Towards the next Defence and Security Review: Part Two-NATO - Defence Committee Contents

2  Russian Forces

Russian conventional and nuclear forces


7. Russia's 2008 invasion of Georgia was militarily successful. But the operation revealed serious failures in command and control of Russian forces.[2] Much of the troops' equipment was outdated in comparison to the latest US equipment, and The Economist notes that since then the improvements in equipment have been slow.

Until the T-50 stealth fighter appears in small numbers towards the end of the decade, the mainstay of the air force will remain upgraded SU-27s and MiG-29s that first flew in the 1970s. The navy is getting new corvettes and frigates, but the industry cannot produce bigger vessels: hence the order of two Mistral ships from France. The army is to replace Soviet armour with the Armata family of tracked vehicles, but not yet.[3]

8. Russia's GDP is 2 trillion dollars, 20 per cent less than that of the UK's 2.4 trillion. But its defence expenditure is almost twice that of the UK's 60 billion dollars, annually, and its armed forces are perhaps ten times larger (although its population is only one and a half times larger than that of the UK). Low levels of education, however, and the limitations upon the available time to train conscripts (who make up the majority of soldiers) mean that modern, more sophisticated equipment is not always used to its full potential.[4] Russia's arms industry is trying to recover from years of under-investment and significant corruption.[5] The army is also suffering from a shortage of conscripts.[6] The size of the Russian military, which was cut as part of the modernisation programme, is estimated to be between 700,000 and 1 million.[7] This is substantially smaller than the approximately 3, 370, 000 service personnel in NATO allies armed forces.[8]

9. Russia's ability to field large conventional forces for a sustained, long-term conflict is further limited by the country's economic fragility. The overly optimistic economic forecasts upon which the military reform was based have also resulted in problems in the armaments programme. The programme was based upon an annual average growth rate of 6% but the level achieved was in fact 4.3% in 2011 and had reduced to 2% in 2013.[9] Defence companies have also faced difficulties obtaining high-quality domestically produced components and systems.[10] Roger McDermott of the Jamestown Foundation has suggested that even a campaign in Ukraine would have to be fairly short as "Russia has no defence or economic capacity to go in for the long haul."[11]


10. Russia is, however, in a significantly stronger position than it was in 2008. It has made considerable new investments and has dramatically improved its capabilities. Since 2012, expenditure on the military has increased and, during the period 2013-17, defence expenditure will amount to 4.8% of Russian GDP. Russia has embarked on a $720 billion weapons-modernisation programme which aimed to increase the 10% of equipment classed as "modern" in 2012 to 30% by 2012 and to 70% by 2020.[12]

11. As Jonathan Eyal, senior research fellow at RUSI told us

Gone are the days when Russian troops were demoralised, disorganised and badly-supplied: the operation in Crimea was accomplished by elite Russian units which were well-trained, well-fed and very well equipped with the latest communication systems. And Russia's military modernisation is set to continue: by 2015, the country plans to spend US$100 billion on its armed forces yearly.[13]

Keir Giles, associate fellow at Chatham House, told us that Russia had built upon the lessons of the Georgian war and is looking to develop capabilities which capitalise upon the West's weaknesses. [14]

12. The Russian military's increased effectiveness was demonstrated recently when Russia carried out the large-scale Zapad 2013 exercise in the Baltic region, which included:

·  Large-scale deployment of conventional forces (believed to be c. 70,000 troops) including land, sea, air, air defence, airborne, special forces (Spetsnaz), the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Interior (VVMVD), medical units and army psychological personnel, logistical and engineering forces;

·  search and rescue;

·  amphibious landing and anti-landing operations;

·  air and ground strikes on enemy targets;

·  submarine and anti-submarine warfare;

·  missile strikes with long-range precision strike assets; and

·  airborne and air assault operations.[15]

This exercise was described publicly as an exercise in anti-terrorist activity but involved operations against a sophisticated opponent. Observers have suggested that it gave an indication of what a full scale attack on one of the Baltic States might look like. It was described by Major General (Ret) Neretnieks of the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences as proof that Russia has regained its capability for large-scale conventional military operations, a capability which he thought was lacking amongst Western powers.[16]

13. James Sherr, associate fellow at Chatham House, described the Zapad 13 exercise as designed to demonstrate to NATO what sort of operations Russia is now capable of mounting.[17] General Sir Richard Shirreff, former DSACEUR NATO agreed, describing the simulated 'anti-terrorist' actions being deployed as being akin to practising to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut. He also told us that during Zapad

The Latvians were extremely worried by the very high levels of Russian air activity that was taking place on the Russian-Latvian border, which was nothing short of intimidation. There were fleets of Ilyushin-76 troop-carrying planes approaching the border, veering off, coming back and veering off, just to rattle the Latvians. It highlighted the fact that this was Russia sending some pretty strong signals about its ability to deploy forces, should it want to.[18]

14. The increase in Russian conventional capacity has been mirrored by an increase in Russian willingness to engage in a combative relationship with the West. Tomas Ries of the Swedish Defence College suggests that the potential for conflict between Russia and NATO has been evident for some time. He points to Russian publications on national security from the mid-2000s onwards, which named NATO as the enemy. Ries also highlights a number of recent events which reflect this more combative approach:

·  Russian simulated strategic bomber strikes against much of north-western Europe and Alaska since 2005;

·  Cyber-attack on Estonia in 2007;

·  Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008; and,

·  Russian military reforms, modernisation and exercises. [19]

15. Russia is also a nuclear power and has exercised scenarios involving the use of nuclear weapons. The 2009 Zapad exercise involved a simulated nuclear strike upon Warsaw and the Vostok 2010 exercise also involved simulations of a nuclear strike.[20]

16. It has been argued that Russia sees its strategic nuclear forces as a key deterrent to potential Western intervention or belated response to Russian aggression. Russia dedicates a third of its Defence budget to them. Russia's substantial nuclear arsenal is also regarded as protection against any possible future threat from China. The potential for use of nuclear weapons is perceived to provide compensation for the inferiority of its conventional armed forces on the Chinese border.[21]

17. Keir Giles has noted that in February 2011, the implementation of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) resulted in intensive Russian activity aimed at developing and introducing new strategic weapons systems, including at least three new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) programmes.[22] Sir Andrew Wood, former Ambassador to Moscow and associate fellow of Chatham House, confirmed to us that the use of nuclear weapons in war is a publicly-stated component of Russian military doctrine, and whilst still outmatched by NATO conventional forces, Russia's forces are expanding and reforming fast.[23]

Russian Next Generation warfare

18. In part because of the relative weaknesses in its conventional military capacity, Russia has increasingly focused on new and less conventional military techniques. These asymmetric tactics (sometimes described as unconventional, ambiguous or non-linear warfare) techniques are both more aligned to Russian strengths, and considerably more difficult for NATO to counter. The Russian use of asymmetric warfare techniques (which build on long-established methods of Special Forces (Spetznaz)), therefore, represents the most immediate threat to its NATO neighbours and other NATO Member States. Russian asymmetric warfare involves tactics which can be employed either in place of or alongside conventional means of warfare.

19. The concept of asymmetric warfare is not necessarily a new development. The model of reflexive control has been an element in Russian military doctrine for some time. This tactic is intended to influence the decision making of an adversary by providing that adversary with information that will reflexively lead them to pursue particular courses of action. The use of such asymmetric tactics are perceived to allow attacks against states which have a superiority in numbers of troops and weaponry. The benefits have been set out in the Russian journal Military Thought

Asymmetric actions, too, will be used extensively to level off the enemy's superiority in armed struggle by a combination of political, economic, information, technological, and ecological campaigns in the form of indirect actions and nonmilitary measures. In its new technological format, the indirect action strategy will draw on, above all, a great variety of forms and methods of non-military techniques and nonmilitary measures, including information warfare to neutralize adversary actions without resorting to weapons (through indirect actions), by exercising information superiority, in the first place.[24]

20. In February 2013, the Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov published an article which promulgated its use, highlighting that

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.[25]

He continued, noting that

Asymmetrical actions have come into widespread use, enabling the nullification of an enemy's advantages in armed conflict. Among such actions are the use of special-operations forces and internal opposition to create a permanently operating front through the entire territory of the enemy state, as well as informational actions, devices, and means that are constantly being perfected.[26]

21. Different types of asymmetric warfare, which have been practised by Russia in operations in Estonia in 2007,[27] Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 include:

·  Cyber attacks-where attacks are carried out against state infrastructure networks and websites. Attacks may also be carried out against vital private infrastructure (such as banking and utility networks);

·  Information operations-the wide-spread dissemination of (usually false) information to confuse the enemy and influence opinion both at home and abroad;

·  Psychological operations-the use of propaganda and agents to encourage the enemy state's population to undertake subversive activity;

·  Economic attacks-destabilising the economy of the enemy state by, for instance, use of sanctions and blocking trade flows;

·  Proxy attack-the use of armed civilians or terrorist groups against a state, or the use of forces who operate without insignia or official affiliation (the so-called 'little green men').

22. Major Nathan D. Ginos of the US Army explains how it was used in the 2008 Russo-Georgia war:

The actions of Russia leading up to the use of ground forces in South Ossetia by Georgia show contemporary growth in application of reflexive control to force Georgia to act according to Russian desires. The manner in which a gradual escalation of tension forced Georgia into military action left a reflexive trail of justification for Russian intervention. The manner in which outside participants saw the buildup of events tended to make the Russian case by providing a solid foundation for strategic communication. The "attacks on Russian citizens", according to Russia, by Georgian military forces gave a semblance of international credibility to the "defensive" actions of the Russian military in preventing a "humanitarian crisis".[28]

23. In 2007, the use of cyber warfare was seen in Estonia. In its 2009 report, Russia: A New Confrontation? our predecessor Committee said

In Estonia, we learnt about the cyberattacks it suffered in April 2007. Several of Estonia's banks, schools, media networks and government departments were disabled by a sustained attack on their computer networks. The attack was conducted through bombarding Estonia's key websites with requests for information, which overwhelmed the systems. […] The attacks coincided with a diplomatic row between Russia and Estonia over the Estonian Government's decision to remove a Soviet war memorial from central Tallinn to a military cemetery nearby. […]The Russian Government and the pro-Kremlin state-sponsored group Nashi deny responsibility for the attacks. The Estonian Government has not blamed the Russian Government directly for being responsible for the attacks, but did publish a list of internet provider addresses where it believed the attacks were coming from that included Russian Government addresses.[29]

James Sherr told us that Russian operations in Ukraine have demonstrated

Russia's investment in a model of force and of war that can effectively cripple a state and achieve key strategic goals before we even register what is happening.[30]

24. The operation to annex Crimea was the most dramatic recent display of Russian asymmetric tactics, the most notable being the appearance of the 'little green men' who occupied key buildings including political and communications headquarters and laid siege to Ukrainian armed forces. Mark Galeotti of New York University noted that

The deception may have been pretty transparent, as they all wore the latest Russian kit and drove military vehicles with official license plates, but the ruse gave them the crucial hours they needed for their mission, especially as alongside them were genuine volunteers and paramilitaries. Were they mercenaries? Local activists? Acting without orders? Unsure what was happening, reluctant to appear the aggressor, Kiev was paralyzed for long enough that it didn't matter what it decided, the Russians were in charge.[31]

These tactics were employed alongside military intimidation with Russia sending large numbers of troops to the Ukrainian border.[32] When the US Secretary of Defence discussed the number of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border with his Russian counterpart, he was told that these troops were participating in an exercise although Defence Minister was unable to confirm when the exercise was due to end.[33]

25. In Eastern Ukraine, the city of Donetsk has been held by Igor Strelkov. Although he is leading a Ukrainian resistance movement, he is a native of Moscow, whose real name is Igor Girkin, and has confirmed that he was until April 2013, an employee of the Russian FSB, state security forces, who fought in Transnistria, Serbia and Chechnya, and played a role in the annexation of Crimea.[34] Jen Psaki, the US State Department spokeswoman has emphasised the strong connections between the Russian state and the armed militants in Eastern Ukraine.[35]

26. This man with his now ambiguous relation to the Russian state is symptomatic of the new asymmetric threat. And the uncertainty over his relationship to the downing of the Malaysian airliner on 17 July, highlights the unpredictable threats posed by Russia's involvement in asymmetric operations of this kind. Professor Michael Clarke, of the Royal United Services Institute, has emphasised the potential connection between Russian separatist forces and the attack on the Malaysian airliner. "

We know that the separatists actually boasted on 29 June that they had captured an SA-11 air defence system from the Ukrainians [...] We've also got the evidence that's been coming out overnight that the leader of the separatists Igor Strelkov [...] tweeted that he had brought down an Antanov 26 Russian transport. He then deleted that tweet very very quickly.[36]

27. There remain significant constraints even to Russian asymmetric operations. The financial impact of the annexation of Crimea in terms of both the sanctions imposed by the West and the cost of the military operation and supporting the Crimean economy have been significant. Reuters reports that

Rising prices and stagnating wages may make hundreds more Russians think twice about the government's price tag of between 800 billion and 1 trillion rubles ($23-30 billion) for Crimea, and may come to pose the first real threat to Putin.

[…] Russia's economy, riddled with corruption and nepotism, is still weak and, increasingly isolated by Western sanctions, is for now teetering on the edge of recession.[37]

28. The report continues to note that the Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov had been criticised following a statement that the $8 billion of funds accumulated in Russian personal pension plans in 2014 had been spent on "anti-crisis measures" and on Crimea. James Sherr told us that the Russian economy was dependent upon the West.

There is no area in which we are dependent on Russia where Russia is not even more dependent on us. That has been a factor in the change of tactics we are seeing on the ground in Ukraine. The Kremlin is not delusional. There is an understanding that Russia needs the European market and technology from advanced member states. In an odd way, that means we can worry less about what might go wrong. Energy is not a gift from Russia; it is a vital business for the functioning of their economy.[38]

Chris Donnelly, Director of the Institute for Statecraft, however, summarised the benefit of the Russian use of asymmetric warfare techniques as

a form of warfare that integrates the use of conventional and unconventional force; integrates the use of force with non-military tools of war—cyber, economic, political; integrates the whole with an immensely powerful information warfare programme; and is backed up by an ideology. This is a change in the nature of conflict. The aim of the whole operation is to break the integrity of the state—in this case, Ukraine—before there is any need to cross its borders with an invasion force and trigger an Article 5 situation, were it a NATO country. So we are seeing a form of warfare that is operating under our reaction threshold.[39]

He added that the benefit of using these asymmetric tactics is that they are deniable and can cause confusion long enough for Russia to achieve its goals. This has enabled Russia to engineer significant changes without any military repercussions.

The Russians are demonstrating that they now have the capacity to unfreeze the frozen conflicts, move the situation in their favour and freeze them again. We are seeing a concept of war that is not only as I have described, but that is constantly increasing the level of activity and getting us used to accepting it, so that we become like the frog in a bucket of water, warming up slowly and not realising that we are accepting more and more that we should not be. That is the danger, so first we need more intelligence, and secondly it is crucial that we revise our capacity for thinking and acting strategically—for understanding what is going on and its implications.[40]

29. The Russian deployment of asymmetric tactics represents a new challenge to NATO. Events in Ukraine demonstrate in particular Russia's ability to effectively paralyse an opponent in the pursuit of its interests with a range of tools including psychological operations, information warfare and intimidation with massing of conventional forces. Such operations may be designed to slip below NATO's threshold for reaction. In many circumstances, such operations are also deniable, increasing the difficulties for an adversary is mounting a credible and legitimate response.

2   McDermott, Roger N. "Russia's Conventional Armed Forces and the Georgian War." The US Army War College Quarterly: Parameters, Spring 2009. pp. 65-80 Back

3   Putin's new model army , The Economist, 24 May 2014 Back

4   Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), Russian Military Capability in a Ten-Year Perspective - 2013, P 40 Back

5   Russia and Ukraine - update June 2014 Standard Note SNIA 6923, House of Commons Library, June 2014 Back

6   Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), Russian Military Capability in a Ten-Year Perspective - 2013, P 40  Back

7   Putin's new model army , The Economist, 24 May 2014 Back

8   North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, Financial and Economic Data Relating to NATO Defence, (February 2014) p 10 Back

9   The International Institute of Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2013, (March 2014) p 164 Back

10   The International Institute of Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2013, (March 2014), p 166 Back

11   Ukraine crisis: Is Russia ready to move into eastern Ukraine?, BBC News, 8 April 2014 Back

12   There are no indicators of what definition of "modern" is being used by this programme Back

13   Dr Jonathan Eyal (TND0020) Back

14   Q180 Back

15   Stephen Blank, What Do the Zapad 2013 Exercises Reveal? (Part One), Eurasia Daily Monitor, vol 10 issue 177, (October 2014) Back

16   Q200 Back

17   Q280 Back

18   Q272+ Back

19   Thomas Ries, The Clash Of Civilisations, The British Army 2014, p 47 Back

20   Stephen Blank , What Do the Zapad 2013 Exercises Reveal? (Part One), Eurasia Daily Monitor, vol 10 issue 177, (October 2014) Back

21   Putin's new model army , The Economist, 24 May 2014 Back

22   Keir Giles and Dr. Andrew Monaghan, Russian Military Transformation - Goal In Sight? May 2014, p 28 Back

23   Q223; 254 Back

24   Col. S.G. CHEKINOV (Res.), Doctor of Technical Sciences Lt. Gen. S.A. BOGDANOV (Ret.), Doctor of Military Sciences, The Nature and Content of a New-Generation War, MILITARY THOUGHT:A Russian Journal of Military Theory and Strategy, East View Press, No. 4, 2013 Back

25   Dr Mark Galeotti, The 'Gerasimov Doctrine' and Russian Non-Linear War, July 2014  Back

26   Ibid. Back

27   Whilst not fully attributed, it is widely considered that Russia had been associated with cyber attacks in Estonia 2007. Back

28   Major Nathan D. Ginos, The Securitization of Russian Strategic Communication, December 2010, p 37 Back

29   , Defence Committee, Tenth Report of Session 2008-09 , Russia: A new confrontation, HC 267, para 141-2 Back

30   Q280 Back

31   Dr Mark Galeotti, Putin, Ukraine and asymmetric politics, Business New Europe, April 2014  Back

32   Q304 Back

33   Igor Sutyagin and Michael Clarke , Ukraine Military Dispositions, RUSI Briefing Paper, April 2014 Back

34   Shadowy Rebel Wields Iron Fist in Ukraine Fight, The New York Times, July 10 2014 Back

35   Photos Link Masked Men in East Ukraine to Russia, New York Times, April 21, 2014 Back

36   Comments on BBC Radio 4, Today programme, 18 July, 2014 Back

37   Crimea euphoria fades for some Russians, Reuters, 6 July, 2014  Back

38   Q297 Back

39   Q266 Back

40   Q286 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2014
Prepared 31 July 2014