November 4, 2016

The Duality and Cynicism of Russia's “Hybrid” Policy and Practice

Ivan Sichen, Military and Political Expert

In their previous publications, the experts of the Independent Analytical Center for Geopolitical Studies “Borysfen Intel” have repeatedly pointed out the critical nature of the effects for Russia of the West's sanctions, which were imposed on Moscow after the annexation of the Crimea and occupation of the Donbas. At present, this problem is especially acute for the Putin regime in connection with the USA and the EU's latest warning about the possibility of new international sanctions against the Russian Federation, including because of the Kremlin's actions in Syria, qualified by leading experts of Western countries and international organizations as military crimes.

This makes Russia change (adapt) the strategy and tactics in relations with the USA and the EU, and, to some extent, with Ukraine and Syria, in terms of the Putin regime's turning to demonstration of “Moscow's peaceful intentions” as well as “the Kremlin's willingness to concessions” to its opponents in resolving the “Ukrainian” and “Syrian” issues. In particular, one of the manifestations of such policy of the Kremlin was a speech by Russian President V. Putin at the next meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club on 26th October, 2016, in Sochi.

Within the framework of “flirting” with the West, V. Putin stressed “Russia's having no plans for global domination in the world and attacking any country” and called on the political forces of the Russian Federation “to reduce the degree of propaganda aimed at aggravating the confrontation between Russia and NATO”. In the same context, V. Putin agreed to the expansion of the “Normandy Group”, including by inviting the United States to participate in it.

At this, the Russian President called the Russians and Ukrainians, “...one people, who have been forcefully divided and a wedge has been driven between them”. Who exactly drove that wedge, V. Putin did not specify, although it is absolutely clear to everyone even without his public statements.

Such statements by the President of the Russian Federation and other Russian politicians' similar statements have already been considered by a number of Western experts as “Moscow's strategic retreat” and “the Kremlin's willingness to leave not only the Donbas, but also the Crimea”. This forecast has been provided even by the analysts of the American “private intelligence service” — a well-known geo-political, intelligence and consulting platform Stratfor, which at some point of time “in a well-argued manner” predicted “the collapse of Ukraine”.

In reality, Moscow's policy is quite different — cynical and ambivalent. Evidence of this is Russia's actions in Ukraine and Syria, the Putin regime's attempts to influence the EU's policy and to destabilize the situation in the Balkans, the practical building up the forces of the RF Armed Forces in western parts of the country, as well as a demonstration of military force to the US and Europe, and outright blackmail, including in the nuclear sphere.

Thus, during the negotiations of the “Normandy Four” on the 19th of October in Berlin, as well as the meetings of the Tripartite Contact Group on 26th October 2016 in Minsk, Russia showed “readiness” to make a conciliatory gesture to Ukraine. In particular, first V. Putin, and then his authorized representative in the Tripartite Contact Group B. Gryzlov agreed to the possible deployment of units of the OSCE Police Mission, armed with military service weapon, on the sections of the front, from where their forces would be disengaged, as well as in the places of the deployment of the withdrawn forces, military equipment and heavy weapons. At the same time, the leaders of the so-called “DPR” and “LPR” announced the suspension of local “elections” in the breakaway republics, which had been planned to be hold on the basis of their own “laws” November 6, 2016.

But all this was only a “screen” to cover Russia's real goals in regard to Ukraine in the Donbas, which have not changed at all. These goals were stated by B. Gryzlov during the first (after the talks of the leaders of the “Normandy Four” countries on October 19, 2016 in Berlin) meeting of the Tripartite Contact Group on 26 October, 2016 in Minsk. B. Gryzlov initiated (in fact, demanded) at the next meeting on 9 November 2016, to finalize the procedure for the entry into force “of the law on the special status” of certain areas of Donetsk and Lugansk regions, based on “Steinmeier's formula” (which, in fact, provides for holding local elections in the breakaway republics before resolving security issues).

Besides, Russia has clearly shown its having no intentions whatsoever to carry out the agreements reached as a result of the meeting of the “Normandy Four” in Berlin. Thus, according to instructions from Moscow, the leaders of the so-called “DPR” and “LPR” came up with their own vision of the “road map” to resolve the situation in the Donbas, which is completely different from the Ukrainian one and, in fact, is identical to the Russian one. In addition, the Russian media explained the motivation of the actions of the occupying authorities of the self-proclaimed republics, concerning the abolition of local elections, as waiting for Ukraine's agreeing on “Steinmeier's formular”.

All this was accompanied and confirmed by another Russia's activating hostilities in the conflict zone in the Donbas after the demonstrative reduce of the intensity of daily shelling of the positions of the ATO forces on the day of negotiations of the “Normandy Four”. For example, on the eve of and during the meeting of the Tripartite Contact Group on 26 October 2016 in Minsk, the intensity of such attacks had increased to more than 70 a day — in fact, twice as many as before the announcement of the ceasefire.

At this, the top sheer cynicism of Moscow and its puppets from the so-called “DPR” and “LPR” was the provocative shelling of Makiivka (under the control of militants) on 27 October 2016, which led to significant civilian casualties. The above-mentioned was used by Russia as one more reason for accusing Ukraine of violation of the Minsk agreements, delaying the withdrawal of Russian-terrorist troops from the front line, and another putting pressure on Ukraine.

Russia's policy in Syria is similar. Thus, after the USA and EU's warnings about the possibility of introduction of sanctions against Russia over the “Syrian” issue, Moscow announced and several times prolonged the “humanitarian pause” in the bombing of the city of Aleppo. However, according to the international humanitarian organizations, such bombings have continued to occur. Moreover, on 26 October 2016, planes of Russia's Air-Space Forces and the Assad regime's air forces attacked a school in the Syrian city of Idlib, killing 22 students and 6 teachers.

October 29, 2016, under the pretext of “fighting back the insurgents' offensive”, Russia and B. Assad's regime resumed bombardment of Aleppo. At the same time, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned the US and the EU about Moscow's being ready to give an “asymmetric response” in case of strengthening of sanctions against Russia. For its part, the Russian Federation's Ministry of Defenсe expressed its intention to consider possible requests for military assistance from Iraq and Libya.

Besides, Russia continues to actively support pro-Russian forces in the former Soviet territories. In particular, the result of this was the actual victory of the leader of the Socialist Party of the Republic of Moldova I. Dodon, known for his openly pro-Russian position. In the first round of presidential elections I. Dodon won 47.98 % of votes, while his main rival — the leader of the “Action and Solidarity” pro-Western party M. Sandu — 38.71 % of the vote. Despite the appointment of the second round of elections for November 13, 2016, the experts are sure that the elections will be won by I. Dodon. During his election campaign, he has already said that “the Crimea belongs to Russia” and expressed his intention to turn Moldova's foreign policy course from the West to Russia.

Along with support for pro-Russian forces and provoking conflicts in post-Soviet countries, the Putin regime is making efforts to strengthen Russia's positions in the Balkans and to destabilize the region. Thus, October 14-15, 2016, in Serbia, was detained a group of Russian citizens involved in organizing a coup in Montenegro (recently became a member of NATO and a candidate for membership in the EU), which was scheduled for the day of parliamentary elections in the country October 16, 2016).

Besides, the leaderships of the European Union and of individual European countries accuse Russia of trying to undermine stability in Europe, and of its effort to influence their foreign policy. In particular, according to statements by the Minister of National Defence of Poland A. Macierewicz, “...the Russian Federation's military activity and aggressive actions have an unprecedented level; at this, Moscow has consistently sought to destabilize Europe”.

 

Against the background of the above-mentioned actions, Russia continues to build up groups of its troops in the western parts of the country, especially near the border with Ukraine. According to the plans of the Russian Defence Ministry, by the end of 2016 it is planned to complete the deployment of three new Divisions in the Western Military District, and one Division in the Southern Military District of Russia's Armed Forces. In addition, after the deterioration of relations with the West over the “Syrian” issue, Moscow sent into the Mediterranean Sea a carrier attack group of the Northern Fleet of the Russian Navy, led by the heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser “Admiral Kuznetsov”. In the North Atlantic, this group was joined by three Russian Navy submarines with cruise missiles on board (of which two are atomic and one is diesel-electric).

 

The Kremlin's actions were estimated by Director of the US National Intelligence J. Clapper at the conference at the Council on Foreign Relations, October 25, 2016 in New York City. According to him, V. Putin's regime is trying to revive Russia's role as “a superpower on a par with the US”, as it was in the days of the former Soviet Union. At this, “...the lack of the necessary resources to achieve this goal Russia is trying to compensate by increasing confrontation with the US and Europe”. Taking this into consideration, J. Clapper described the relations between Russia and the United States as very bad — in fact, at the level of the “cold war.” In this context, as the biggest problems he mentioned the parties' differences regarding Ukraine and Syria. Besides, J. Clapper confirmed that the US Intelligence Service has data on Russia's attempts to influence the results of the US presidential election in favor of D. Trump.

Accordingly, the US Secretary of State J. Kerry expressed Washington's intention to continue the pressure on V. Putin's regime by maintaining political and economic sanctions against the Russian Federation. According to J. Kerry, the USA has every opportunity to apply additional restrictions against Russia if it expands the scale of its armed aggression against Ukraine or intensifying fighting in Syria.

In turn, taking into consideration Moscow's violation of the agreements on ceasefire in Ukraine and in Syria, the EU's leadership refused to review the sanctions policy regarding Russia in October 2016, which had been planned earlier and on which Russia had counted so much. Moreover, during the European Union Summit of October 21, 2016, it was agreed to strengthen pressure on Moscow over the “Syrian” issue. At this, most of the leading EU countries, except Italy, spoke about the need for additional sanctions against the Russian Federation.

However, the head of the European Parliament Committee E. Brock pointed out the expediency of prolongation of sanctions against Russia in December of this year for the entire year 2017. According to him, this will demonstrate the EU's decisiveness and “...will deprive V. Putin's regime of illusions of the possibility of rapid exit from under the pressure from the West”.

Against this background, Moscow's hopes for a possibility of radical changes in Washington's policy after the presidential elections in the USA (November 8, 2016) are not coming true. Thus, according to the experts (including the Russian Federation's Foreign Ministry's leadership), the US foreign policy will actually remain unchanged whatever the election results in the country. Evidence of this is D. Trump's giving up his open support of Russia, which displeases the predominant part of the American population, especially after the Putin regime's violation of the peace agreements regarding Syria and the Donbas.

 

In general, the above-mentioned circumstances nullify all the Kremlin's expectations for the abolition or weakening of the US and EU's sanctions against the Russian Federation in the nearest future. In turn, preservation of such sanctions may result in critical worsening of the economic situation in Russia already in 2017 after the exhaustion of most of the country's financial reserves. In particular, due to the lack of money, the RF government already had to cut planned expenditures from the 2017-2019 Federal budget not only in education and health care (by 40-45 %), but also in the military sphere (by nearly 30 %).

Despite the above-mentioned, Russia will never give up its plans for Ukraine and Syria, as it would actually mean Putin's regime's political collapse. With this in mind, we should expect that Moscow will intensify its actions both, in Ukraine, and in Syria, in order to have implemented its plans before a large-scale financial-economic and humanitarian crisis with unpredictable consequences begins in Russia.

In this context, taking into consideration Ukraine's categorical rejection of the Russian approach to the “settlement of the conflict in the Donbas” (provides a formal return of the self-proclaimed republics into Ukraine, while maintaining Russia's control over them), Russia will focus on a large-scale destabilization of the situation in Ukraine with the aim of creating conditions for the pro-Russian forces' returning to power in our Country.

Such a scenario was implemented by Moscow in the Republic of Moldova during the last presidential elections in that country. At the same time, in the Ukrainian case, Russia can resort to much more radical actions (as it had been planned in Montenegro), because most of the population of Ukraine is violently opposed to V. Putin's regime.

Such actions may include: attempted assassinations of representatives of the state leadership of Ukraine; organization of large-scale terrorist attacks on the entire territory of our State (including in crowded places and at critical infrastructure facilities); provoking and supporting separatism and federalism in other regions of Ukraine (in particular, in Trans-Carpathia), as well as a significant expansion of the scale of the armed conflict in the Donbas. At this, Russia can increase the magnitude and aggressiveness of hostilities in Syria — to ensure B. Assad's regime's military success.

 

Along with this, in case of uncontrolled processes in Russia, V. Putin's regime may go to extreme measures, including a full-scale offensive against Ukraine and even a war against the US and NATO. A scenario of such a war, including with the use of nuclear weapons, was mastered by Moscow in the “Caucasus-2016” Strategic Command and Staff Exercises in September this year. Besides, Russia has actually created and in a certain sense has tested the needed for this forces in the west of the country and in the Mediterranean Sea.

The possibility of such a prospect is suggested by both the inadequacy of Putin and his regime, and the whole history of the former Soviet Union. Thus, at the beginning of a new history of Russia — after the October Coup of 1917 — one of the leaders of the Bolsheviks L. Trotsky said: “...We will leave but we will slam the door so hard the whole Europe will shudder". Everyone also remembers how in 1962 the then leader of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev nearly unleashed a nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis.

In fact, V. Putin is similar, to realize his pathological imperial ambitions or out of despair he will stop at nothing, even at the threat of nuclear destruction of Russia and the whole world.

Surely this is well understood in the USA and in Europe...