Putin’s Presidential Re-Election and Future Warfare Capabilities

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 41

Army-General (retired) Makhmut Gareev (Source: rsute.ru)

Presidential candidate and Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, elaborated a detailed agenda for Russia’s defense and security priorities for his widely anticipated next term in office. The lengthy article on February 20 in Rossiyskiya Gazeta covered important aspects of defense, including the modernization of the nuclear deterrent and plans to further improve social conditions for serving military personnel as well as redressing the technological lag between Russia and the West. However, Putin’s references to Russian views on the development in the future of new approaches to the means and methods of conducting warfare require further consideration of the influences and the nature of this debate within the political-military elite (Rossiyskiya Gazeta, February 20).

Putin, in the wider context of his lengthy article on defense, referred to the need for Russian military science to be  forward thinking; in his view the challenge is to examine the likely conceptual evolution of warfare over the next thirty to fifty years. Some of the specifics, nonetheless, appeared to border on a hybrid between Dr. Strangelove and the archetypal villain from a James Bond movie; inter alia harnessing new warfare capabilities that would be more destructive than nuclear weapons but politically “acceptable” in their use, to developing psychological weapons or even causing natural disasters in distant continents. The roots of this thinking lie in the ongoing efforts by the top brass to lift Russian military science from its sloth to meet the numerous challenges stemming from post-modern warfare, and calls within the leading research establishments to understand the nature of these processes (Rossiyskiya Gazeta, February 20;  Voyenno-Promyshlennyy Kuryer, February 7; Interfax, January 28).

On January 28, Army-General Nikolai Makarov, the Chief of the General Staff and Deputy Defense Minister, addressed the Academy of Military Science. Makarov’s speech touched upon themes he has previously aired in public, notably the need to adopt network-centric capabilities and to revive the defense industry in order to facilitate realizing the highly ambitious tasks declared in the rearmament plans to 2020  (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, February 17; Interfax, January 28).

However, during the same event in Moscow on January 28, Makarov found broad support for key features of these views from the President of the Academy of Military Sciences, Army-General (retired) Makhmut Gareev, widely regarded as the country’s foremost military theorist. Gareev noted that the threat environment was undergoing dramatic shifts and that conflict can emerge suddenly and without the long lead time traditionally associated with the outbreak of war. In particular, Gareev wanted to answer the near hysteria in some media coverage of remarks by Makarov in relation to the nuclear deterrent. In his view there was little that had been controversial in Makarov’s comments on Moscow’s resort to nuclear first use in certain circumstances, but the nature of the debate is moving beyond nuclear weapons and into sixth generation warfare. As Moscow examines the trends in US and NATO combat operations, it is increasingly clear that “no contact” network-centric warfare has arrived and will only further develop especially in response to the threat environment in the future and initiatives such as US Global Prompt Strike (Voyenno-Promyshlennyy Kuryer, February 7).

Unsurprisingly, Gareev returned to the deep shock experienced in June 1941, and the lessons drawn from the Great Patriotic War (GPW), but noted that unlike in the GPW it is now impossible to allocate combat subunits to rear services. Makarov, in his view, has rightly criticized existing approaches to operational art, which was locked into the terms of attack or defense, and had nothing to offer to other new mission types. Gareev highlighted that “military force as the primary means of achieving goals will increasingly cede its place to political and other non-military means under the new conditions. In a number of cases, the employment of military force will be camouflaged, as it was in Libya, through the use of local insurgent and private military formations.” In his conclusion, Gareev defended existing methodological approaches to military sciences, but conceded that it will require new content (Voyenno-Promyshlennyy Kuryer, February 7).

Yet, the traces of Putin’s references to post-modern trends in warfare were starkly set out by one of the individuals very close to working on the belated transformation of Russian approaches to warfare. Major-General (retired) Vassily Burenok, the Director of the defense ministry’s 46th Research Institute, called for an effort to combat nano, bio, information and cognitive technologies (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, December 2, 2011). New generation technologies will profoundly impact on the manner in which war is conducted, advanced by nanotechnology, biotechnology, information and cognitive (NBIK) technologies.

Burenok explored the growing emphasis on harnessing information era modeling, expanding the entire basis for the means to conduct combat, and singled out the scientific-technical revolution in harnessing new technologies. “We are already close to the horizon beyond which forming weapons systems for new-model armies based on currently existing technology and technical assets will become a pointless activity. The scientific-technical revolution based on the use of NBIK technologies is demanding ever more insistently that we be aware of the spectrum and character of the threats engendered by these technologies, and that we correspondingly form a system to respond to these threats.” For Burenok, its implications could not be clearer, as in the future the “response system” will no longer be  a system of armaments in the usual sense of the term: “It is the integrated action of one society upon another, taking in all possible spheres of human activity, from the material to the mental; all forms of nature, both living and non-living; and all levels of knowing – the macro-world and the micro-world”(Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, December 2, 2011).

Thus, the references to advanced technologies and clear support offered to sixth generation warfare in Putin’s speech appears largely aspirational and was likely crafted to bolster political support for his re-election among some sectors of the electorate. However, having been left behind in the rush to adopt network-centric approaches to warfare, Moscow is now beginning not only to grapple with playing catch-up, but seeking to avoid falling further behind in an increasingly high-technology operational environment. Putin seems to be offering state support to move in this direction.