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What is the Gerasimov Doctrine?

And how it influences Putin’s world outlook

What is the Gerasimov Doctrine and how has it affected and is still shaping Russian Military thinking? What are the geopolitical, geographic and geostrategic ramifications of the Gerasimov Doctrine? What is going to be the future of this doctrine while keeping in view the rapidly transforming world order? It is conceivable that states formulate policies flanked by strategies and doctrines to achieve objectives in this anarchic world – primarily due to zero or little guarantee of an international policeman to ensure order and discipline. The Gerasimov Doctrine can be interpreted as such an endeavour to enforce Russia’s relative position in the world.

The incumbent Russian Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov reflected his thinking on the evolving nature of war and warfare in one of his articles in February 2013 entitled as “The Value of Science is insight.” The article drew attention on the lessons learnt from the Arab Spring and the changing world order where militaries played a vital role in securing the objectives of the state. Geopolitics has an important role to play in Russian strategic culture and Gerasimov’s analysis on the importance of territory and taking control of it in adverse and hostile conditions reflect this very notion. It is interesting that when Gerasimov talked about the Arab Spring, perhaps he referred to the use of information and the control over the spread of information. Gerasimov also highlighted the importance of mercenary military companies which were specifically used in Libya in close coordination with regular military forces. It is quite interesting that apart from a remarkable critique, Gerasimov drew satire on US Military Special Forces at the same time outlining the importance of such forces and their covert operations in future conflicts.

The term ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’ was ostensibly coined by Mark Galeotti in one of his blogs back in 2014 in which he outlined Russia’s new non-linear war. Galeotti’s analysis was primarily based upon Gerasimov’s article; however, on March 5, 2018, Galeotti in his Foreign Policy article “I am sorry for creating the Gerasimov Doctrine” denied the existence of any such doctrine in Russian possession. Again, while citing Gerasimov, Galeotti argued that he published what he could understand and gave it a catchy name so people might read it.

Apart from Galeotti’s arguments, the Annexation of Crimea in 2014 when Putin gobbled up a former territory of Soviet Union in a remarkable manner exhibited such attributes of modern war as they were outlined by Gerasimov – people named it ‘Hybrid War’. Russia employed cyber and electronic warfare to jam Ukrainian information and communications while paralyzing its command and control and decision making echelons. Russia displayed an unprecedented use of unconventional means of warfare by deploying commandos – which were referred by the Western media as ‘little green soldiers’ who took control of important government buildings. Russia also employed space platforms using its satellites for enhanced communications among its forces. The ethnic Russians were patronized in advance and were armed as well who played the role of a “Fifth Column.” The employment of various platforms and combination of a number of warfare strategies compelled analysts to declare the Annexation of Crimea a perfect example of a ‘hybrid war’ in the contemporary era. The Hybrid War employs such warfare strategies along with weapons which are predominantly asymmetric, unconventional or perhaps sub-conventional, and irregular. Analysts place hybrid war and its associated warfare strategies to be in the domain of fifth generation of warfare (5 GW).

Gerasimov’s assertion on the importance of airborne forces and their use in Afghanistan is entirely amazing. Since, Russia deployed its ‘little green soldiers’ mostly from air platforms in Crimea which effectively maintained presence on the ground and neutralized or probably eliminated possible resistance. From purely a military perspective, the insertion of Special Forces in the vicinity of strategic locations to carry out a number of operations has been a very effective tactic in paralyzing the enemy; however, this tactical manoeuvre was pioneered by German General Kurt Student who created Fallschirmjäger or paratroopers just before the start of the Second World War and used effectively against France and the Low Countries in 1940 and during the Battle of Crete in 1941.

Whatever pundits may argue or perhaps speculate – it is understandable that fear is now and has always been a decisive element in driving a state’s decisions and actions. North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) drive towards Ukraine while trying to possibly make it a NATO member inflicted serious concerns in Moscow. This phenomenon was best explained by John Mearsheimer in his article “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault” (Sep/Oct 2014) published in Foreign Affairs magazine. How Putin couldn’t bear a NATO member at its door step and near abroad – consequently, the “Russian Bear” in a pre-emptive manner took away Crimea. The Annexation of Crimea is an unprecedented act, since annexation was believed to be a pre-Second World War strategy.

It is conceivable that states formulate policies flanked by strategies and doctrines to achieve objectives in this anarchic world – primarily due to zero or little guarantee of an international policeman to ensure order and discipline

Those who deny or refute the presence of the Gerasimov Doctrine including Mark Galeotti are perhaps ignoring the presence of such a military instrument that has political will attached to it. It is a fact that Gerasimov’s assertions attracted a lot of literature especially the Western academic and scholarly literature. For instance, it can be seen that US Army’s research journal Military Review in its May-June 2016 issue, acknowledged Gen. Valery Gerasimov as “a seminal military theorist and writer.” Military thinkers strengthen political leadership through their innovative yet dangerous ideas which in turn assist the latter in altering the pages of history. It is obvious that states tend to increase and enhance their share in international politics. Putin under the doctrinal guidance of Primakov (late) and Gerasimov – is on his way to dominate while regaining the lost prestige, power and glory for Russia.

Muhammad Ali Baig

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad and can be reached at mmab11@gmail.com

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