In a 2013 article bearing the innocuous title “The Value of Science Is in the Foresight,” Gerasimov, one of Russia’s top military leaders, spelled out his government’s intentions. “In the twenty-first century, we have seen a tendency toward blurring the lines between the states of war and peace,” he wrote. “Wars are no longer declared and, having begun, proceed according to an unfamiliar template.”
Today Russia is applying this “unfamiliar template” on multiple battlefields at once. During the Cold War, Moscow had few levers by which to manipulate American public opinion or meddle in American political campaigns. But the rise of social media created opportunities for troll farms, and poorly secured email systems offered a bonanza for hackers. According to the January 2017 assessment of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Russia interfered in 2016 to “denigrate Hillary Clinton and harm her electability” with “a clear preference for President-elect Donald Trump.” It tried to interfere in the 2018 campaign, and all evidence suggests it will do the same in 2020.
Meanwhile, Russia’s military preparations continue. In outer space, Russia has deployed weapons designed to damage or destroy U.S. satellites, the basis for a host of systems that undergird American military and economic superiority in the world. Under the waves, Russia has deployed two new classes of attack and ballistic-missile submarines that are harder to track and therefore more capable of expanding the nuclear threat right to America’s shores.
And on land, Russia has invaded and occupied territory in sovereign nations, including Ukraine and Georgia, and attempted a coup in Montenegro, threatening treaties and the rule of law that have helped keep the peace in Europe for decades.
In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea in violation of a peace agreement it had signed with Ukraine, the United States, and Europe. Months later, it then occupied large swaths of eastern Ukraine. In both cases, Moscow sent in special forces posing as something other than soldiers of the Russian Federation. The “little green men” who turned up in unmarked uniforms were supposedly helping ethnic Russians who feared for their safety in what was then part of a sovereign Ukraine, and what is still recognized as such by the United States and the West today.
In retrospect, those events should not have come as a surprise. In his article the year before, Gerasimov was remarkably specific in describing the exact tactics Russia would soon employ. “The open use of forces—often under the guise of peacekeeping and crisis regulation—is resorted to only at a certain stage, primarily for the achievement of final success in the conflict,” he wrote.
Yet for years after the end of the Cold War, leaders in the United States and other Western nations were willfully blind to Russia’s hostility. They fell victim to “mirroring,” imagining that the Russians—and the Chinese, for that matter—wanted what the U.S. wanted: for them to be drawn into the rules-based international order. But leaders of both Russia and China view that system as skewed toward the interests of the West. Perhaps not coincidentally, China is pursuing a strategy nearly identical to Russia’s, and with similar success—from stealing U.S. trade and government secrets to manufacturing territory in the disputed South China Sea to deploying offensive weapons in space. Only now, as these events unfold, are decision makers in the American public and private sectors abandoning misconceptions about the kind of relationship they might have with Moscow and Beijing.