Tag Archives: ZAPAD-2021

The New Russian Security Concept and the ZAPAD-2021 Exercises

This week the Annual Conference of the International Society for Military Sciences is taking place. I’ll present a paper I’m still working called ” The New Russian Security Concept and the ZAPAD-2021 Exercises.” Click here to see the presentation. The abstract is:

Since Crimea’s annexation by Russia in 2014, the West has been trying to understand better Russia’s military strategy at both the micro and the macro, or grand strategic, levels. This is often done by framing Russian statements, documents, and actions within Western theories and concepts, including popular concepts in the West such as Hybrid Warfare, Greyzone Warfare, A2AD, to cite a few. Another issue is the prevalent idea, especially among non-academics, that the Russian security and defense documents are merely empty rhetoric for internal consumption. Anecdotally, it results in the “they know” axiom, implying that the Russian political and military elite are aware that NATO and, especially the United States, have no intention of attacking Russia and manipulating internal and external audiences to get political leverage.

This results in some grave methodological problems. First, the Russian strategic documents have a different hierarchy than the Western equivalent. For example, the Russian military doctrine deals with issues at the macro level, i.e., politics and grand strategy. In contrast, the operational level is discussed within what the Russians call Military Science. In other words, it is not possible to evaluate what is and what is not considered operational. The same applies to the question of other security and defense documents being empty rhetoric.

One way to solve this issue is to compare these documents, including the military, scientific debates, with reality on the ground, i.e., operations and exercises. This allows verifying the extent of the security and defense document’s narratives being reflected in actual actions. Another issue is the revealed preoccupations of the Russian security and defense elite is a hypothetical “hybrid” attack by NATO. Thus, it is necessary to evaluate Russia’s internal idiosyncratic fragilities that would give ground for real concerns of a hypothetical hybrid (in the West understanding of the term) attack’s feasibility and possible success.

To do that, this paper relies on qualitative and quantitative analysis. First, the texts of the Russian 2000, 2010, and 2014 Military Doctrine and the 2000, 2009, 2015, 2021 National Security Concept were tokenized using R. The tokenized lists were cleaned of common stopwords and some expressions with high frequency but without explicative meanings. Word clouds were made to compare the change of narratives within years giving a robust visualization of the main issues forming narratives. It followed a textual qualitative analysis of the most recent documents to find other specific points forming a narrative. The next step was to identify Russia’s internal fragilities. Since there is a lack of aggregate data about social issues from Russian sources, the European Social Study was used. In Russia’s case, it provides data for five rounds: 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2016. Russia did not take part in the most recent round (2018). Data was tested, aggregated, and plotted using R. Finally, a qualitative analysis of the ZAPAD exercises was done to determine its scenario. The final step was to compare narratives, internal fragilities, and the exercise’s features.

The results showed that the ZAPAD-2021 exercises reflected the narratives present in the primary security and defense documents. They also showed a non-quantitative correlation with Russia’s internal fragilities. A first conclusion is that the Russian security and defense elite is aware of the country’s internal fragilities being a possible conduit to destabilization operations in Russian territory that might escalate into open military conflict. This led to the second conclusion that national grassroots movements might be considered a foreign attack, and military escalation follows. Third, conventional military capabilities are core to Russian defense strategy and include conventional and unconventional means in a whole of society approach.