For Russia, war with the US never ended — and likely never will

In case anyone harbored any doubts, Moscow’s top military leader has reaffirmed that Russia is engaged in a permanent war with the United States.

In a recent speech at Moscow’s Academy of Military Science, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian general staff, issued a three-pronged warning to the United States. He broadened Moscow’s definition of war, threatened the nuclear option and invented a U.S.-sponsored “fifth column” that allegedly plans to destabilize Russia.

ADVERTISEMENT

Gerasimov followed in Soviet footsteps by describing America as Russia's main enemy and declared that there are no essential differences between open war and an opaque peace.

During peacetime, war is simply conducted by non-military means through clandestine influence and disinformation operations — what some have defined as hybrid or asymmetric attacks.

Gerasimov declared that Moscow was poised to intensify its non-military war against the U.S. while also preparing for military confrontation through an extensive arms buildup. The objective is to weaken America’s global reach, disrupt U.S. alliances and expand Russia’s influence. 

Moscow's current military buildup is reinforced by a greater use of sub-military warfare, including cyber, economic and informational weapons. In particular, the “information sphere,” which lacks clear-cut national boundaries, provides opportunities for persistent covert attacks on the U.S., including its political system and public opinion.

In gearing up for the November 2020 U.S. presidential elections, Moscow will seek to discredit candidates that seek tougher economic sanctions and other robust responses against Kremlin aggression. It will also try to deepen partisan divisions, foster racial and religious animosities and discredit the mainstream media by planting disinformation. 

Moscow claims that its operations are a response to an intensified information war by the Pentagon and the CIA despite the fact that U.S. agencies have failed to engage in offensive actions. Russian officials charge Washington with pursuing “colored revolutions” in various regions to force regime change and NATO enlargement.

In reality, the Kremlin is dismayed by anti-authoritarian rebellions in neighboring states such as Ukraine and is incapable of challenging the attractiveness of NATO and the EU among its former satellites.

According to Gerasimov, Moscow’s response will consist of “preemptive neutralization” of such threats to Russia’s neighbors. For this purpose, he announced a "limited action strategy" that expands military operations beyond Russia's frontiers using highly mobile forces.

In a Senate hearing on March 8, U.S. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, supreme allied commander Europe, asserted that America and its allies must make greater efforts to counter the threats from Russia. He underscored the importance of cyber wars in defending critical infrastructures and financial and transportation networks.

Scaparrotti also confirmed that Moscow is using a "whole-of-society" approach to warfare that includes the use of political provocateurs, information operations, economic intimidation, cyber operations, proxies, special operations, conventional military units and nuclear forces. 

Gerasimov’s recent speech stressed the importance of Russia’s expanding nuclear arsenal and the development of new “super weapons,” including:

  • the Sarmat multi-warhead heavy intercontinental range missile;
  • Avangard hypersonic strike weapons;
  • new air-launched ballistic missiles;
  • nuclear-armed underwater drone torpedoes;
  • the nuclear-powered long-range nuclear cruise missile; and
  • hypersonic missiles capable of penetrating U.S. missile defenses. 

The collapse of several nuclear arms accords, including the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), because of Russia’s violations, gives Moscow the green light to build up its nuclear capabilities.

As it cannot financially compete in a conventional war with NATO, 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 U.S., it may focus on nuclear blackmail in the belief that the West will back down and allow it to exert dominance over territory close to Russia’s borders. 

In the third prong of his warning, Gerasimov attacked Washington for employing Russian opposition groups to topple 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 U.S. offensive, code named “Trojan Horse,” plans to mobilize a fifth column to destabilize Russia and, at the opportune time, will be backed by precision-guided cruise missiles to destroy government targets.

ADVERTISEMENT

Such imaginative scenarios give Moscow a valuable pretext to intensify its crackdown on domestic opposition depicted as U.S.-sponsored covert operations.

President Vladimir Putin becomes especially dangerous when his domestic support is slipping, as 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 setting Russia on a war footing in an attempt to compete with NATO, the Kremlin risks pushing Russia toward economic ruin and state disintegration, similarly to the achievements of the Soviet leadership in the late 1980s.

Janusz Bugajski is a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) in Washington, D.C. His recent book, co-authored with Margarita Assenova, is "Eurasian Disunion: Russia’s Vulnerable Flanks," (Jamestown, 2016). Follow him on Twitter: @JBugajskiUSA.