To defend ourselves, we must understand what we’re facing

By Dr Andrew Foxall

The West is facing a new kind of conflict. It is one in which military and non-military tools are combined in a dynamic, efficient, and integrated way to achieve its political aims.

It is a form of warfare that Russia has been waging with increasing sophistication for at least the last two decades. During this period, Russia has launched cyberattacks against Estonia; been to war with Georgia and Ukraine; carried out extrajudicial assassinations; engaged in information warfare (propaganda); conducted military sabre-rattling; and used energy, economic coercion and subversion as weapons of foreign policy.

The Russia and Eurasia Studies Centre’s new report, written by Conservative MP Bob Seely, seeks to define the nature of Russia’s activities, describing the covert and overt forms of malign influence used by the Kremlin. If we in the West are to defend ourselves, however, it is essential that we agree what we are facing. One the biggest problems the West has faced is that we have not had a common definition of what Russia is doing – until now.

Seely offers defines what he calls ‘Contemporary Russian Conflict’ in the following terms:

Contemporary Russian Conflict is a sophisticated and integrated form of state influence closely linked to political objectives. It has, at its core, the KGB toolkit of ‘Active Measures’ – political warfare – around which has been wrapped a full spectrum of state tools. Such tools are overt and covert, conventional and non-conventional, and are used in a coordinated, efficient and, often, coercive fashion. It is holistic, opportunistic, and flexible. It is a strategic art, not purely a military art.

In this context, the propaganda of RT, the appearance of ‘little green men’ in Crimea, the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, and the attempted hacking of the 2017 French General Election, are not individual and isolated acts, but instead are part of this new kind of conflict. This ‘Matryoshka doll’ form of conflict is precisely what the West will be facing for the foreseeable future.

Read the full paper on Contemporary Russian Conflict here.

Here at The Henry Jackson Society, we have long drawn attention not only to the Kremlin’s efforts to subvert democracy, both inside and outside of Russia, but also the various techniques used to achieve this. With your continued support, we will carry on with this work until such a time that events in Russia mean that it is no longer necessary.

Dr Andrew Foxall is Director of Research and Director of the Russia and Eurasia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society

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