conflict based heavily on the ‘Active Measures’ toolkit used by the KGB as political warfare during the Soviet Union.
  • President Putin and the security clique around him, judging by Russian foreign, defence and security doctrine, believe that the Western system, based on the rule of law and universal human rights, is antithetical to Russia and that the West is an adversary – not a partner – of Russia, with Russia a victim of Western action.
  • Mr. Putin wants to undermine NATO, the EU, and other Western institutions; and wishes to use disinformation campaigns and the tools of subversive warfare to undermine trust in our values, leaders, and way of life.

Report author Bob Seely MP said: “From fake news aimed at Europe to the propaganda of RT, and from the occupation of Crimea to the streets of Salisbury, Russia is waging a very modern kind of conflict on the West – as well as on the Russian people themselves.

“Putin’s tactics owe much to the ‘active measures’ practiced by the KGB during the Cold War, subverting truth to undermine our faith in our institutions. He seeks to demoralise and divide us.

“The coming years will test our resilience in multiple ways. If we are to counter Russian aggression and deter future attacks on us and our allies, understanding Contemporary Russian Conflict is a crucial first step.”

Commenting on the report, Foreign Affairs Select Committee Chair Tom Tugendhat MP said: “Up until now, the West has been without a definition of Russian warfare in all its complexity and sophistication. Bob Seely has now provided us with an approach based on common understanding of the threat we face. I will be raising this with the other Select Committees that are investigating Russian activity in the UK.

“Peer reviewed by leading scholars, this paper is a critical element in understanding how Russia and other powers are using often malign influence to achieve their strategic goals. It is important to understand the tools and techniques they are using so we are better prepared to defend and respond.”

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