Russian Perceptions of Modern Conflict
Since at least 1991, the Russian perception of the nature of modern conflict has evolved. Russia views wars as often undeclared, fought for relatively limited political objectives, and occurring across all domains, including outer space and the information space.113 Russian leaders have noted the tendency for crises to arise quickly and develop impetuously, and to potentially escalate from local wars into global ones.114,115 In addition, Moscow judges that modern conflicts are characterized by a destructive and rapid “initial period of war”—a subject on which Russian military leaders and theorists have written extensively since the 1920s— which is becoming more decisive than ever before. In modern cyber-enabled information and battlefield spaces, this destructive non-kinetic initial period can be reduced to milliseconds, and kinetically to hours.116
Moscow fears that the speed, accuracy, and quantity of non-nuclear strategic precision-guided weapons can achieve strategic effects on par with nuclear weapons,117 one of the primary reasons that since at least 1993 (and most recently codified in the 2014 Military Doctrine) Russia has reserved the right to a nuclear response to a non-nuclear attack that threatens the existence of the state.118,119,120 In addition to rejecting no-first-use, Moscow has discussed using nuclear weapons to de-escalate a conflict.121,122 While most military theorists and leaders believe great-power conflict is unlikely, they nevertheless express concern about the usability of the information space to achieve state goals.123 Russia has tied this decisive and shortened initial period to the idea that only more proactive or even preemptive action is required to counter it.124,125,126 Russian developments in precision-guided munitions indicate a desire for “deep strike” capability to preempt attacks from an adversary.
Russia’s Military Doctrine, last updated in December 2014, contained several new elements not in the 2010 Doctrine, which reflect Moscow’s military focus and threat perceptions. First codified in the doctrine was the concept of non-nuclear deterrence, an idea that has been evolving since the Soviet period. The doctrine also underscored perceived threats to Russia’s domestic security and described the military’s requirement to inflict unacceptable damage on any adversary at any time. This requires the military to calculate or understand what level of damage would constitute unacceptable damage to an adversary.127,128,129 Mobilization readiness of the state was stressed, as were measures to unify state, societal, and individual efforts to protect Russia and increase the effectiveness of military-patriotic indoctrination of citizens and their preparation for military service.130
The concepts of readiness, non-nuclear deterrence, and unacceptable damage are closely linked in Russian thinking; Russian military leaders judge that a highly ready non-nuclear force, able to inflict unacceptable damage on an aggressor—including against its economy— at any moment, is its own deterrent.131,132,133,134 For Moscow, the word translated as “deterrence” (сдерживание) is more closely linked to a concept of active restraint, or literally to hold back something moving with force.135 In the West, deterrence is often seen as an established condition, whereas in Moscow it is an active, flexible process that continues throughout the conflict spectrum.
The Russians define strategic deterrence as a package of coordinated political, diplomatic, economic, ideological, moral, spiritual, informational, scientific, technological, military, and other actions taken by a country to demonstrate the decisiveness of the political leadership to tap all instruments of state power consecutively or simultaneously—to stabilize the military, political, and strategic environment, to anticipate aggression, and to deescalate military conflict.136,137,138,139,140 Some Russian theorists break deterrence down further into non-forceful and forceful means and even into deterrence by “type” (economic, military, nuclear, non-nuclear, etc.).141
Closely linked to strategic deterrence is the concept of strategic stability. At its basic level, Russia’s concept of deterrence, appropriately applied in its view, assures strategic stability. Strategic stability is the sum total of political, economic, military, and other measures (e.g., force) retained by states in a stable balance whereby neither side has the opportunity, interest, or intent to carry out military aggression.142
Russia has observed modem conflicts and incorporated aspects of these observations into its deterrence and warfighting strategies. Russia seeks to shape the environment in peacetime to avoid or deter conflict and, if war does occur, will use its military force to establish a favorable outcome for Moscow.143,144 Moscow’s warfighting strategy includes use of indirect action and asymmetric responses, including using technical and psychological operations to disrupt technical systems, influence public opinion, and “erode the opponent’s resolve.”145,146,147 The modernization of its nuclear and conventional forces to include precision-guided strike weapons provide it a major military force to shape the outcome of war along the entire spectrum of modern conflict.
Military and Security Leadership
Decisionmaking in Russia is highly centralized, and President Vladimir Putin dominates Russia's decisionmaking, including for military and security issues. His constitutional responsibilities include appointing the prime minister, chairman of the Central Bank, government ministers, and judges; he may announce State Duma elections or dissolve it. His annual address to the Federal Assembly sets guidelines for national internal and foreign policies, and he resolves internal governmental disputes. The Russian president governs foreign policy, signs international treaties, forms and heads the Security Council, and approves military doctrine.148 The Russian president serves as the Supreme Commander in Chief of the Russian military, and in times of emergency he may introduce martial law.149
President Vladimir Putin
Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu
Gen-Army Valeriy Gerasimov
The Russian Ministry of Defense is subordinate to President Putin as Supreme Commander in Chief and is charged with implementing presidential policy within the military, overseeing all readiness, manpower, and procurement issues.150,151,152 The defense minister has the legal authority to oversee and direct operations of the General Staff.153
Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu was appointed Defense Minister on 6 November 2012, after 18 years leading the Ministry of Emergency Situations.154 Shoygu’s introduction of frequent strategic-level, no-notice inspections in Russia’s military districts, unprecedented in number and scope for the post-Soviet Russian military, has been critical in assessing and increasing combat readiness in the armed forces, as well in as refining defense reforms.155
The General Staffs primary mission is to ensure the military security of the Russian Federation (RF), that is, to protect the vital interests of the state and society from internal and external threats. The General Staff is responsible for monitoring and characterizing the threat environment and developing strategic and operational plans to equip, mobilize, employ, command, and control the armed forces.156,157 According to a 2013 presidential edict describing General Staff missions and functions, its range of responsibilities was broadened to include coordination of all activity undertaken by federal executive organizations to ensure defense capability and security.158
The chief of the General Staff, Gen-Army Valero' Gerasimov, serves as the military head of the Russian Armed Forces.159 Gerasimov previously served as deputy chief of the General Staff from December 2010 until May 2012, when he was appointed commander of the Central Military District.160 He became chief of the General Staff in November 2012. He is a respected armor officer with substantial combat experience and time in command in Russia’s restive North Caucasus region.161,162,163 Since his appointment, Gerasimov has focused largely on dealing with military readiness, modifying defense reforms carried out by his predecessor, and preparing for security concerns.164,165,166,167
Main Operations Directorate
The Main Operations Directorate (GOU) of the General Staff has operational control of the armed forces, organizes strategic and operational force planning; executes military exercises and operational training, and engages with multilateral military-security organizations such as the CSTO, CIS, and Shanghai Cooperation Organization.168 The GOU shapes the Defense Plan of the Russian Federation, identifies sources of threats to Russia for strategic planning, and works with the General Staff s Military-Scientific Committee (VNK) to draft the State Armament Program.169,170,171,172,173
Gen-Lt Sergey Rudskoy
General Lieutenant (Gen-Lt, two stars) Sergey Rudskoy served as first deputy chief of the GOU for 9 years before becoming its chief in November 2015, Rudskoy has been the General Staffs senior representative at international forums, and he will likely leverage this experience to enhance coordination with other militaries operating in Syria.174,175
National Military Command and Control
At the pinnacle of Russian military command and control is the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who serves as the Supreme Commander in Chief of the armed forces. As such, he is the primary decisionmaker and is authorized to assume direct command and control during times of crisis and martial law.176,177 The minister of defense is appointed by the president and is charged with implementing presidential policy within the Ministry of Defense. This includes overseeing all hiring, equipping, training, care, and feeding of military personnel. With the implementation of Russia’s New Look military reforms, the minister of defense now has legal authority to oversee and direct operations of the General Staff.178 The chief of the General Staff is also appointed by the president and serves as the military head of the armed forces.179 The General Staffs primary mission is to ensure the military security of the Russian Federation and is responsible for monitoring and characterizing the threat environment and developing strategic and operational plans to equip, mobilize, employ, command, and control the armed forces.180,181 The service chiefs have the responsibility of organizing, training, and equipping their forces to meet current and future national security challenges.182
The Russian military has established a redundant and survivable command and control (C2) system to control its forces that serves as a force-enabler. Russia’s C4ISR complex uses multiple capabilities ranging from technologically advanced systems to mechanically simple, legacy Soviet devices intended to centralize control of the military while providing intelligence support to speed up decisionmaking cycles and carry out joint operations.183,184
Russia’s C2 system has six key characteristics:
• Centralized. The president of the Russian Federation is the commander in chief of the armed forces and is authorized to assume direct C2 over the military via the Ministry of Defense and General Staff during times of crisis and martial law.185
• Redundant. Multiple C2 systems are used at each echelon to disseminate commands and for the transmission of orders.186
• Geographically dispersed. Russia’s key C2 nodes and facilities are distributed throughout the country to increase survivability and limit single points of failure.187
• Secure. Moscow is upgrading C2 systems to take advantage of modern and secure digital communications networks.188
• Reliable. Russia routinely conducts snap and other training exercises to test the systems’ capabilities to pass information and increase decisionmaking efficiency.189
• Built for the worst case scenario. Russian C2 systems are designed to enable the dissemination of launch orders while under nuclear attack through several C2 systems, including Perimetr, sometimes referred to as the “Dead Hand.”190
Russian Nuclear Command and Control
Maintaining control of its nuclear arsenal is of critical importance to Moscow. During the Cold War, Russia developed a centralized nuclear C2 system capable of meeting its three primary requirements: reliability, speed, and security.
President Putin with the nuclear briefcase.
To accomplish these goals, strategic planners designed a complex system-of-systems that protects weapons from unauthorized or accidental use and centralizes command authority at the highest echelon, while guaranteeing the ability to quickly launch when necessary.191
Russian military doctrine underscores the central role of the Russian president in authorizing the use of nuclear weapons. He uses the nuclear briefcase, which is carried by officers who always remain near the president. The General Staff monitors the status of the weapons of the nuclear triad and will send the direct command to the launch crews following the president’s decision to use nuclear weapons. The Russians send this command over multiple C2 systems, which creates a redundant dissemination process to guarantee that they can launch their nuclear weapons. Moscow also maintains the Perimetr system, which is designed to ensure that a retahatory launch can be ordered when Russia is under nuclear attack.192,193,194
President Putin and Defense Minister Shoygu at the NTsUO, November 2015.
National Defense Management Center (NTsUO), November 2015.195,196
Command and Control of Joint Forces
Moscow Implemented a Joint Strategic Command (OSK) structure in 2010 to better facilitate joint military operations. Russia converted its six military districts into four OSKs.197,198 In 2015, Russia created a fifth OSK, the OSK Northern Fleet, to improve its capability to project military power into the Arctic and to take advantage of the opening of the Russia’s Northern Sea Route.199
In contrast to pre-reform military districts that were primarily land force commands, the new OSKs are joint force elements that have control in times of peace and war over all general purpose forces stationed in—or deployed to—their territories. The phrase “military district” still exists and refers to specific geographic boundaries, but an OSK is the command element for that area. For example, the Eastern Military District covers the geographic territory from eastern Siberia to the Pacific Ocean, but it is commanded by OSK East.200,201 These reforms resulted in a reduced command structure, both vertically and horizontally, which is more streamlined, efficient, and flexible.202,203
Moscow’s National Defense Management Center (NTsUO), which came online in 2014, is a key component of the overall Russian C2 system. The NTsUO works with subordinate regional and territorial defense management centers to coordinate ministry and department activities among lower echelons in accordance with national defense and security directives while liaising with municipal authorities.204
Dolgorukiy Class Nuclear Powered Ballistic Missile Submarine.