Russian Military Chief Outlines Aggressive Anti-U.S. War Strategy

Gerasimov vows more non-military war against America

Valery Gerasimov
Valery Gerasimov / Getty Images
March 12, 2019

Russia's large-scale military buildup is being augmented by greater use of non-military warfare against the United States, the chief of the Russian general staff revealed last week.

Gen. Valery Gerasimov, author of Russia's use of "hybrid" warfare, announced the greater adoption of asymmetric warfare tools—cyber, space, and information weapons—in response to what he said are stepped up plans for information operations by the Pentagon.

"Under these conditions our armed forces must be prepared to wage wars and armed conflicts of a new type using classic and asymmetric methods of operations," Gerasimov said in a speech March 2.

Gerasimov first outlined Russia's new hybrid warfare in 2013 and implemented the plan a year later in using covert military forces to annex Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. The Russians invaded with "little green men"—special operations troops without military insignia.

By contrast, the doctrine put forth last week used even harsher terms to describe the United States as Moscow's main enemy.

Gerasimov asserted the United States is using a combination of political warfare through so-called color revolutions and soft power combined with plans for precision guided missile strikes to force regime change.

Russia's response will be "active defense" that includes "a set of measures for preemptive neutralization of threats to national security."

"We must preempt the enemy in the development of military strategy and be a step ahead," he said.

Two days after the major address, Gerasimov met the Marine Corps's Gen. Joseph Dunford in Vienna, Austria, as part of regular consultations aimed at avoiding U.S.-Russia conflict in Syria.

A spokesman for Dunford would not say if Gerasimov's non-military warfare doctrine was discussed in the meeting. Both generals agreed to keep the talks secret.

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, however, told a Senate hearing several days after the speech that the new Gerasimov doctrine is a concern requiring greater U.S. and allied government efforts to counter the threat.

"We need to get greater focus and energy into actually a multi-faceted strategy to counter Russia," Scaparrotti, the NATO and European Command commander, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"As you know, Gen. Gerasimov just made another speech that underscored their view of indirect activity, use of whole-of-government activities as a part of their spectrum of warfare," the general said.

"We have to approach this in a way that we can counter that, and I think specifically within information operations, challenging their disinformation and cyber areas that we need to continue to press."

Gerasimov described the Pentagon's strategy as a "Trojan horse" in the active use of "fifth column" infiltration—non-military personnel that are then backed by advanced conventional strikes with precision-guided cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs.

The shift in modern conflict will be the use of political, economic, informational, and other nonmilitary measures backed by military force, he said, echoing the Chinese military's advocacy in 1999 of unrestricted warfare.

Also targeted will be critical infrastructures such as electric grids, and financial and transportation networks.

"By acting quickly we must preempt the enemy by our preventive measures, identify his vulnerable places in a timely manner, and create threats of inflicting unacceptable damage on him," the general said.

Information warfare is becoming the most advanced form of warfare. "Not having clear-cut national boundaries, the information sphere provides capabilities for remote, covert effect not only on critically important information infrastructures, but also on a country's population by directly affecting the state of national security of the state," Gerasimov said.

Military and non-military measures are being coordinated with ministries and departments throughout the Russian government.

Russia took part in covert efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election through both cyber and influence operations and also attempted to target the 2018 elections.

During the presidential election, Russian FSB civilian and GRU military intelligence operations targeted computers at the Democratic National Committee and key political figures. Hacked documents obtained from the cyber operations were then leaked to pro-Russian and Russian cyber front groups.

U.S. intelligence concluded the operations were designed to undermine the democratic system of governance and sow political discord. Since the presidential elections, American political discourse has hardened with many Democrats asserting Moscow's intervention boosted President Trump's elections prospects.

In his speech, Gerasimov accused the United States of disrupting strategic stability by first withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, and recently announcing the pullout from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. A likely next step will be the refusal to extend the New START arms treaty beyond 2021, he said.

The ABM treaty was rejected to facilitate U.S. missile defenses and because of Russian violations. The Trump administration is leaving the INF treaty because of Moscow's deployment of a banned INF missile, the ground-launched SSC-8 cruise missile.

Additionally, the Pentagon's recently announced formation of the Space Corps will extend conflict into the space domain.

Russia, Gerasimov said, is responding to these measures with "tit-for-tat and asymmetric measures" aimed at both nuclear and non-nuclear deterrence.

"State-of-the-art models of arms, including fundamentally new kinds of weapons, are being made operational and are being deployed for this," he said.

The new arms include the new, multi-warhead heavy intercontinental range Sarmat missile, Avangard hypersonic strike weapon, a new high-energy laser canon, and a new air-launched ballistic missile. Other advanced arms now being built include a massive nuclear-armed underwater drone torpedo dubbed Kanyon by the Pentagon, and a nuclear-powered long-range nuclear cruise missile.

Russia also plans to build intermediate-range and short-range hypersonic missiles capable of defeating U.S. missile defenses, Gerasimov said.

Still newer advanced arms will include military robotics, like unmanned aerial vehicles, and new defenses against both UAVs and precision munitions.

A key area of focus for the Russian military is in electronic warfare—the use of electronic attacks against control systems and communications.

The Russian defense industrial complex also will be set on a war footing in what Gerasimov said was the need to prepare to produce weapons in wartime.

"Building up vast stockpiles of tanks and other hardware in a vain attempt to achieve global military supremacy—as promoted for decades by the Soviet General Staff—pushed the mighty Soviet Union to economic and social ruin and eventual disintegration in 1991," said Moscow-based defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer.

"Gerasimov and the Russian armed forces are clearly not content to limit their ambitions by the subtle 2013 Gerasimov doctrine," said Felgenhauer, who is with the Jamestown Foundation. "Today, they are boldly challenging the entire world and pledging to build the biggest military they can. The end result may prove as devastating as in 1991."

Mark Schneider, a former Pentagon nuclear policymaker, said the Gerasimov speech continues a trend of ever-increasing anti-American and anti-NATO hostility.

"It is substantially more hostile than Gerasimov’s 2013 speech which is often called the Gerasimov Doctrine," Schneider said.

"It has a lot of familiar themes such as importance of nuclear deterrence, the importance of Putin's nuclear super weapons, what we would call netcentric reconnaissance, and targeting and the importance of information conflict."

One new aspect is the use of what the general called "limited action strategy" that expands military operations further beyond Russia's neighbors using highly mobile military forces.

In his prepared statement, Scaparrotti said Moscow is using a "whole-of-society" approach to warfare that includes the use of political provocateurs, information operations, economic intimidation, cyber operations, religious leverage, proxies, special operations, conventional military forces, and nuclear forces.

The Russians are pursuing strategic objectives that seek to avoid the use of direct military conflict with the United States and NATO through indirect action backed by coercive military threats.

"Such actions include questioning a government’s legitimacy, threatening a country’s economic interests, mobilizing fringe opposition groups, and utilizing proxies or armed civilians, such as private military contracting companies with opaque ties to the state," he said.

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Robert P. Ashely said during a conference in September that Russian GRU activities are increasing.

"The GRU has started to play a much more aggressive role, based on press reporting, based on some of these attacks that are happening around the world, which seem to be driven by the GRU as opposed to the FSB, the more traditional intelligence arm the Russian state," Ashely said.

The activities are part of "the Gerasimov Doctrine of really nonlinear warfare and using all those instruments of power in statecraft to seek a nation's national interest," he said.

Published under: Military , Russia