Russia: Implications for UK defence and security Contents

2The Russian military today


6.The ideological confrontation of today between Russia and the West does not manifest itself as capitalism versus communism, but rather as a “clash of values and beliefs in the 21st century”7; with a starkly different interpretation and implementation of the rules-based order and military adherence to the Law of Armed Conflict, including the protection of civilians.

7.This chapter examines the growth of Russian military capability, in its various forms, and the Russian mind-set that underpins it. We also consider the way in which Russia views the current post-Cold War international order, and its place within it.

The Russian mind-set

8.There is a sense within Russia of ill-treatment by the West following the demise of the Soviet Union. This perceived lack of respect by the West has led Russia to the conclusion that, if it cannot compete within the political arena, it must “fight for its interests by whatever means available”8, including a primary focus on the military sphere.9 James Sherr, Associate Fellow of Chatham House, said Russia had:

A very strong inclination and belief that defence, in the Darwinian world the Russians think they find themselves in, has to be proactive defence and therefore has to start well beyond even the territories we have been discussing.10

Dr Bobo Lo, an independent analyst and Associate Fellow of Chatham House, went further. He summarised the Russian political philosophy in the following terms:

President Putin and many in the Russian political elite take a very Hobbesian view of the world: the world is a harsh place—the strong prosper, the weak get crushed.11

9.It should also be noted that the Russian perception of the world is one riven by instability and threats, many of which are uncomfortably close to its borders12. A recurring feature of the Russian narrative is that of ‘spheres of influence’, and the desire to exercise control over neighbouring countries to create a buffer zone in order to ensure Russia’s own security in territory which is largely without natural barriers. However, this is in direct opposition to the Western notion of sovereignty. Keir Giles, Associate Fellow of Chatham House, explained:

There is a direct conflict between our notions that the states on Russia’s periphery should be sovereign, independent and able to decide their own future, and the Russian notion that in order to ensure its own security, it needs to control and dominate substantial depth beyond its borders in order to protect it from approaches to them. That is a binary choice.13

10.In this context, Russia views NATO expansion not as a free choice by sovereign states but as a policy of ‘encirclement’ by the West. The 2015 Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation stated that a main external military risk was a "build-up of the power potential of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)" and the military infrastructure of NATO member states moving nearer to the borders of the Russian Federation.14 Furthermore, the 2008 NATO Bucharest Summit had raised the possibility of future NATO membership of Georgia and Ukraine.15 Although this did not materialise, it has been used as a key factor to justify the expansion of the Russian military. Russia believes that any further enlargement of NATO would constitute a breach of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act. We were told in Moscow that the Russian leadership believed that NATO had committed to limit further enlargement to the East, and that any changes to the Act were a betrayal of it. NATO rejects this interpretation. No such wording exists within the text of the NATO-Russia Founding Act, but Russian officials claim that a verbal promise was made to this effect. Whether encirclement is a genuine belief within Russia is open to question, given its lack of stated concern about encirclement on its eastern border with China. However, it has become a mantra which has begun to drive policy, just as it did during the long years of the Cold War.

11.Speaking at a session of the Russian Parliament in March 2014, President Vladimir Putin made his views on this clear:

They [NATO] have lied to us many times, made decisions behind our backs, and placed before us an accomplished fact. This happened with NATO’s expansion to the East, as well as the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders.16

12.According to Keir Giles, a current overriding policy for Russia is to ensure that it can prevail in any conflict with the West and that, in its perception, such a conflict “has already begun”.17 This view was reinforced by Peter Pomerantsev, Senior Fellow of the Legatum Institute, who argued:

Whether they [the Russian Administration] see NATO as a genuine threat almost doesn’t matter; they really want a fight, and they will have one. They want it on their own terms, too.18

Mobilisation of the Russian state

13.At a 2013 Moscow security conference, General Valeriy Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian General Staff and a leading military theorist, stated that by 2030 the level of “existing and potential threats will significantly increase”, and that, given such challenges, Russia’s weaponry reserves constituted a “vital condition for the country’s existence”.19 This was reflected in Russia’s latest national security strategy signed by President Putin on New Year’s Eve 201520 which upgraded NATO to a military threat.21 Dr Andrew Monaghan, Senior Fellow of Chatham House, told us that Russia was mobilising the state in response to that perceived threat:

Russia often doesn’t work very well; it is quite difficult to create power. This is why a certain sense of mobilisation is visible in Russian politics. By that, I mean emergency measures to prepare the state in case of international conflict, in case of a threat to Russia.22

He concluded that the Russians were “actually in the midst of preparation for war”.23

14.Russian mobilisation incorporates many forms of non-traditional weaponry—amongst them, economics. In September 2014, a Russian business newspaper, Vedemosti, reported the creation of a 2015–17 ‘mobilisation budget’ created by the Russian Ministry of Finance.24 This demonstrated that, despite a worsening economic landscape within Russia, defence and security continued to be prioritised by the leadership.

15.In April 2016, Russia announced the creation of a large new military formation, the ‘National Guard’. The National Guard will incorporate Special Forces and Interior Ministry troops into a single force of considerable size. Whilst exact assessments vary, when we were in Moscow we were told that it was expected to be in the 'hundreds of thousands'. Of real significance is the fact that the National Guard will be answerable directly to President Putin, placing key aspects of Russian defence and security machinery directly under Presidential control.

16.The implications of the National Guard for the future of Russian defence, governance and national security are striking. The Secretary of State for Defence, Rt Hon Michael Fallon MP, warned that it reflected a more aggressively militarised and more authoritarian Russian society:

Two things particularly worry us about the formation of the National Guard: one is that it comes under the direct control of the President, and not through a normal ministerial responsibility; and the other is that although it is there to help to combat terrorism and deal with organised crime, it also has a remit to control protests, which, I think, sends a rather chilling message to wider Russian society that the regime is no longer prepared to tolerate any kind of overt opposition.25

17.Furthermore, as Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS)-designate Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach noted:

You also now have the prospect of many different types of armed groups in Russia, armed by the state. So it is a worrying development.26

18.Whilst Russia cites self-defence against NATO expansion as a reason for its increased military spending, its rapid militarisation can, alternatively, be viewed as mobilisation against not only external threats but also internal dissent. Recent Russian actions and statements by senior figures imply that Russia is reinforcing itself for the prospect of future conflict with the West. If the West does not respond appropriately to such actions, it will be poorly equipped to deter such a conflict or successfully resist if one breaks out. The MoD must set out its plans, as part of its broader strategy towards Russia, to acknowledge the rapid militarisation of the Russian state and develop measures to counter it, including the fulfilment of its promise in the SDSR to lead a renewed focus in NATO on deterrence. The Warsaw Summit is the opportunity to do so.

Russian military expansion

19.Alongside this mobilisation of the state, Russia has been engaged in a comprehensive programme of modernisation of its regular Armed Forces. This process began after the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. Keir Giles told us that the conflict demonstrated to the Russian leadership, the need for a severe overhaul of the military:

There has been total reorganisation and enormous amounts of money have been thrown at it. It is a fairly ruthless prosecution of their transformation aims.27

20.Russia’s modernisation programme has been facilitated by an increased allocation of resources. In contrast to the UK pledge to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence (reaffirmed at the 2014 NATO Summit28 and in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review,29) Russian defence spending has steadily increased as a percentage of GDP from 4.2% in 2013, to nearly 4.5% in 2014 and 5.4% in 2015. Because of a worsening economy, however, its actual expenditure has decreased from US$88.4 billion to US$66.4 billion during that period.30

Russian conventional military capability

21.Dr Igor Sutyagin, of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told us that Russia had the ability to raise up to 47,000 troops in 48 hours, deploy up to 60,000 combat troops within two to three weeks and sustain this for six to 12 months. By contrast, Dr Sutyagin estimated that the existing NATO Joint Readiness Task Force could deploy only "5,000 elements" within four days.31

22.Dr Sutyagin also highlighted the quick deployability of the Russian high-readiness troops. Within 48 hours, Russia could mobilise and deploy between 11,000 and 13,000 light infantry and reconnaissance troops, consisting of approximately 12 battalion tactical groups and 14 to 18 battalions of special reconnaissance units—Spetsnaz. Within an additional 24 to 48 hours, this could be reinforced by 24 motorised rifle units and up to five tank battalions, offering up to 30,000 additional troops supported by 120 to 150 artillery pieces and up to 150 battle tanks.32

23.Despite the fact that Russian forces include conscripts who serve just one year,33 the Russian Armed Forces have shown impressive deployment abilities in Crimea and Ukraine, the effectiveness of which was enhanced by the use of integrated, unconventional warfare techniques.

24.Air Chief Marshal Peach noted other areas of Russian proficiency:

Russia has a long history of investment in air defence systems, which require us to respond in Alliance terms for security, as well as for defence in terms of electronic warfare. It also has a long history of investment in artillery systems; of course, we have our own artillery systems, but there is no doubt that the level of stockholding is significant.34

The Secretary of State for Defence concluded:

Russia has invested recently in its armed forces and has modernised its armed forces. To that extent, the threat from Russia has increased.35

25.The expansion of the Russian military machine and recent Russian military engagements have been well-documented. Such actions are likely to be motivated—at least in part—in pursuit of greater recognition and respect for Russia as a world power. NATO’s response to Russia’s military expansion must therefore be nuanced. A hesitant response will be perceived by Russia as weakness, while facing Russia down may exacerbate antagonism between the two. A robust, clearly communicated response is required by the UK and NATO.

Nuclear weapons: Russia’s strategy

26.Russian nuclear doctrine has changed fundamentally since the end of the Cold War. In 1993, Russia revoked the Soviet commitment to ‘no first use’.36 This development was formalised in the 2000 Russian Military Doctrine, which made clear a willingness to use nuclear weapons in response to an adversary deploying conventional weapons “in situations critical to the national security of the Russian Federation.”37 Throughout the Cold War, its conventional superiority had enabled the then Soviet Union to proclaim a nuclear ‘no first use’ policy, whilst putting pressure on NATO to follow suit.

27.Prior to the publication of the 2010 military doctrine, former FSB head Nikolai Patrushev stated that Russia would:

Adjust the preconditions for using nuclear weapons to repulse aggression that employs conventional weapons, and this applies not only to large-scale wars, but also to regional and even local wars.38

28.Despite the absence of such language in the 2010 military doctrine, these comments can be interpreted as indicative of Russian thinking—and represent a very serious lowering of the nuclear threshold. In Moscow, we were told that Russia retains the right to use nuclear weapons first because of NATO’s military superiority. This appears to be a clear message that Russia will utilise its nuclear capability while hiding behind a claim of military threat from NATO. David Clark, of the Institute for Statecraft, told us:

Russia has been quite willing to issue in some cases very overt nuclear threats to make it clear that, were the West to intervene in any serious way, they would be prepared to escalate to the use of nuclear weapons to, as they would see it, deescalate—they would use tactical nuclear weapons to dissuade us from going any further.39

These comments were echoed by James Sherr40 and Dr Madeira,41 while Keir Giles pointed out that, unlike NATO, nuclear weapons were built into operational planning in the Russian military. 42

29.Peter Watkins, Director General Security Policy at the Ministry of Defence, agreed:

The language around nuclear weapons in [Russia’s] Military Doctrine and published National Security Strategy is relatively limited, but there have been a number of statements that suggest they would use nuclear weapons or contemplate the use of nuclear weapons in circumstances that we certainly wouldn’t.43

30.A clear example of this approach can be seen in Russia’s ‘Zapad’ exercise in 2009 which culminated with a ‘simulated’ nuclear strike on Warsaw—a clear example of this policy in action.44 The notional result of this exercise was to terminate the conflict successfully by discouraging NATO escalation. However, it is far from certain that Russia would initiate escalation from conventional to nuclear warfare in reality, faced with the prospect of NATO retaliation in kind.

31.Unfortunately, at the time of drafting this Report, Parliament had still not held the long-promised debate on the future of the UK strategic nuclear deterrent. This can create uncertainty as to Britain’s resolve and it would accordingly be desirable for the vote in Parliament to be held before the summer recess to confirm the desirability, cost-effectiveness and affordability of the Successor programme. Despite this, the Secretary of State for Defence emphasised the importance of Parliament approving “the principle of the nuclear deterrent and the four boats that are necessary to sustain it” and stated that the debate would be held before the end of 2016.45

32.Russia’s strategy for its nuclear arsenal is an integrated component of its stated military doctrine. The UK and NATO must review their own nuclear doctrine, in the light of the Russian position, to ensure that it maintains the ability to deter Russian nuclear threats. We recommend that the UK Government set out its timetable for the parliamentary debate and decision on the Successor programme in response to this Report and without further delay.

Treaty obligations

33.The US–Russia 2010 Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms Treaty, or ‘New START’, can be seen as relatively successful: Russia appears to be meeting its commitments to limit numbers of warheads and delivery vehicles and is on-course to meet its Treaty obligations by 2018.46 However, the longstanding Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF treaty, signed by the Soviet Union and United States in 1987 is more contentious. In 2014, the US formally declared Russia in breach of the Treaty, which prohibits both the deployment of ground-based nuclear missiles with a range of between 500 and 550 kilometres and the testing of missiles from mobile launchers.47

34.Russia denies violation of the Treaty, and has in turn claimed that US activation of a European missile defence shield in Romania is in violation of the Treaty.48 It seems that Russia no longer believes that the terms of the Treaty fulfil its interests. This was highlighted by President Putin’s boycott of the 2016 nuclear summit in Washington. In oral evidence David Clark stated that:

Russian cooperation with the nuclear threat reduction programme has been halted—it was one of the casualties of the Ukraine crisis—so it is not cooperating on nuclear safety and dismantling in the way that it has been since the 1990s. Its attitude is a rejectionist one on arms control at the moment.49

35.Ben Nimmo, Senior Fellow of the Institute for Statecraft and former NATO press officer, said that this approach may result from a fear in Russia that the US’s conventional technological edge would allow the Americans to “be able to achieve an equivalent to nuclear effect without going nuclear.”50 According to James Sherr, the Russian nuclear doctrine is one of offensive deterrence and NATO must now develop strategies to counter and deter that threat.51

36.It is alarming if Russia is in breach of the terms of the 1987 INF Treaty which is crucial to Euro-Atlantic security and stability. The UK and US governments, in conjunction with other NATO members at the Warsaw Summit, should determine a course of action either on how to repair the Treaty, or whether an alternative strategic settlement is required to maintain stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.

Russian unconventional capability

37.Unconventional—or multi-dimensional—warfare combines military might with deception and can include any of the following aspects: cyber; economic measures; espionage, subversion and surveillance; energy; language and culture; propaganda and disinformation; psychological operations; deception and organised crime.52

38.The Russian practice of ‘Maskirovka’—military deception—is centuries old and has been present in Russian warfare doctrines from the strategic to the tactical levels since the 1920s.53 What is new is the increased emphasis of this tool at the political and diplomatic levels, making it a prominent Russian method of warfare in the information age. Both the 2013 ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’ and 2014 review of Russian military strategy confirmed strategic ambiguous warfare as a key doctrine of the Russian Armed Forces.54 In oral evidence, James Sherr explained:

What we now call hybrid warfare, conventional war and nuclear war, for the Russians, are not discrete and separate components of conflict, but integrated instruments and dimensions in what should be a coherent and seamless web.55

39.During the course of our inquiry we were told that the primary aim of Russian multi-dimensional warfare was to:

Destabilise other countries without necessarily putting troops in. Crimea was actually an exception. It had symbolic value—again, psychological value—but actually, the whole idea is how you destroy another country without ever touching it.56


40.Media outlets such as the state-owned Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik—a Russian press agency operating in major foreign cities—have been used to spread propaganda.57 We heard that Russia spent between US$600 million to $1 billion annually on official outlets like RT. John Lough, Associate Fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, told us that the policy of disinformation went wider than state-owned media:

Where I think the danger lies is not so much with RT, but with the efforts of, let’s say, other agents of the Russian state who are looking to influence the opinion of security specialists, people in think-tanks, academics and maybe even some journalists about these broader issues.58

41.Mark Laity, Chief of Strategic Communications, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), explained to us how Russia’s policy worked:

The Russians use information from a covert stage through six phases of warfare to the re-establishment of victory. Information confrontation is conducted in every phase, including covertly, in peace and in war. Our doctrines do not allow us to do a lot of this stuff till the fighting basically starts.59

One recent example of disinformation was public criticism by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that evidence to our inquiry was designed to intimidate the UK population about a mythical Russian threat and to dig up old Cold War enmities.60 It was not explained that representatives of the Russian Government, both in London and in Moscow, had declined our invitations to give evidence to this inquiry.

42.As with its nuclear policy, Russia’s policy on disinformation is a fully integrated element of its military and defence arsenal. Mr Laity further noted:

If you look at what they [Russia] did when they annexed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine, the information line of effort was fundamental, not just to give them a strategic narrative to try to justify what they did, but to use information to deceive, delay and disrupt, like a smokescreen.61

He added that in Crimea in 2014:

They just wanted to achieve an effect. President Putin lied about Crimea, and a year later he admitted that he had lied. Why did he do that? Because it didn’t matter anymore. The operational aspect is overarching.62

43.The way in which Russian disinformation has been employed to prepare the domestic environment in Russia for potential conflict is comprehensive and effective. Extended public exposure to disinformation campaigns—such as the depiction of NATO as a common enemy against which to unite the Russian public—has had the result of reducing public dissent in general and objection to military endeavours in particular. Peter Pomerantsev, Senior Fellow of the Legatum Institute, noted:

This is an imaginary enemy that they first want to conjure up […] and then defeat them, because NATO is not going to do anything. It is a perfect duel. It is the great narrative of Russia fighting against imaginary enemies, which is how it is used in the information space.63


44.Over the past 10 years, Russia has demonstrated a willingness to employ offensive cyber tactics against Western states including Estonia in 2007,64 a German steel mill in 2014, the French television station TV5 Monde and the German Bundestag in 2015.65 Dr Bobo Lo noted that this was less a demonstration of “fantastic Russian technology” but more a “demonstration of Western vulnerability and carelessness”.66 Dr Sutyagin commented:

The Russian approach is very aggressive, but they are just probing. They are trying [out] their capabilities now and it seems that they are rapidly improving them.67

45.The Russian ability to rapidly enhance cyber capabilities is well-supported:

[Russia] still retains the core Soviet strength in the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. They are producing an inordinate number of skilful engineers, technicians and mathematicians, and that feeds into the cyber-realm.68

46.Russian legal requirements also provide the military integration of cyber with a notable advantage over Western methods. Dr Sutyagin testified that, according to Russian law, all companies—including Western ones—operating within Russia must “disclose their basic codes to Russian security services, which means, for instance, that Google Gmail codes, coding and encryption that are closed for the British Government are open for the Russian Government.”69 Such data accessibility within cyberspace provides Russia with the potential for a straightforward but unique asymmetrical advantage.

47.There is a notable distinction between the psychology underpinning Russian cyber usage and Western methods. Mr Pomerantsev told the Committee that Russia divided its cyber operations into two: “information-technical—cyber-attacks and DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks—and information-psychological, which is using cyber to subvert other societies.”70

48.A recurring theme in Russian military strategy is the ability to combine various tools seamlessly, to give a fully integrated, comprehensive approach. The Russian attitude to cyber as a tool of warfare is no different, with a full-spectrum approach integral to the strategy of the Russian Government.

7 Q80

8 Q42

9 Q41

10 Q6 [James Sherr]

12 Andrew Monaghan, 'Moscow will see the SDSR as a challenge', 9 December 2015

13 Q6 [Keir Giles]

15 NATO, Bucharest Summit Declaration, 3 April 2008

17 Q5

20 ‘Putin names NATO amongst threats in new Russian security strategy’, The Financial Times, 2 January 2016

21 Q7

24 Dr Andrew Monaghan, ‘Russia’s World: Facing a century of instability’, European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) Brief Issue, March 2016

27 Q2

28 Wales Summit Declaration, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, 5 September 2014

30 SIPRI Military Expenditure Database, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2015

36 Alexei Arbatov, ‘Russian Military Doctrine and Strategic Nuclear Forces to the Year 2000 and Beyond’, Russian Nuclear Doctrine and Policy, 1997

52 Chris Donnelly, (RUS0018)

54 General Valery Gerasimov, ‘The Value of Science in Prediction’, 27 February 2013; Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, December 2015;

55 Q2

60 ‘About the British Parliament report on ‘information war’’, Maria Zakharova, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, 6 April 2016

64 ‘Estonia hit by ‘Moscow cyber war’, BBC News, 17 May 2007

70 Q68

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

30 June 2016