Gerasimov, the Experience in Syria, and “Hybrid” Warfare

hqdefaultGeneral Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian General Staff, published a very interesting article on the “VPK – Voenno-promyshlennyi kur’er” (Military-Industrial Courier) entitled “On the Syrian Experience.” Although it is usually an obscure publication, in reality it is an important one.  It is Gerasimov’s preferred publication, followed by the “Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie”  (Independent Military Review). General Vladimirov, the vice-president of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, also publishes there. Thus, it’s good to take a look.

I’m publishing below a bad spaghetti western English translation of the article made by a software. I changed  only what was impossible to understand. The piece presents Gerasimov’s views on modern warfare and how Russia should defend itself. It also slaps the Russian Military Science.

My comments are in green.

On the Experience in Syria
Valery Gerasimov

Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov: “Hybrid war requires high-tech weaponry and a scientific substantiation.”

The rapid development of science and technology changes the nature of warfare. Since the end of the last century, a concept that has been widely use is “high-tech war.”

The main way of achieving goals became remote contactless impact on the enemy by massive use of high-precision and long-range weapons from the air, sea and space. This trend is reflected in the views of the leading states about armed struggle.

This is General Slipchenko’s concept of 6th Generation Warfare. It’s very much based on the Operation Desert Storm and NATO’s bombing in Yugoslavia. It was developed in the 1990s.


As you know, the United States has already developed and implemented the concept of rapid global strike. The US military is calculated to achieve the ability to, in a few hours, deploy troops in defeat enemy targets at any point of the globe. It is envisaged the introduction of a promising form of warfare – of global integrated operations. It proposes the establishment as soon as possible in any region of mixed groups of forces capable of joint action to defeat the enemy in a variety of operating environments. According to the developers, this should be a kind of blitzkrieg of the twenty-first century.

Nothing really new here. It’s possible to find many references on the Russian literature about the Rapid Global Strike. The Russians consider it, obviously, a threat for their own security.

At the same time, it is increasingly obvious that the development of means of warfare is not the only the result of improving the forms and methods of employing groups of troops and forces. Today, in the era of globalization, weakening the state borders and the development of means of communication are the most important factors changing the form of resolution of interstate conflicts. In today’s conflicts, the focus of the methods used to combat is shifting towards the integrated application of political, economic, informational and other non-military measures, implemented with the support of the military force. The so called hybrid methods.

It’s interesting that he’s using the term “hybrid.” This means he’s referring to NATO and, specially, the USA. In Russian, the word war (voina) includes ideological, economics, political, ideological, scientific, and other forms of struggle and is managed at the political level. Armed conflict (vooruzhennaia bor’ba)  is more managed by the military. The Russians started using the word hybrid after NATO coined it. However, during Soviet times there was literature discussing these issues already, starting with Lenin himself. Gerasimov has been concerned about the changing character of warfare at the operational level.

Their objective is to achieve political goals with the minimal impact on the armed enemy. Mostly buy undermining its military and economic potential, employing information and psychological pressure, the active support of the internal opposition, and sabotage and guerrilla methods. This is the main objective of the “color revolutions”, which must lead to non-violent change of government in the camp of the opponent. In fact, any “color revolution” is a coup d’état organized from outside, and it is based on information technology, involving the manipulation of the public protest potential in combination with other non-military means.

In this case, it’s important to massively and purposefully influence the consciousness of the citizens of the state – the objects of the attack – through the Internet. Information resources have become one of the most effective weapons. Widespread use allows them in a matter of days to destabilize the situation in the country from the inside.

This is complemented by hidden military means, including using extremist and terrorist organizations. To open the use of force pass only as a last resort, usually under the guise of peacekeeping and crisis management. Thus, indirect and asymmetric actions and methods of hybrid wars allow deprive the opposing side of the actual sovereignty without capturing the state.

In the previous three paragraphs he’s indirectly quoting Chekinov & Bogdanov’s “О характере и содержании войны нового поколения” (The Character and Content of New Generation Warfare) and Belsky & Klimenko’s “Политические технологии “цветных революций”: пути и средства противодействия” (Political Engineering of Color Revolutions: Ways to Keep Them in Check). This is very much what Russia did in Ukraine.

The most important here is the idea of depriving the country being attacked of its own sovereignty without annexing or occupying it.  The question for NATO countries, therefore, is how to organize and operationalize deterrence. It’s not an easy one. If deterrence, in this case, is to be based on asymmetric and indirect/hidden military means, what is and what is not acceptable for democratic societies? What is the difference between a legitimate political revolution and a staged one? How to neutralize the non-legitimate one? Do the military have any role in doing this? How A2/AD is planned in this case? Does asymmetric/hybrid A2/AD make sense at all? What capabilities are necessary? These are only some questions. Certainly, this means increasing very much the role of the SOFs and discussing ways to make NATO to react faster outside Article 5’s framework (maybe article 3?).

Traditional military operations are conducted according to the rules of military art. Their nature and consequences of, in principle, can be predicted. The results of using indirect methods are unpredictable. A State being targeted by a hybrid operation is usually rolled into a state of complete chaos, political crisis and economic collapse. The murder of the civilian population based on ethnic or religious grounds, rampant crime, the massive uncontrolled migration are the results of these “color revolutions”.

Margarita Jaitner from the Swedish Defense College wrote on Facebook that she would add: It’s not only a description of what they did in Ukraine, it also somewhat fits the description of Russia in the 90s, compare to Putin’s “great tragedy”. The description certainly falls right on the breeding ground of the memories of the 90s amongst the Kremlin-alligned Russians.

It can be concluded that the combination of traditional and hybrid methods is already a feature of any armed conflict. Moreover, if the latter can be used without the open use of military force, the classic fighting without hybrid – no longer exists. A striking example – the conflict in Syria. At the first stage, the internal Syrian conflict was transformed into armed opposition. Then, with the support of foreign instructors it was organized. Subsequently, terrorist organizations organized and supplied from abroad entered the confrontation against government troops.

It’s interesting to see how often the Russians talk about themselves when talking about others. This was exactly what they did in Ukraine. 

In doing so, the organizers of aggression remain in the shadows. The implementation of such plans prevented the Russian Federation’s accession to the conflict on the side of the legitimate government of Syria. It is particularly important that the actions of the Russian VKS selective groups, proportionate to the conditions of the situation, strikes are only military targets. While the results are exaggerated by our opponents, there are no grounds for accusing Russia of violating humanitarian law.

Defending Russian actions, that indeed violated humanitarian law, specially some of the bombings.

Syria’s experience confirmed that hybrid warfare requires high-tech weapons. The armed forces are effective if they have the ability to solve problems with minimal involvement of the military component.

The word here should be “asymmetric.” 

The civil war in Syria has long turned into a regional conflict, which to date, according to experts, has acquired global significance. In circumstances where each party are global players with significant resources, the fighting could continue for a long time. Therefore, only Russia and the United States are able to stop the war in Syria, despite the fact that they have different political interests and goals. Joint US and Russian proposals for a cessation of hostilities are realistic. They are designed, taking into account that he participants agree it has to stop. For this, the actions of our air and space forces, as well as of the Syria’s government troops and detachments of the patriotic opposition convinced the USA. All parties to the conflict need to agree.

The Russian and American sides held a significant preparatory work, to the cessation of hostilities came into effect. We exchanged the necessary data about the opposition groups and the areas they occupied for the ceasefire. In addition, we developed a common understanding of the boundaries of the territories controlled by the IS, which is banned in Russia, and the “Dzhebhat en-Nusra”. Fire attacks against these groups will continue. The US and Russian military have found mutual understanding, and I hope that our co-operation to maintain the cessation of hostilities will also be fruitful.


The trend of development of traditional and especially hybrid wars has caused the need for amending the Defence organization. The armed defense of the state, including the preparation for it, can not be exhausted only by military means and requires consolidation of efforts by practically all branches of the government. In this regard, the leadership of the country has adopted a number of important decisions aimed at unification of inter-agency efforts to ensure national security.

More about this below, but basically it’s about the military taking control of civilian institutions if necessary by the National Defense Control Center (NDCC).

The major consolidating element became the “defense plan of the Russian Federation.” It combines virtually all the general plans developed by the federal bodies of executive power program-planning documents in this area. For its standard fastening made the necessary changes to the legislation that allowed the General Staff to organize the work on the preparation of the “Defense Plan for 2016-2020”, which was approved by the President and entered into force on 1 January. These new approaches allow to take into account all the potential opportunities and to apply them systematically in the country. First of all it concerns the increase of efficiency of deterrence and prevention of military conflicts.

It’s a very comprehensive document. Basically, the main lines are the same as the 2014 Doctrine, but much deeper.

The Russian nuclear arsenal remains the main factor of strategic deterrence of the aggression of potential enemies against our country and its allies. At the same time, to neutralize military dangers and threats, including the counter-pressure hybrid methods adopted as additional set of agreed national military and non-violent action. The main ones are activities aimed at strengthening our international position, maintaining and expanding Russia’s presence in the region, affecting the national interests of the country being targeted.

Is Gerasimov here clearly saying that Russia might (will?) employ Ukraine-like strategies in other countries? Makes sense. We shall be prepared.

An important instrument to prevent military conflicts has an extension of Russia’s cooperation with foreign countries in the interest of collective security. We are well aware that most of today’s problems in this area is not only related to our state. They are of a multilateral character, becoming of a regional or even global scale. Their solution cannot depend solely on the efforts of our country.

Of course, our government is able to ensure the protection of our and our allies’ national interests including by using of military force. At the same time, the Russian Federation is committed to the international legal norms and equal responsibility for what is happening in the world among all parties.

Is it?

In Russia, the thesis of the need for joint activities focused on the improvement of regional and global security in the international legal field and the leading role of the UN has been constantly advancing. At the same time, we not only intend to strengthen ties with our traditional partners in the CSTO, SCO and BRICS, but also to establish a constructive partnership with all actors of international relations.


It should focus on the main component of the hybrid methods. Falsification of events, the restriction of the media are among the most effective methods of asymmetric warfare. The effect can be comparable with the results of large-scale use of troops and forces.

Absolutely. After all, although Clausewitz wrote that “war is the continuation of politics by other means”, he developed the idea as “the objective of war is political. It’s an instrument to achieve political objectives.”

Illustrative examples – inciting nationalism in Ukraine, the revolutionary unrest in the Arab world. The massive impact on the minds of people contributed to the growth of the protest potential of the population, the spread of the “color movements” in the states of North Africa, which has led to a change of political regimes in some of them.

Right, but only when there is ground for doing that. This is something the Russians seem to not understand. Let’s assume a Color Revolution can be orchestrated by a foreign country, as attack. It can only happen if there is discontentment with the regime/government/political structures. Can you imagine a Color Revolution being staged in solid democracies like, for example, Denmark? It’s possible to use minorities to cause turbulence but not to overthrow the government. Syria was a different case. North Africa too. 

In conditions of global informatization, of great importance is the organization of interagency activities to neutralize the negative impact on the consciousness of the population, especially young citizens of the country, undermining the historical, spiritual and patriotic tradition of protecting the Fatherland.

Because the young ones are exactly those who want change!

The increase in hybrid threats determines the urgency of enhancing the efficiency of territorial defense. In this regard, there are some national measures. According to the introduced changes to the legislation, along with the Armed Forces, other troops and military formations to territorial defense forces and resources involved in all of the federal executive bodies, regional administrations and local authorities. This will allow during the immediate threat of aggression to strengthen measures to combat foreign private military companies, sabotage groups and terrorist organizations.

We needed a scientific study of the forms and methods of applying interagency groups, regarding the actions of military and non-kinetic components of territorial defense in possible crisis situations in a matter of days or even hours. This in turn requires almost immediate response from putting the country’s leadership not only to the armed forces, but also the resources of almost all ministries and departments. In order to consolidate the efforts of federal executive bodies it is of paramount importance to establish a clear centralized management of the components of national defense.

NATO needs one too.

As you know, for more than two years of functioning of national defense control center operating system distributed situational centers of the state. One of its tasks – ensuring the work of the military and political leadership of the country in the period of crisis, thus the operational coordination of activities of ministries and departments. The participation of Military Science is also necessary. It is important to note that in spite of the increasing importance of non-military measures to resolve inter-state conflicts, the role of the Armed Forces in ensuring the security of the country is not reduced, but only increases. Therefore, the requirements for expanding their capabilities.

If needed, the National Defense Control Center (NDCC) may take control of more than 55 civilian agencies. Some sources say 58. This means taking control of the government, thus of the country. About Military Science, he’s slapping it. More below.

Today, the Armed Forces must be prepared to defend the interests of the state in a military conflict of any scale with the widespread use by the adversary of both traditional and hybrid methods of warfare. Must adopt and implement all the necessary solutions to enhance the combat capabilities of the army and navy. Priority is given to high-tech components. At the same time one of the important areas of construction, development and training of the Armed Forces becomes giving them the ability to operate effectively in non-traditional environments. It is not only capacity building response to asymmetric tactics. You must learn to act so as to effectively confront the enemy and neutralize the implicit strengths of high-tech.

Arguing on the application of new forms and methods of warfare, we must not forget the experience of domestic guerrilla forces during the Great Patriotic War, the struggle with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. It also may include peacekeeping and combating terrorist acts. Particularly relevant is the Crimean and the Syrian experience.


An important role in enhancing the combat readiness of the Armed Forces to play a military science. It is necessary to increase its importance in the development of promising directions of development of military art, solving the acute problems of the Armed Forces.

Military science has always distinguished the ability to see and open issues at the stage of their appearance, their ability to quickly work out. Unfortunately, this quality has been lost. Now in solving practical problems of military authorities are not always able to rely on the results of the preliminary scientific study. Therefore one of the tasks of these bodies on the management of military science – to ensure relevance of research to create the necessary conditions for this.

He is very much right. It seems to be the result of a common plague in the former Warsaw Pact’s space: academic gerontocracy. It affects the way younger researchers work too. There are too options. a. You don’t publish much because you work in some think tank way. This is fine, but you don’t test the quality of your work being peer reviewed by colleagues from other countries and institutions. While you have clients, it works; b. You publish only in your institution’s publication. It’s scientific council, i.e. your own colleagues, all also members of the gerontocracy, vote and approve your work as “science”. Quack Science! Here’s a blog with interesting examples of quack science:

This field of Russian Military Science still focus too much on WWII. The writings about New Generation Warfare are more conceptual and, indeed, there’s a considerable lack of more practical articles. 

Today, we get invaluable combat experience in Syria. It is necessary to analyze it in the types and kinds of troops both at the operational and tactical level, hold a scientific conference on the results of the military operations.

It should focus on promising new directions of military research, the development of forms of strategic actions of the Armed Forces, combat in space and information space, the development of requirements for advanced weapons and control systems.

He’s right.

Major efforts should be made to ensure that the tasks were solved at a high scientific and intellectual level. It is particularly important that research results are translated into operational practice of the Armed Forces. We can not accept a situation where scientific plans are carried out, and the problems remain unsolved. The main result – shorter reports and new ideas, reasonable proposals.

The most important role in solving the problems in the interests of defense plays the Academy of Military Sciences. Especially important is its contribution to the study of the nature of modern warfare, and strategic deterrence problems. Without exaggeration, we can say that the demand of the General Staff in collaboration with the Academy of Military Sciences of activity will only increase. We have to solve a lot of important and complex tasks.

Gerasimov seems to be more worried with deterrence, Russia being attacked, then with conducting New Generation Warfare. This makes sense. There is a growing literature in Russia about conducting NGW, but not about how to defend your country (Russia). In this sense, it’s wrong to believe Russia doesn’t have doctrine (as we in the West call it; for Russians doctrine is a different document) about hybrid/New Generation Warfare. It has. Just look to Ukraine. However, it’s fair to conclude it doesn’t have plans for defending itself. 

Valery Gerasimov , Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, General of the Army


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