Tag Archives: hybrid warfare

Devil’s Dictionary

One of my more popular pieces on this blog is the Russia Watcher’s Field Guide, which is why it occupies a permanent position as a page rather than a post. Today I’d like to induct a few new concepts into the parlance, though rather than just add them to the field guide I’d like to describe them at length. So, without further ado…

The Gerasimov Gambit

“I see the Team Deza is deploying all its active measures against my recent Tweet, where I called out Medicare-for-all as a Kremlin ploy to divide America. You always get the most flak over the target!”  -Some imbecile on Twitter

So there’s this logical fallacy often invoked by morons called the “Galileo Gambit.” This is a technique whereby some crank uses the fact that their theories are ignored and/or ridiculed by “the establishment” as proof that they are right. “After all, they laughed at Galileo, did they not?” 

Naturally this is dumb, and people who use this formulation are dumb. You know what’s also dumb? When you’re some 2016-minted “Russia expert” whose response to any criticism or question about credentials is to accuse your critics of being agents of the Kremlin, or at best, useful idiots.

There are people who attract hostility from paid Twitter trolls and Kremlin media because their work is actually a threat to the regime’s agenda (e.g. Bellingcat), and then there are people who attract the same hostility and harassment simply because they are low-hanging fruit, and when you’re a propagandist defending an indefensible regime you need that fruit to be as low as possible.

So yeah, maybe you get the most flak over the target, but that might not necessarily be the best military metaphor to describe what it is you’re doing. Are you really a B17 pilot flying on a mission to bomb a torpedo factory? Or are you an infantryman running towards a hardened machine-gun nest waving your arms and screaming?


He is everywhere! He is watching you, hybridly!

Dictatorship Tourist Syndrome (DTS)

“Our mainstream media is constantly telling us that this country is an authoritarian dictatorship where nobody has any human rights. But I, an American, have been here for a whole week, speaking to teachers, policemen, and workers in state-owned enterprises with the help of my government-provided interpreter and I don’t feel oppressed at all! In fact I feel as free if not freer than I do at home, and for that I’m overwhelmingly grateful to the government organization that invited me on this press junket they organized!”

-Useful idiot

I’ve seen many examples of this over the years, but lately there was a bit of a cluster of such cases during the recent World Cup in Russia. In fact, this isn’t at all exclusive to Russia. You see examples of this shit all the time in countries run by differing degrees of dictatorships.

Some time ago I wrote an article about expat privilege, but this goes way beyond that. Expats are often aware of the problems in the country they live in, even if they don’t face the consequences or at least not to the extent that natives do. If you’re a tourist in a country, you probably don’t know dick about real life there. This goes double if you’re on some state-organized press junket like those that Russia and Syria have offered in the past.

Back in 2011 I went to China and I can still say it was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. Yes, I was a bit shocked by things like the lack of central heating and doors (seriously what is the deal with that?), but in general everything was great. I can’t honestly tell you I saw signs of authoritarian oppression or corruption. The thing is, though, I’m smart enough to realize that just because I don’t personally witness something, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

The fact is that dictatorships, even some of the most authoritarian ones, have never been incapable of showing some guests a good time. Both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany pulled it off all the time (Nazi Germany even dressed up one of its concentration camps to make it seem like a veritable spa resort). Modern dictatorships like Russia are nowhere near as restricted, and thus it’s even easier for visitors to get the idea that all this talk of human rights violations and repression is “just propaganda from the mainstream media.” Don’t do this. Don’t think “everything you’ve heard is a lie” just because you weren’t arrested and shot in the face after two days in the country.

Kremlin Koncern Troll

“This new Cold War is ever so awful! It’s so terrible how there’s so much misunderstanding between the West and Russia now, and it’s really dangerous too! If only more Westerners knew the truth about Russia. The West is really spreading so much Russophobic propaganda! Such a terrible misunderstanding!” 

-The Kremlin Koncern Troll

I want to clarify something about this term. When I use the term Kremlin here I am only implying that these people promote a certain kind of Kremlin narrative with their rhetoric. I do not mean to imply that these people work for the Kremlin or the Russian state in any way. Most of these people hold sincere beliefs and a lot of times they fall for such narratives because they have personal relationships with ordinary Russians so it’s only natural to acquire some biases.

With that out of the way, one must understand the concept of a “concern troll.” This is an old internet term for someone who shows up in online discussions and pretends to be on the same side as the majority of the posters. They typically couch their rhetoric as constructive criticism or playing Devil’s advocate. However, over time it becomes clear that the concern troll seems to take more issue with the ideas of their supposed allies than their perceived opponents. Concern trolling can often be expressed via things like false equivalencies or “both sides” arguments, constant worrying about “our methods,” etc. In any movement, groupthink and cult-like behavior is bad, naturally, but when it seems someone takes more issue with the group than anyone else, it’s fair to ask whether they’re actually supporting the same cause or the opposite.

From time to time I encounter these would-be peacemakers, Westerners, who assure us that they just want to clear up all the misunderstandings we see between the West and Russia right now. First of all this is kind of disingenuous because the fact is that the number one reason for the breakdown in Russian-Western relations is neither the West nor Russian people but the Putin regime, plain and simple. The truth is that apart from some tough talk and the extremely limited Magnitsky Act, the West was more than happy to look the other way and defer to the Kremlin while Putin and his cronies robbed Russia’s citizens and stashed the money away in Western banks and luxury real estate. Hell, when Bashar al-Assad launched a major chemical weapons attack, Putin took credit for the proposal to work with the US in disposing of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal, and the supposedly hell-bent-on-regime-change US government went right along with it. And of course after that Assad never used chemical weapons again. Oh wait. Shit. What was the thing that led to a real breakdown in relations? The annexation of Crimea by Russia. And even then, the really serious sanctions didn’t come until Russia’s proxy forces shot down a civilian airliner killing 298 people. So no, this wasn’t exactly mutual.

Look, I have no problem examining the West’s blunders toward Russia, whether in the 90’s or the early Putin era. But that only goes so far. Of course Russia is allowed to have security interests, but if those interests including getting a privileged sphere of influence where it gets to approve the presidents of other countries and determine their constitutional order (as they clearly have wanted to do with Ukraine), well I’m sorry that just can’t be accommodated. Still, while there are many Russians who agree with these policies and narratives, I must reiterate that the problem is the actual policies of the Kremlin, and the people had no say in that.

Of course the KKT doesn’t stop at “both sides” when it comes to clearing up this horrible misunderstanding they call the New Cold War. No it always seems to turn out that the problem is Westerners not knowing anything about Russians and never the other way around. They start off acting like there’s this mutual misunderstanding, but they end up explicitly or implicitly telling you that it’s the West’s fault for not being understanding enough. Realistically, Russia is a rather xenophobic country (caveat- it seems every country has been getting more xenophobic as of late). Russians have just as many inaccurate stereotypes about Westerners as Westerners have about them. But this is somewhat irrelevant because the situation we see in terms of bilateral relations with Russia isn’t because Americans think Russians sit around drinking vodka with bears or because Russians think Americans can’t find anything on a map and think they won the Second World War singlehandedly. It happened because of specific actions either ordered or condoned by the Russian government, actions which are hostile to the West and its citizens. And again let me reinforce the point that the Kremlin took those actions because it sees them as conducive to remaining in power, and remaining in power means continuing to rob and pillage the peoples of the Russian Federation.

As I said before, I don’t think all of the people who engage in this behavior are active or conscious supporters of the Putin regime. Yes, such people do use similar rhetoric, but they also tend to be far more open about which side they support. The people I’m talking about seem to do it out of a concern for balance, or more often than not, a certain flaw in reasoning that is often common among people on the left. Here I’m referring to the idea that only the U.S. or West acts, while other countries only react to those actions. So when someone on American TV slams the Kremlin for interfering in our election, this gets portrayed as hysteria, “McCarthyism,” or “Russophobia,” while no attention is paid to the fact that Russia’s state media is almost constantly running blatantly anti-Western narratives almost round the clock. Louise Mensch? Eric Garland? On Russian state TV people with that level of credibility are often regular guests on talk shows. And if you think some US pundit criticizing the Russian election hacking is aggressive and dangerous, maybe do a little research to see how often Russian state media openly talks about nuking the West.

This isn’t a mutual misunderstanding. The current state of relations between the West and Russia can be blamed largely on one side, one man, in fact- Vladimir Putin.



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.