The Doctrine That Wasn’t

Here’s a lesson for you- never challenge a grifter’s scam. Here’s an example what happens if you do:

For the record yes, I am skilled at making tacos, as well as burritos with chili or shredded chicken. As for the disinfo machine comment- no. Lobbyist and “information war expert” Molly McKew was just upset because I, like many others far more qualified than myself, pointed out that there is no such thing as “the Gerasimov doctrine,” which supposedly orients the Russian armed forces towards a “hybrid warfare” strategy. A strategy, which incidentally, requires enterprising professionals like Molly McKew to explain it to wealthy governments with money to spend on lectures, think tank, and initiatives.

That truly is the hybrid warfare grift in a nutshell- pretend Russia has this brand new strategy that’s utterly alien and superior to what NATO has, and then bill yourself as an indispensable expert in this form of warfare. You interpret every new development, even those that seemingly have little or nothing to do with Russia, as being another perfect example of this doctrine in practice.

When that’s your hustle, it’s pretty important to smear anyone who points out that the emperor is naked. Hence people like McKew like to tar opponents as being “soft” on Russia, ignoring the Russian threat, or deliberately trying to downplay Russia’s aggression and encourage appeasement. This is basically a strawman argument, one which says nothing about whether or not a Gerasimov Doctrine exists.

For a more detailed analysis of this so-called doctrine, I’d recommend reading this ten-page report from a researcher at the Foreign Military Studies Office (among other positions). Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov never proposed any kind of doctrine utilizing “hybrid warfare.” In general, he accuses the West of utilizing a type of “hybrid warfare” against Russia with the end goal of overthrowing the state via a “color revolution,” something that Russian academics and political technologists have been talking about for well over a decade. Gerasimov suggests that Russia needs to develop a counter-measure against this alleged strategy. Got that? Gerasimov is saying Russia’s opponents are using hybrid warfare against Russia and so they must find a way to counter it and prevent a color revolution in Russia.

“But what about Ukraine,” you ask? Well yes, about that…

There is very little new or revolutionary in Russia’s war on Ukraine. In fact, much of the actual fighting was ridiculously conventional, which of course totally destroyed Russia’s claims of non-involvement. Rather than send in covert advisers to gradually build an anti-Kyiv insurgency, thus creating a plausible civil war scenario, the panicky Kremlin could only come up with the brilliant military strategem of removing the patches and insignia from men dressed in the latest, matching Russian kit. In Donbas their attempts at fomenting an insurgency were about to go up in smoke after a couple months, so they were forced to send in tanks with heavy artillery and rocket support. And if you think that the Kremlin’s continued denial of involvement ¬†is somehow novel, you clearly don’t know your Russian military history. They tried to pull the same thing in Chechnya in 1993. ¬†The Soviet Union pulled similar operations during the Cold War, perhaps most notably the storming of Tajbeg Palace in Kabul in late December 1979. In that assault, KGB and spetsnaz personnel used Afghan army uniforms in order to help give the impression that a coup was under way.

In fact not only are these tactics not new, they aren’t limited to Russia or the USSR.¬†Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic pulled similar denial tactics during the 90’s, propping up the Republic of Serbian Krajina and Bosnian Serb Republic with his well-equipped federal army. The US did it with the Bay of Pigs, in South Vietnam, Iran, and many other places. And hybrid warfare? Well the term might be relatively new, but it’s far older than Russia’s war in Ukraine. The 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon is cited as one example of hybrid warfare, mainly because the former is a quasi-state actor, something that is sometimes seen as a feature of hybrid warfare. And just because the definition of hybrid warfare dates to the early 2000’s doesn’t mean we can identify those features much earlier. How much earlier? Well long before Molly McKew came along, that’s for sure. You almost feel sorry for those governments who had to deal with hybrid warfare in the mid-19th century- they didn’t even have think tanks or information war experts back then!

Another problem with using Ukraine as proof of a special doctrine is that as the previously mentioned report points out- what Russia did in Ukraine depended largely on a number of factors that are specific to that country. What is more, those tactics mostly failed. From a purely military standpoint, the only impressive operation Russia managed to pull off was the Crimean annexation, and that depended on so many factors that are so specific to that scenario that the Russians would be hard-pressed to repeat them anywhere except maybe Belarus, for example. It was the military equivalent of an aikido throw- it works so long as your opponent doesn’t resist and goes along with it. So if you’re trying to counter a Crimean-type hybrid warfare scenario, the first tip I could give you is don’t have a Russian military base on the territory you think they’ll invade and annex. Oh yeah- don’t have close cooperation between your military and intelligence agencies and theirs. I could go on, but then I have to start charging.

Pretty much everywhere else in Ukraine, Russia’s supposed “hybrid warfare” failed miserably. They were unable to garner support anywhere outside of those areas where they could apply sufficient armed force. Nobody in the world community seriously believes Russia’s denials about involvement. Sanctions have been imposed and increased. Russian attempts to influence politics in the West have largely failed, and even where they seem to have succeeded, they have not produced tangible results such as getting sanctions lifted. Both Putin fanboys and “hybrid warfare experts” continue to talk about Putin as though he’s this sinister 146th dimensional chess player, when really he’s a paranoid, panicky, opportunistic tactician who thinks five minutes into the future and bumbles from one foreign policy failure to another. Crimea? Isolated due to sanctions and economically devastated. Novorossiya? Basically two cities and their suburbs, utterly dependent on the Russian budget. Driving a wedge into Europe to avoid sanctions? Nope. Pivot to China? More like pivot to nowhere. Stop NATO expansion? Welcome, Montenegro, the newest Slavic NATO member! Syria? Congratulations! You helped a dictator take back some rubble, and now you’ll have to prop him up to keep it.

The funny thing is that it’s not like you can’t find examples of other states who actually do “hybrid warfare” well. Iran has had an impressive record with Hezbollah, for example. The Islamic State is pretty much finished as a physical state, but its rise and existence isn’t likely to be forgotten anytime soon, and they still have affiliates fighting insurgencies around the globe. The PPK and PYD in Turkey and Rojava (northern Syria) show resilience and innovation fighting against both governments and other non-state actors like the Islamic State. What all these groups have in common is something that Russia lacks, something which I would suggest dooms any attempt by Russia to actually create some kind of hybrid warfare doctrine to failure- ideology. In Ukraine, as well as other locations, Russia largely relies on money or force as a motivating factor to get its agents to do what it wants. If it can’t afford to pay enough people off or it can’t project force to intimidate them, it has no reach. Meanwhile ISIS manages to get people to pull off mass murder just by assuring losers that they’ll glorify them as heroic martyrs if they just go out and try to stab as many people as they can like some kind of sick reality show game.

In short- even if Russia has adopted some kind of new hybrid doctrine, it’s clearly not a very effective one. It’s most noticeable impact seems to be the rapid creation of instant hybrid warfare experts and Junior Counter-Intelligence Operatives on Twitter. If Russia set out only to make lobbyists and pundits act insane- mission accomplished.

Ultimately the burden of proof lies with McKew and her ilk to prove that such a thing as a Gerasimov Doctrine exists. So far the evidence says otherwise. Pointing this out isn’t pro-Kremlin. If you actually plan to oppose what Russia really is doing in the world today, you do need to have an understanding of their strategies and tactics. If you ignore those things in favor of a made-up blueprint such as this Gerasimov Doctrine, you are basically failing to observe and interpret what Russia is actually doing. Instead you’ll be deliberately hammering square pegs into round holes in order to make them fit your blueprint.


Am I doing this right?

Another important thing to remember is that for all these chicken littles talk about the need to “counter” the Russian threat, they have almost nothing in terms of actual solutions or suggestions. If you can stomach it, here’s a longread from McKew herself about how the West is in a war with Russia and needs to fight back. I perused this whole thing and struggled to find anything resembling a concrete plan for defense against the “hybrid threat.” From what I could see her “solutions” amount to:

Realize we’re in a war with Russia. (You know, a war where we will trade, make business deals, etc. and don’t actually do anything to fight them directly or even indirectly.)

We need to do something to increase our security! Not just conventional military security, but other types of security as well! 

Look to the Cold War because we won that struggle. No need to point out what actually won, how it was won, or any pesky details like that. 

Wow! With great insight like that I can see why¬†Politico keeps publishing her work, even though a lot of it is based on the topic of a military doctrine that doesn’t even exist.

At the end of the day, McKew seems to be just another grifter looking for sympathetic ears, preferably with deep pockets. Either that or she literally can’t tell the difference between someone pointing out the fact that there is no Gerasimov Doctrine and someone attacking the concept of Russia being a threat because they are pro-Kremlin and trying to portray Putin as this misunderstood, peace-loving leader. Honestly I don’t care which it is with her. These people eventually move on when there’s a new game in town. Russia¬†is a threat and “we” (our definition of “we” differs significantly) are at war, but that war sure as hell isn’t going to be won by pundits and think tank academics.



8 thoughts on “The Doctrine That Wasn’t

  1. Heim

    Thank you for your brilliant rebuttal. The motivations to create an image of Putin and Russia as geniuses of tactics is interesting.

  2. Heim

    If your goal is to discourage, confound and create disillusion in your target, then all disinformation works. If your goal is to turn Putin into an evil genius then what is your goal?

  3. Vova

    On the one hand, I completely agree, but on the other, there is high culture and there is low culture, always. True and useful, but emotionally moderate and intellectually hard analysis on the one hand, and pretty much medieval folk theatre, but with modern technologies, on the other. Both are socially useful, both will be produced, because they are demanded. These are like niches in intellectual ecosystem or something. They will be filled no matter if you want it or not. The only thing one can do, I think, is to somehow reroute emphasis inside the rules of the particular genre. For example, instead of this boring rebuttal, much better way would be to write something like “Molly McKew is a Russian agent, and I will explain to you how I know that, using facts from TRUE GERASIMOV DOCTRINE, which I got from secret documents of Kyiv SBU.” Then you post 2014 photos of SBU burning documents, then you post photos of “secret documents”(your blogpost, printed and half-burned), and then the text of your blog post, “decrypted” from that secret documents you “found”.

    tl;dr fight fire with fire

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      LOL- yes, I would have made my life much easier a long time ago if I were willing to commit to a “side” like that. Hell I bet Politico would publish me at least.

  4. Pingback: Durp Impact | Russia Without BS

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