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Shadow Cold War
Hard Power Gestures from Russia and the West

After reappearing triumphantly following a mysterious absence, Vladimir Putin ordered a massive military drill during which personnel will be on high alert. Bloomberg News reports:

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops placed on full combat readiness in snap drills in western Russia, as Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu warned the country was facing new threats to its security.

Some 38,000 troops, 41 warships, 15 submarines and 110 aircraft are involved in the exercises, Shoigu said on Monday, according to a Russian Defense Ministry statement. “New challenges and threats to military security demand a further increase in the military capabilities of the armed forces,” Shoigu said, the Interfax news service reported.

According to Russian state media, the drills are a response to Western and specifically NATO exercises encroaching on Russia’s breathing room. CNN reports on the strongest of these hard power gestures:

The U.S. Army says it will soon be sending armored Stryker vehicles on a 1,100-mile convoy through six European countries to show solidarity to allies in the wake of recent Russian actions in the Ukraine and Crimea that have Eastern Europe on edge.

The move was first reported Thursday in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes. U.S. Army Europe posted the Stripes story on its website on Friday.

The convoy is “a highly visible demonstration of U.S, commitment to its NATO allies and demonstrating NATO’s ability to move military forces freely across allied borders in close cooperation,” U.S. Army Europe spokesman Lt. Col. Craig Childs, said in a statement, according to the Stripes report.

The troops and vehicles involved will be moving from training exercises conducted as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve in Estonia, Lithuania and Poland, the report said. They’ll move through Latvia and the Czech Republic as they make their way to Vilseck, Germany, about a 40 miles drive from the Czech border.

NATO’s very visible renewed efforts in eastern Europe are a nice gesture to soothe the nerves of rattled allies, but physical presence alone is unlikely to prove terribly effective against Russia’s hybrid war doctrine. The odds that Russia would roll a tank battalion into sovereign territory are much lower than a seemingly ‘organic’ uprising of ethnically Russian citizens taking place somwhere like Estonia or Latvia (where Russians represent as much as a quarter of the population). Above all, Russia’s hybrid war gambit demands that it maintain plausible deniability about its involvement, all while creating a situation beyond the West’s will or ability to repair.

The ugly truth is that hard power alone may not deter Putin (nor, unfortunately, any of his likely successors) from trying to rattle the cage. NATO currently lacks its own doctrine for dealing with what on the surface may look like a popular uprising in a member country—short of invasion, what is the threshold for invoking Article V? Hybrid warfare is ultimately a shadow struggle led by intelligence agencies, a struggle in which a conventional military alliance can be easily wrong-footed by a nimbler foe. We may well not see it discussed with the press, but we hope that Western planners are well aware of the imbalance facing NATO and are doing their utmost to compensate however they best can.

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  • Andrew Allison

    If Putin is not stopped cold the next time he employs hybrid warfare, he will be emboldened to do it again, and again. The solution would be to request either a UN peacekeeping mission or aid from their European allies in securing their borders: the agitators are support from Russia they should be relatively easy for the country’s internal security security forces to deal with. If not, the appearance of little green men in a NATO member country should invoke Article V. Those who fail to learn the lessons of Sudetenland . . . .

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