Army General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of Russia’s General Staff (CGS) and first deputy defense minister, has been chosen as the new president of the Academy of Military Sciences (Akademii Voyennykh Nauk—AVN). This does not mean Gerasimov has left his current position as CGS; he will hold the presidency of the AVN in tandem and likely beyond his military retirement. Gerasimov, 65, was appointed CGS in November 2012 and is the longest-serving occupant of the post since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But Gerasimov’s new role as simultaneous head of the AVN marks an important step in the consolidation and further development of the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (Krasnaya Zvezda, January 22, 2021).
The AVN was formed in 1994 and received state recognition the following year, serving as a means to bring military scientists together as well as to promote research and discussion among defense and security specialists. It reportedly numbers 3,300 members. Until his death in December 2019, the last AVN president was the highly esteemed Russian military theorist Army General Makhmut Gareev. On December 25, 2020, the membership of the AVN elected Gerasimov as their new president (Krasnaya Zvezda, January 22, 2021). This is a remarkable step, though it appears to have been motivated by Gerasimov’s years-long track record of heavily promoting the AVN as a vehicle to further Russian military capabilities as well as to revive interest in military science and military art. Indeed, the sitting CGS has repeatedly used the venue of the Academy’s annual general assembly to deliver important keynote addresses that discussed the future of warfare as well as appealed to Russian specialists in military affairs to innovate (see EDM, April 3, 2018, March 6, 2019, February 26, 2020).
In campaigning for the presidency of the AVN, Gerasimov argued that the institution should become “a large all-Russian military scientific center, contributing to the solution of priority geopolitical, military-strategic, military-economic and innovation-technological problems in the interests of defense of the country.” Nonetheless, according to Oleg Falichev, writing in Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, under Gerasimov’s presidency the AVN will probably continue to focus on conducting “fundamental, exploratory and applied scientific research on topical problems of military art, military organizational development and organizational development of the Armed Forces, military command and control, the development of weapons and military equipment, and military history” (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, January 19, 2021).
Gerasimov’s latest efforts to influence and shape the future development of Russian military thinking are heavily tied to the priorities he has set for the Russian Armed Forces’ most prestigious and elite think tank, the Center for Military-Strategic Research Under the General Staff (Tsentr Voyenno-Strategicheskikh Issledovaniy Generalnogo Shtaba Vooruzhennykh Sil’ Rossiyskoy Federatsii—TsVSI GSh) (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, October 4, 2019). In a January 2020 interview marking the 35th anniversary of the Center, its head, Major General Aleksandr Somolvy, noted that the TsVSI’s “creation was motivated by the need to search for solutions to problems of a military-political and military-strategic nature on the basis of comprehensive fundamental research.” The TsVSI plays a crucial role in formulating Russia’s military doctrine, shaping scenarios for military exercises, and carrying out research on the means and methods of future warfare, including identifying trends in foreign militaries (Arms-expo.ru, January 26, 2020).
Somolvy added, “Today, the Center is the initiator of the development of promising breakthrough ideas in the field of military science.” The head of the TsVSI also referred to Gerasimov’s role in setting its agenda: “This is forward-looking, in relation to practice, continuous, purposeful research to determine the possible nature of military conflicts, to develop a system of forms and methods of action, both military and non-military, to determine the directions for the development of weapons systems and military equipment” (Arms-expo.ru, January 26, 2020).
Furthermore, General Somolvy alluded to the non-military means playing an increasingly important role in modern conflict, though he highlighted the continued and long-term importance of hard-power. He seems to have argued that Moscow has developed its own variant of “multi-domain warfare,” though he used slightly different terms: “Particular attention should be paid to the redistribution of roles between the spheres of armed confrontation [through] the use of the principle of polysphere, which is implemented not only in traditional environments, on land, in the sea, air, space and cyberspace, but also in new ones—social, digital, energy and others.” He continued, “I would like to note that the principle of polysphere has now been implemented by the Russian Armed Forces in interspecific groupings of troops (forces) deployed in strategic directions. It was possible to combine forces and means operating in all spheres of armed confrontation under the unified leadership of the commanders of the military districts and the Northern Fleet long before the concepts were adopted by foreign countries” (Arms-expo.ru, January 26, 2020).
The TsVSI’s research focus is rooted in analysis of modern wars to decipher the possible trends and lessons that may benefit the Russian General Staff. These include:
- Correlation, interconnections and contradictions between military and non-military methods of resolving crisis situations in the current unpredictable international situation.
- Strategic views and capabilities of the leading states (coalitions) to prepare, unleash and conduct wars and military operations.
- The goals and objectives of the Armed Forces in military operations of a strategic scale, as well as the necessary means to achieve them.
- The content, methods, and conditions of preparation and conduct of war in general, as well as various forms of military (combat) actions.
- The basis of the constituent parts of military art are the forms of application and methods of operations of troops. What is the relationship between weapons, forms and methods of armed struggle?
- The direct influence of progress on the development of weapons, military equipment and means of destruction does not require proof. Today, the leading states of the world have practically already switched from a strategy of mass use of manpower to the targeted use of effective means of armed struggle with a lower expenditure of human resources (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, October 4, 2019).
Many of these themes will be carried forward and promoted by Gerasimov in the future, when he finally retires. This is likely to see more coordination and synergy between the AVN and the TsVSI. It is clear that Gerasimov will continue to play a strongly influential role in the development of Russian military thought and capability, which is likely to prove a formidable challenge for his successor at the head of the General Staff.