The tactic of hybrid warfare favored by the Kremlin has become known as the “Gerasimov Doctrine” after its creator, General Valery Gerasimov, who now heads the General Staff. The line between war and peace is being erased, and modern wars are also being waged by non-military means, he wrote in February 2013.
Gerasimov even treated the formation of opposition and mass protests as part of the new war – and suggested responding to such “threats” with a combination of military and non-military methods. Non-military activities included bribing or intimidating public officials, fanning the flames of public discontent, and supporting the opposition with illegally planted armed groups.
The following year, Gerasimov’s ideas were further developed and detailed by Andrey Bezrukov, a former spy and member of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. Like Gerasimov, he accused the West of waging a “multi-dimensional war” combining military and non-military means. As a “retaliatory measure,” he proposed the maximum involvement of civilian populations in a “war of a new type,” with “armies of supporters”, including on social networks.
Bezrukov called for a sharp increase in investment in intelligence and counterintelligence, the active embedding of agents among potential enemies, and a focus on propaganda and hackers. He also proposed the creation of private military companies (PMCs) based on veteran organizations which could operate abroad in order to “buy those who are corrupted and eliminate those who do not stop after a warning.”
Russia actively pursued the tactics of hybrid war, both against Ukraine and the West. However, in 2019, Gerasimov changed tack with a new plan which called for an emphasis on “issues of preparation for war and its conduct by the armed forces.” Gerasimov said Russia’s enemies were also getting ready for a large-scale war, and therefore an “active defense strategy” was needed with “a set of proactive measures to neutralize threats to the security of the state.”
It was under this pretext that the Kremlin ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. However, the new Gerasimov Doctrine does not mean the Kremlin has abandoned its former hybrid tactics and pursuit of soft power. On the contrary, they are being actively used both in relation to the West and the global South.
In the West, Moscow’s plan is to split alliances and reduce support for Ukraine. These goals are pursued with the help of propaganda and attempt to use individual countries, such as Hungary and Serbia, as agents of influence in international organizations. In addition, Russia aims to provoke popular discontent and weaken Western countries through destabilization. This strategy was openly proclaimed by the pro-Kremlin political scientist Dmitry Yevstafiev, who called on Russia to look for “weak links in the collective West.”
Elsewhere, Russia’s main geopolitical goal is the creation of a broad anti-Western coalition. Ideally, the Kremlin hopes emerging Eastern powers will actively join a new partition of the world, thereby normalizing its behavior. Russian propaganda seized on a recent statement by Lu Shaye, the Chinese ambassador to France, that “the states of the former Soviet Union have no status under current international law.” Pro-Kremlin analysts, using Lu’s words, sought to show that “the era of borders cast in granite is ending” and that “borders are no longer inviolable.”
The Kremlin’s minimum goal from its strategy in the non-Western world is now the creation of space to circumvent sanctions. But it wants more and is working to convince its potential partners of the danger of a “rebirth of colonialism” while presenting itself as their main defender against this resurgence.
The need to fight against the “neo-colonial West” has become one of the main narratives used by Vladimir Putin. In practice, however, other countries — while skeptical of the West and sympathetic to Russia’s use of military force — are not keen to join the fight under Russian leadership, but are using its difficult geopolitical situation, and its cheap energy resources, to their advantage. This applies to both China and Iran.
The Kremlin has also been trying to develop relations with African countries, but the situation is far from straightforward. Sergei Konyashin, a former Russian diplomat on the continent, admitted in August that Moscow had not been able to achieve much success. It does not have enough people or resources for the work, and the priorities of its foreign policy are determined by the Kremlin without reference to the up-to-date analysis of the situation on the ground, he said. He also recalled seeing the private interests of specific people prevailing over the needs of the state during his time as an official in the region.
This assessment was confirmed by pro-Kremlin analysts at the Valdai Club, who in April published two papers on the situation. One analyzed the key cooperation summits in Africa and showed that, while the Russia-Africa summit saw the signing of agreements worth $12.5bn, the equivalent US-Africa summit produced $55bn worth of deals and the EU-Africa summit resulted in a $168bn investment package. The Kremlin cannot alter the fact that it is economically puny.
The second document, which analyzed the votes of African countries at the UN General Assembly, also made difficult reading for the Kremlin. The authors noted that 30 of the 54 African nations voted for the resolution on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and not one opposed it. In total, Kremlin analysts counted only 19 countries that did not support any of the resolutions against Russia, and 10 of them either abstained or did not vote. Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Mali turned out to be the most loyal to the Kremlin.
Despite the mixed results, the Kremlin will pursue its hybrid efforts. Lacking the positive soft powers of affection, cultural reach, and economic development, it has few other options but to destabilize Western countries, while issuing propaganda, as it attempts to maintain support for its aggression.
Kseniya Kirillova is an analyst focused on Russian society, mentality, propaganda, and foreign policy. The author of numerous articles for the Jamestown Foundation, she has also written for the Atlantic Council, Stratfor, and others.
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.