Moscow Mobilizes the Science of Strategic Foresight

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 14 Issue: 46

Army General Valery Gerasimov, Russian chief of the General Staff (Source: The Duran)

Since the Russian seizure of Crimea, many Western analysts have come to habitually scrutinize the annual speeches of Army General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff. This focus was initially prompted by his 2013 address to the Academy of Military Sciences and his alleged articulation of a “Gerasimov doctrine,” often seen in the West as evidence of Russian “hybrid warfare.” But the series of annual speeches and follow-up articles by Gerasimov need to be seen in context to avoid reading into their content potentially dangerous interpretations of his views on Russian military science. In the latest iteration, Gerasimov’s most recent speech to the Academy of Military Sciences and the complementary article in Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer reference the context and the work of his predecessor, Army General Nikolai Makarov, and writings by the Academy’s president, Army General (retired) Makhmut Gareev (see EDM, March 5, 2013).

On March 4, Gerasimov addressed the annual assembly of the Academy of Military Sciences in Moscow; his presentation was titled “Contemporary Warfare and Current Problems of the Defense of Our Country.” On March 14, his speech was revamped for an article in Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, titled “Mir na granyakh voyny” (The World Is on the Brink of War). The title is misleading, as the piece never suggests that the General Staff believes global or large-scale war is imminent. In fact, Gerasimov outlines current challenges in order to highlight the need to forecast future conflict. Given the systemic reform of the Russian Armed Forces, initiated in 2008, it is unsurprising that his direct predecessor, Army General Makarov, was using this platform to advocate transforming existing Russian military science to meet modern challenges and paid close attention to strategic foresight. In his address to the Academy, Gerasimov returned to the theme of hybrid warfare as a capability in the hands of foreign powers as well as its link to developments in modern use of soft power. He then turned to consider contemporary conflict and appealed to Russia’s military theorists and specialists to further study this reality (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, March 14).

Gerasimov offered as the bedrock of his thinking the assertion that when recent conflicts are analyzed their core component remains “military violence,” referring to the United States’ interventions in Yugoslavia and in Iraq. He noted that modern conflict demands detailed study and referred to a roundtable on the issue planned on the sidelines of the Army 2017 exhibition, in Moscow, next August. Gerasimov paid close attention to foreign powers’ use of soft power. But when considering strategic deterrence and Russia’s military modernization, he described kinetic-based systems; high-precision weapons; command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) assets; as well as the development of electronic warfare (EW) capabilities. Gerasimov added the modernization of the nuclear triad as an important factor in limiting the danger to Russia of a wider war (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, March 14).

He then turned to the priorities facing the Academy of Military Sciences. Primarily, he called for greater strategic foresight, forming scenarios, and the ability make long-term forecasts regarding the military-political and strategic situation in the key regions of the world. Analysis of the contours of modern conflict will need to include lessons from Russia’s operations in Syria and develop new methods of applying military power in various theaters, he explained. Gerasimov suggested a separate study on organizing and deploying groups of forces to distant theaters, presumably also based on the experience of Syria (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, March 14).

The content of the Gerasimov speech and subsequent article is aimed at the wider community of Russian military theorists and military intellectuals serving in uniform, retired and civilian. These themes were echoed and reinforced by Army General Makhmut Gareev, 93, regarded as the country’s leading military theorist. Gareev’s views were shaped by his experience of the Great Patriotic War (1941–1945), and he is considered the leading member of the conservative school of theorists. His March 28 article in Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer deserves close analysis in order to understand Russian thinking on the strategic environment and how leading specialists understand Gerasimov’s appeals to the Academy (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, March 28).

Gareev’s article uses the title “Mobilizatsiya umov” (The Mobilization of Minds) and represents a remarkable appeal for the Russian political leadership to change its attitudes toward military science. As usual, while offering commentary on the contemporary strategic environment and the strengthening of Russia security, Gareev steeps his analysis in references to the Great Patriotic War. But here, his interest is in the initial period of war, which remains clouded by secrecy. Gareev alludes to the numerous mistakes made by the military-political leadership during the early phase of Nazi Germany’s Operation Barbarossa. In particular, he highlights Army General Dmitry Pavlov, who commanded the Soviet Western Front in June 1941. Pavlov was among numerous senior officers scapegoated for the early mistakes in the war, and Gareev notes his response to being questioned during his trial in 1941: asked why he failed to report to Joseph Stalin on the deployment of German troops to Soviet borders, he replied, “I reported to him what he wanted to hear from me.” Gareev implies that Russian military officers and specialists must shake off such deference to authority and speak truth to power (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, March 28).

According to Gareev, the Ministry of Defense needs to avoid stove-piping its research institutions and instead establish a scientific division of defense problems, which would unite analysis of hard and soft power. It also needs to transform the Military Scientific Committee of the Armed Forces into a Main Military Scientific Committee of the defense ministry, to raise its role and prestige and include it in the planning processes. Additionally, the defense ministry must form a Center for Scientific and Technical Information to analyze, summarize and communicate its findings to relevant agencies. Gareev interprets this to mean that the leadership of the country must fundamentally overhaul its attitudes to the use and role of military science. In other words, Russia needs high standards of military science and forecasting—but also, the political leadership needs to absorb and enforce this (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, March 28).

Judging by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s recent overview of the Armed Forces’ transformation, during his video conference at the National Defense Management Center (Natsional’nyy Tsentr Upravleniya Oboronoy—NTsUO), in Moscow, there may be a long way to go before the gap is overcome in being able to speak truth to power (, April 1;, March 27, 31). But support for Gerasimov’s appeals among military intellectuals such as Gareev may be a sign that this could change.