In case anyone has any doubts, Moscow’s top military leader reaffirmed that Russia is engaged in a permanent war with the United States.
In a recent speech at the Moscow Academy of Military SciencesGeneral Valery Gerasimov, Russian Chief of Staff, issued a three-part warning to the United States. He broadened the Moscow definition of war, threatened the nuclear option, and invented a US-sponsored “fifth column” that would intend to destabilize Russia.
Gerasimov followed in Soviet footsteps in describing America as Russia’s main enemy and said there were no essential differences between open war and opaque peace.
In peacetime, war is simply waged by non-military means through covert operations of influence and disinformation – what some have defined as hybrid or asymmetric attacks.
Gerasimov said Moscow is on the verge of escalating its non-military war against the United States while preparing for a military confrontation through a vast build-up of weapons. The goal is to weaken America’s global reach, disrupt American alliances, and expand Russian influence.
Moscow’s current military build-up is bolstered by greater use of sub-military warfare, including cyber, economic and information weapons. In particular, the “information sphere”, which lacks clear national borders, offers possibilities for persistent covert attacks against the United States, including its political system and public opinion.
In preparing for the US presidential elections in November 2020, Moscow will seek to discredit candidates who call for tougher economic sanctions and other vigorous responses against the Kremlin aggression. It will also attempt to deepen partisan divisions, foster racial and religious animosities and discredit the mainstream media by sowing disinformation.
Moscow claims its operations are a response to an information warfare escalated by the Pentagon and CIA despite US agencies failing to engage in offensive actions. Russian officials accuse Washington of pursuing “color revolutions” in various regions to force regime change and NATO expansion.
In reality, the Kremlin is appalled by anti-authoritarian rebellions in neighboring states like Ukraine and is unable to question the attractiveness of NATO and the EU to its former satellites.
According to Gerasimov, Moscow’s response will consist of a “preventive neutralization” of such threats to Russia‘s neighbors. To this end, he announced a “limited action strategy” which expands military operations beyond Russia’s borders using highly mobile forces.
At a Senate hearing on March 8US General Curtis Scaparrotti, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said America and its allies must redouble their efforts to counter threats from Russia. He underlined the importance of cyber warfare in the defense of critical infrastructure and financial and transport networks.
Scaparrotti also confirmed that Moscow uses a “whole of society” approach to warfare that includes the use of political provocateurs, information operations, economic intimidation, cyber operations, proxies, operations. special forces, conventional military units and nuclear forces.
Gerasimov’s recent speech underscored the importance of expanding Russia’s nuclear arsenal and developing new “super weapons”, including:
- the Sarmat multi-warhead heavy intercontinental missile;
- Avangard Hypersonic Strike Weapons;
- new air-launched ballistic missiles;
- nuclear-weapon submarine drone torpedoes;
- the nuclear-powered long-range nuclear cruise missile; and
- hypersonic missiles capable of penetrating US missile defenses.
The collapse of several nuclear weapons agreements, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, due to violations committed by Russia, gives Moscow the green light to strengthen its nuclear capabilities.
Since it cannot compete financially with NATO in conventional warfare, it relies on first-strike nuclear options, especially at the battlefield level. And because Moscow will not be victorious in an all-out arms race with the United States, it can focus on nuclear blackmail in the belief that the West will back down and allow it to exercise dominance over territory close to the United States. borders of Russia.
In the third part of his warning, Gerasimov attacked Washington for employing Russian opposition groups to overthrow the regime and demolish the country. This conspiracy theory justifies the use of the Russian military against both domestic opposition and the Western alliance.
The alleged US offensive, dubbed the “Trojan Horse,” plans to mobilize a fifth column to destabilize Russia and, when the time is right, will be backed up by precision-guided cruise missiles to destroy government targets.
Such imaginative scenarios give Moscow a valuable pretext to step up its crackdown on national opposition described as US-sponsored covert operations.
President Vladimir Putin becomes particularly dangerous when her domestic support is declining, like even official opinion polls indicate, while members of the elite begin to question his leadership. At such times, he needs a foreign victory to restore confidence and legitimacy.
However, by putting Russia on a war footing in an attempt to compete with NATO, the Kremlin risks pushing Russia into economic ruin and state disintegration, much like the achievements of the Soviet leadership in the late 1980s.
Janusz Bugajski is a senior researcher at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) in Washington, DC His recent book, co-authored with Margarita Assenova, is “Eurasian Disunion: Russia’s Vulnerable Flanks” (Jamestown, 2016). Follow him on Twitter: @JBugajskiUSA.