The Russian Federation strives to be a dominant power in the region and insists on its primacy in the post-Soviet space. It can be presumed that Russia considers its foreign policy from the “security” perspective and deems itself as the opposition to the US and the “spoiled” West unilateral power. Putin believes that former Soviet Republics are the domain of Russian-led integration in the region and the Russia is their legitimate guarantor of security only [11].

Ultimately, the expansion of the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) to the Russian borders is an “existential threat” to them. This approach has been intensively curved into Russia’s foreign policy by former Foreign and Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. In 2013, it was enhanced by the Russian General of the Army Valery Gerasimov who developed an operational concept of Primakov’s ideas by the use of “hybrid warfare” or gray zones.

Eventually, Russia’s seizure of Crimea and incursion in Eastern Ukraine are the reprisal for Ukrainian pro-European vector of development that has undermined Russian influence and encroached on Primakov and Gerasimov’s doctrines. The Russian aggression has unveiled a hybrid war as a new driver and way of foreign policy towards pro-Western neighboring states. It seems like hybrid war in Ukraine is the Russian’s endeavor to discredit Ukrainian integration to the EU and subsequently NATO and a desperate effort to retain its influence in the country and the region.

The work and ideas of Yevgeny Primakov has an unprecedented impact on the perception of foreign policy by Russia. “The moment he took over the Russian Foreign Ministry heralded a dramatic turn of Russia’s foreign policy. Russia left the path our Western partners had tried to make it follow after the breakup of the Soviet Union and embarked on a track of its own” [9] mentioned current Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, who underlined his vital importance in Russia’s foreign policy. So what is it all about?

According to Rumer [8] Primakov’s doctrine based on the following fundamental components: Russia as an indispensable actor with an independent foreign policy; vision of a multipolar world managed by a concept of major powers; Russia’s primacy in the post-Soviet space and the pursuit of Eurasian integration (Commonwealth of Independent States, CIS with the subsequent integration to Russia); opposition to NATO expansion; and the partnership with China as the leverage to the US and the West.

Kainikara [5] has also concluded the same five principles in the Russian foreign policy in the article “Russia’s Return to The World Stage: The Primakov Doctrine – Analysis”. Russia pursues authentic foreign policy with the primacy in the post-Soviet space, opposition to any attempt of NATO expansion and Russia, China and India cooperation (triggered the emergence of the BRICS) as leverage on the US-led unipolar dominance. In simple words, Russia considers itself as a dominant power that is the opposition to the West ideas expansion and assumes Armenia, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics as the “domain of Moscow’s will”.

After more than twenty years, Russia continues to adhere to Primakov’s doctrine and its dominance in their foreign policy can be observed in the case of Ukraine and the illegal attempt to annex Crimea. Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine led to a pro-European government and effected a shift from multi-vectored to a clearly pro-European and hence a pro-democratic vector with the subsequent efforts to join the EU and NATO [7]. It was a tipping point for Russia that undermined her foreign policy dominance and doctrinal approach towards neighbors.

As the response, Russia attempted the illegal annexation of Crimea and encroached on eastern and south territories of Ukraine by means of hybrid warfare. Ultimately Putin has delivered a speech on Crimea to State Duma deputies, Federation Council members, heads of Russian regions and civil society representatives in the Kremlin in 2014 [10], where the Primakov’s doctrinal ideas were explicitly addressed. Putin sees the situation in Ukraine as “the dissolution of bipolarity on the planet” and the reason there is no stability; underlines that “Russia is an independent, active participant in international affairs… has its own national interests that need to be taken into account and respected”.

It is understood that he is contemplating on Russian aggression against Ukraine as a “national interest” that has to be respected by international partners. He considers the Ukrainian pro-European choice as the actions aimed against “Ukraine and Russia and against Eurasian integration” and NATO expansion to the East at Russian’s borders is the “threat to their interests”. He noted further: “Let me note too that we have already heard declarations from Kyiv about Ukraine soon joining NATO. What would this have meant for Crimea and Sevastopol in the future? It would have meant that NATO’s navy would be right there in this city of Russia’s military glory, and this would create not an illusory but a perfectly real threat to the whole of southern Russia… we are grateful to the people of China, whose leaders have always considered the situation in Ukraine and Crimea taking into account the full historical and political context, and greatly appreciate India’s reserve and objectivity.”

It is clear that Putin is not appealing to the security of population in Crimea, but to the Russian Black Sea Fleet that is an opposition to NATO in the Black Sea region and manipulated further with this narrative to the Crimean residents. In addition, he mentioned the support of China and India as leverage to unipolarity. It looks like the whole speech is about the security perception of Putin pretending to be the USSR that is deeply rooted in the Primakov’s doctrine. Indeed, all conceptual elements of the doctrine are explicitly presented in the speech and followed by Russia.

What does it mean for Ukraine? The Russian Federation will continue to build the above-mentioned narrative about “historic spheres of influence” and its opposition to NATO, where the neighboring states will immediately face aggression for pro-European vector of development. Russian is trying to prevent Ukraine integration to the EU and NATO sphere as it fears to lose influence in the region. Sovereign and independent near abroad states do not fall within Russian foreign policy vision, but Russian-led neo-imperial integration is; and any deviant behavior is deemed as the existential threat to Russian security paradigm. Aggression in Crimea is only a part of Russia’s foreign policy, but not a will of Crimean population. The Russian foreign policy can be easily tracked by the Primakov’s doctrine where we will continue to observe the promoted integration of the Commonwealth of Independent States under Russian auspice; unification with Belarus as the neo-imperial way as the “response to NATO expansion”; and use of force against former Soviet republics [2].

In 2013 Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov presented report on “The Main Trends in the Development of Forms and Methods of Using the Armed Forces, Core Tasks of Military Science to Improve Them” [4] published in weekly newspaper “Voenno-Promyshlennyi Kurier” where he introduced Russia’s conception of the nature of war in the modern era that is Gerasimov’s doctrine of contemporary hybrid warfare.

This has become a part of the modern military doctrine and strategy [1] and enhanced operational concepts of Primakov’s foreign policy approach. It was mentioned that the rule of war has changed significantly and has shifted from the hard to soft power or simply to hybrid warfare. That means that an emphasis in modern warfare is on the widespread use of political, economic, informational, humanitarian and other non-military measures. Implementation of these measures, Gerasimov says, should be reckoned on the “protest potential of the population”.

In Crimean case those were chosen Russian speaking population that considered themselves as a part of a “Russian world” and influenced by Russian propaganda. In the doctrine was emphasized that all these have to be complemented by military measures of a covert nature, including the implementation of information warfare measures and the actions of special operations forces. Moreover, the open use of force is applied at a certain stage often under the guise of “peacekeeping and crisis settlement” to achieve final success in a conflict. Along with conventional methods of warfare intrude unconventional [4].

This actually happened in Crimea, massive disinformation about the situation in Ukraine, covert military operation by special operations forces “little green man” with no insignia and other measures of hybrid warfare. Eventually, Putin used alleged persecution of Russian speaking population to deploy “peacekeeping and crisis settlement”. The Russian military reforms and use of doctrine were reflected in illegal attempt to annex Crimea in 2014 and incursion on the east of Ukraine where Gerasimov’s asymmetric actions and hybrid war measures were widespread. Those are the use of special operations forces to create a permanently operating front throughout the territory of the opposing state, as well as information impact [4].

Based on the research paper of “Hybrid Warfare Studies and Russia’s Example in Crimea” [3] can be taken into account the myriad hybrid methods, tactics and tools used in Crimea by Russia. They used conventional force to control access to Crimea by blocking harbors with warships, controlling military bases and airports, and establishing checkpoints. In addition to the special forces, Moscow used regular army; Russian troops were kept in Crimea before the initial invasion based on the Black Sea Fleet Agreement.

Not to mention that Putin manipulated the Federation Council for permission to “use the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine until the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country”. Russia supported an insurgency to destabilize the situation and get influence by armed men in military uniform with no insignia – “little green men”, for further invasion. In the same unconventional way they “changed” the governmental regime on the peninsula in the closed-door session of Crimean Parliament. Prime Minister Anatolii Mohyliov was excluded and pro-Russian criminal boss Sergei Aksyonov was approved in the presence of “little green men” [3].

At the early stage Putin denied the presence of Russian Special Forces, however revealed documents proved the opposite. He ordered his National Security team to prepare plans on Crimea and its illegal annexation attempt [6]. Moscow threatened and intimidated the pro-Ukraine population in Crimea by collaborators and special operations forces. The main targets were Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian local political elite and activists.

Another important hybrid tool was massive disinformation, media campaigns and social media with propaganda to support misleading information. In addition, Russia uses the fictive and falsified “referendum” as the “legal argument” on every occasion to legitimate its illegal act of aggression [3]. The example of Crimea depicts that Moscow is ready to use force and any type of power to protect neo-imperial ambitions in the region and push forward “Eurasian integration” under their primacy.

Eventually, Moscow orchestrated the illegal attempt to annex Crimea as a reprisal for Ukrainian vector to integrate to the EU, but not to Eurasian integration under their lead. Russia lives in the alternative reality where it considers former USSR republics as a “legitimate sphere of interest” and presumes neighbor states from the security perspective, but not a partnership. Primakov concluded several key concepts of Moscow’s foreign policy that echoed the Soviet ambitious and considered former republics as “historic spheres of influence”.

Russia’s foreign policy is heavily “securitized” and any action of the neighboring states that does not follow within Moscow’s vision is met with aggression. The doctrinal ideas of Primakov are widely exercised by Russia and possess the threat to near abroad countries as Moscow will continue to insist on “Eurasian integration” under its primacy and opposition to NATO by underlying its military presence. As the new operational weapon to achieve neo-imperial ambitions they will use hybrid warfare as political, economic, informational, humanitarian and other non-military measures to discredit pro-western integration and attempt to appropriate new lands with the use of Gerasimov’s soft power concept – hybrid war. This is what has happened in Ukraine.

The pro-European choice of the independent state was faced with aggression in Crimea. Illegal attempt to annex the peninsular is a reprisal for integration to the EU that does not correspond to Russian doctrinal foreign policy. Doubtlessly doctrines demonstrate that Moscow will militarize Crimea by transforming it to a military base, but not to a tourist pearl, to emphasize its presence in the Black Sea and the region as the “opposition” to NATO.

Konstantin L.

References:

1. Bowen, A. (2020). Russian Armed Forces: Military Doctrine and Strategy. Congressional Research Service.

2. Cohen, A. (1997). The “Primakov’s doctrine”: Russian’s zero-sum game with the United States. The Heritage Foundation, 167.

3. Erol, M. (2015). Hybrid Warfare Studies and Russia’s Example in Crimea. Akademik Bakis, 9(17), 261-277.

4. Gerasimov, V. (2013). The value of science in foresight. New challenges require a rethinking of the forms and methods of warfare. URL: https://www.vpk-news.ru/articles/14632

5. Kainikara, D., Lazzaro, A., Teller, N., Nihar T., Eurasia Review, & Znotins, Z. (2019, November 05). Russia’s Return To The World Stage: The Primakov Doctrine – Analysis. URL: https://www.eurasiareview.com/05112019-russias-return-to-the-world-stage-the-primakov-doctrine-analysis/

6. Macfarquhar, N. (2015). Putin Contradicts Claims on Annexation of Crimea. URL: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/10/world/europe/putin-contrary-to-earlier-assertions-suggests-planning-to-seize-crimea-started-in-early-2014.html

7. Minakov, M. (2018). The Significance of Euromaidan for Ukraine and Europe. URL: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/the-significance-euromaidan-for-ukraine-and-europe

8. Rumer, E. (2019). The Primakov (Not Gerasimov) Doctrine in Action. URL: https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/06/05/primakov-not-gerasimov-doctrine-in-action-pub-79254

9. TASS. (2014). Lavrov Predicts Historians May Coin New Term: The Primakov Doctrine. URL: https://tass.com/russia/756973

10. The President of Russia. (2014). Address by President of the Russian Federation. URL: from http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/20603

11. Agreement between Ukraine and Russian Federation on Statute and Condition of Russian Black Sea Fleet Residing in Ukraine (on Ukrainian). URL: https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/643_076