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Was Russia the only country in WWII that succeeded in expansionist war aims?

Was Russia the only country in WWII that succeeded in expansionist war aims?

Germany, Italy, Russia, and Japan all initiated combat against peaceful countries for the clear purpose of territorial expansion. Of these only Russia ended the war with more territory than it started with. Were there any other countries that did so and were successful?

Edit: I guess I wasn't clear enough. By "initiated combat" I was trying to say that they created a war where there wasn't already one.


If you factor in nations that got attacked, a few other countries ended up with territorial gains. Most notably Poland, whose border shifted to the west (at a net loss). The Netherlands took a few minor bites out of Germany as war reparations, and eventually returned nearly all of it. Belgium and Luxembourg likewise with even tinier areas. Italy and a few other countries had a laundry list of border changes as well.

If you stick to aggressor nations, though, then Russia indeed was the only country that succeeded in expansionist war aims (against Poland and Finland, before it got attacked by Germany).


According to the wikipedia article on Paris Peace Treaties, 1947,

Bulgaria was restored to the borders of 1 January 1941, returning Vardar Macedonia to Yugoslavia and Eastern Macedonia and Western Thrace to Greece, but keeping Southern Dobruja per the Treaty of Craiova, leaving Bulgaria as the only former Axis power to keep territory that was gained during the Second World War.

Thus, Bulgaria is the answer to your question.


China started the war without Manchukuo, and ended up with "Manchuria."

This was in spite of itself. China was not an aggressor nation in World War II, and was, in fact, "more sinned against than sinning" (Shakespeare).

But the Soviets conquered most of Manchuria from Japan, and handed it over to its Communist allies, which won the Chinese civil war.


First, the OP's premise about greedy totalitarian jerks unilaterally attacking “peaceful” countries is an over-simplification. There were no clear-cut imperialists and their victims. There were, generally, some greater and lesser imperialists. Countries with strong and weak military, with good and bad fortunes.

Not only Russia gained. Ukraine1 (under the USSR) also “ended the war with more territory than it started with”, because Transcarpathia wasn't returned to Czechoslovakia. Republic of China2 obtained Taiwan, which later proved to be an asset critically important for the Chiang's regime. Ironically, Romania3 “ended the war with more territory than it started with” - it already lost Bessarabia (to the USSR) by 1941, but gained Transylvania from Hungary after switching sides in 1944. Yugoslavia4 also expanded a bit at the expense of Italy and, possibly, Hungary. Allies also permitted Ethiopia5 to de facto annex the Italian colony of Eritrea (although Ethiopia had very little to do with starting the World War II).

1 Arguably had large expansionist aims in 1939.
2 Intermittently clashed with the Empire of Japan over northeast China.
3 Invaded the USSR in 1941 with a force second to the Third Reich's only.
4 It was NOVJ (the Partisans) who won the war, not the pre-war monarchy. NOVJ certainly aimed to “expand” its presence in the country occupied by the fascists.
5 Had territorial disputes with Italian colonies.


The U.S. certainly wound up with Hawaii and Guam during this period, although due to the post-war hegemony I can see how this would be overlooked.


The Dispute Over World War II That Is Causing a Major Rift Between Poland and Russia

Vladimir Putin and Andrzej Duda. AP

Ahead of the International Holocaust Forum convention Thursday at Yad Vashem, a diplomatic spat has developed between Russia and Poland about the role each played in World War II.

People around the world will be watching the speeches by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the memorial ceremony in Jerusalem, to see if Putin perseveres in the anti-Polish campaign he&rsquos been pursuing in recent months, and whether Netanyahu will support him and further exacerbate tensions between Israel and Poland.

skip - Haaretz Weekly Ep. 57

What is the conflict about?

As Russia marks the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz&rsquos liberation by the Red Army, positioning itself as the one that heroically vanquished Nazi Germany, Poland has been sticking spokes into Putin&rsquos wheels. Warsaw is accusing Moscow of being responsible for the outbreak of WWII and of committing war crimes against the Polish people during the war and afterwards. In turn, Putin claims that it was Poland that had played a role in the war&rsquos outbreak, and has displayed forgotten archival documents to show it.

What does Russia want from Poland?

Russia is reminding Poland of unflattering chapters in its history that, according to Putin, indicate ideological and actual collaboration with Nazi Germany on the eve of WWII, and that the Polish government did not hesitate to cooperate with the Nazi regime when it served its purposes.

Russia argues that Poland played a role in the war&rsquos outbreak because of its share in the aftermath of the Munich Agreement. Following the agreement in 1938, in which the West capitulated to Hitler and enabled him to divide Czechoslovakia, Poland gave the vanquished Czechoslovakia an ultimatum, demanding that it hand over part of Silesia. Prague gave in, and in coordination with Nazi Germany, the Polish army moved in and the region was annexed to Poland.


This is why sailors have 13 buttons on their trousers

Posted On December 08, 2020 08:00:07

An old sailor’s tale is that the buttons represent the 13 original colonies.

In the early 1800s, the iconic trouser’s front flap (crotch area) or “broadfall” had 15 buttons before it was modified 90-years later to have just seven, allowing the manufacturer to reduce the amount of material.

At least, that’s what Navy recruits tell each other during basic training — but that wasn’t the real intention.

In the early 1800s, the iconic trouser’s front flap (crotch area) or “broadfall” had 15 buttons before it was modified 90-years later to have just seven, allowing the manufacturer to reduce the amount of material.

Reportedly years later, the broadfall was enlarged for various reasons including that many sailors didn’t have enough room down there, so the Navy listened and added the extra material and six buttons.

Pro tip: Many sailors have their trousers tailored to remove all the buttons and replace them with Velcro strips to grant easier access to the goods. They then resew the buttons to the outside flap, with uniform inspectors being none-the-wiser.

More on We are the Mighty

MIGHTY HISTORY

Reverse WWII Part 2: Fascist Britain (TW for flags/images

When you play ahistorical HOI4 and the UK instantly organizes the Blackshirts.

In 1935, the British Union of Fascists led by Oswald Mosley and supported by the abdicated King Edward VIII instigated a coup against George VI, known as the March on London they stormed Parliament,declared all parties except the BUF illegal, purging all opposition, and placing the king under house arrest and restoring Edward to the throne. As Mosley's government established full authoritarian control, purging the press and instituting antisemitic law, and even granted partial autonomy to Northern Ireland (as the Ulster Protectorate—as provisional preparation for a hopeful reunification of Ireland under Eoin O’Duffy, which never happened--the UK proper found itself isolated. None of its dominions recognized the fascist regime, all declaring independence and loyalty to King George together, along with much of the British military outside the Isles and in the colonies, formed the coalition of Free British Forces as a legitimate government in exile. Mosley at first did not associate with the fascist regimes in America and Russia under Pelley and Vonsiatsky, and had no expansionist intentions except to get his colonies back this changed when both Russia and America secretly offered to help with just that, and Mosley accepted entry into the Tripartite Pact. The UK thus joined Russia in its declaration of primarily against their main adversary communist Germany, followed by counter declarations by the rest of the Allied powers. In 1939, Britain launched its invasion of France and the Low Countries across the English Channel, planning to seal off Germany to allow for its easy conquest by Russia, succeeding in capitulating Belgium and the Netherlands but making slow progress in Northern France. This was as far as they’d advance the invasion soon became disastrous, as French forces pushed the British further back towards the coast, and at home anti-fascist organizers were beginning to come out of hiding. A revolt of civilians and disaffected British military broke out in late 1940, leaving Mosley’s government beleaguered, with Germany and France quickly liberating the briefly occupied Low Countries. Britain was taken out of the war, leaving Russia out to dry in the Eastern European theatre. In 1942, the British Civil War succeeded in toppling Mosley, who was summarily taken away and hanged, and Free British Forces were invited to return home. George VI was restored to the throne, and Edward imprisoned, and within a year the provisional military government was succeeded by new parliamentary elections. Under new Prime Minster Winston Churchill, the restored legitimate United Kingdom was free to assist the Allies through the end of the war.


Top-6 Soviet World War II myths used by Russia today

A new book published by the Institute of National Memory aims to bust Soviet-era myths about World War II. A selection of 50 myths is also available online on their newly created site. Here we analyze the top-6 Soviet myths of World War II which are instrumental in the Kremlin’s modern nation-building policies today.

Myth 1. For the USSR, World War II started on 22 June 1941. The proper name of the war is the “Great Patriotic War,” because the USSR was defending itself against the Nazi invasion

In reality, the USSR started the war on 17 September 1939, when the Red Army crossed the border with Poland, occupying it in accordance with the union between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union, outlined by the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. “German and Soviet troops walked hand in hand. This was called a ‘military brotherhood’ in the USSR before the war broke out,” noted Oleksandr Zinchenko from the Institute of National Memory. After Hitler started the war in Europe, the USSR provided economic assistance to Nazi Germany. The USSR attempted to conceal these facts of collaboration with Hitler with the concept of the “Great Patriotic War,” which started out as a mere ideological cliché pronounced by Joseph Stalin during a radio broadcast on 3 July 1941, after Nazi Germany invaded Soviet Ukraine.

Cartoon of 1939 – occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. via Andrey Lamakin

Today, the concept of “Great Patriotic War” is being used by the Russian Federation as an alternative to World War II in attempts to maintain its influence on Ukraine and post-Soviet republics.

Myth 2. The USSR is an innocent victim of German aggression and was always an enemy of the Nazis

Reality: The USSR signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, that not only defined broad economic cooperation with the Third Reich and agreement on mutual non-aggression, but also contained a secret protocol by which the USSR and Germany agreed to divide up Europe.

During Soviet times, and in Russia today, the existence of the Nazi–Soviet pact was explained as a necessity that came only after fruitless negotiations with Britain and France, and that the invasions of Poland were unconnected to the pact. In fact, Stalin willingly ruined attempts to establish an anti-Hitler coalition. During 12-21 August 1939, negotiations with Britain and France about collaborating to meet growing security challenges associated with the Third Reich took place in Moscow, but did not amount to an agreement because the Soviet leadership demanded the right to occupy Poland’s regions Halychyna and Vilenska Oblast (today, western regions of Ukraine and Belarus), which the other side could not condone.

Both Stalin and Hitler were unsatisfied with the world order that came about after World War I, which made their collaboration natural. On 19 August 1939, Stalin spoke about the necessity to urge Europe into a great war, which would be an overture to a “world revolution” on 23 August 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed, outlining broad economic cooperation between the USSR and the Third Reich, and violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a range of independent countries.

The Two Constrictors. “I don’t know about helping you, Adolf, but I do understand your point of view.” A cartoon by Bernard Partridge at Punch-Magazine, 1939

In addition to the stated clauses of the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact, a secret protocol was adopted, dividing territories of Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland into German and Soviet “spheres of influence”, anticipating potential “territorial and political rearrangements” of these countries. The Kremlin denied the existence of the secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact up to 1992.

The Soviet-Nazi military collaboration is undeniably clear in photographs from the German–Soviet military parade in Brest-Litovsk on 22 September 1939 during the invasion of Poland.

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-121-0011A-23 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,

The pact had the most tragic consequences for European nations and the world it is this agreement that became the mechanism opening the doors for a new world war. What followed was the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and the USSR, followed by the further carving up of Europe.

Myth 3. The Red Army did not commit war crimes

A popular myth during Soviet times was that the Red Army protected the USSR against fascists, saved millions of people from extermination, and brought freedom to oppressed European nations, committing no war crimes in the process. All evidence testifying to the opposite was dismissed as enemy propaganda and falsification.

In reality, facts of crimes of Soviet soldiers against civilians were massive. 4148 officers and a large number of ordinary soldiers were given sentences by the military tribunal in the first months of 1945 alone.

When the Red Army entered East Prussia in October of 1944, one of the soldiers wrote back to his parents in Smolensk: “Now we are allowed to do whatever we want to the German bastards.” “Now our soldiers can see how their houses burn, how their families drag all their possessions with them, together with their viper offspring, – wrote another Soviet soldier. – They probably hope to stay alive, but they will have no mercy.”

In a letter from the front, a Red Army captain wrote: “Our boys already ‘tasted’ all the German women. In general, there are many trophies.” Another officer wrote: “of course, it’s extremely brutal to kill children. But Germans deserve these barbarities.”

Lieutenant Leonid Ryabychev recalled how Soviet troops in East Prussia overtook a convoy of German refugees. The soldiers threw the carts carrying possessions, pushed aside the elderly and children, and “pounced upon the women and girls in thousands.”

This photo, taken in August of 1945 in Berlin, was printed in the Life magazine with the caption “A Soviet soldier conflicts with a woman over a bicycle that he wanted to purchase from her”

The extent of the robberies, looting, arson, violence against civilians and prisoners became widespread and was answered with special orders of the Soviet command fronts requiring to restore discipline in the army immediately. However, the measures taken weren’t enough. In late March 1945, a memorandum to the Secretary of the Communist Party Malenkov records another case of mass rape of women by Soviet soldiers in the Grutenneng (Grüttenberg?) estate. These women were not even German. The document states that this estate was a temporary camp for liberated ostarbeiters! One of the official reports of the Main trophy control of the Red Army mentions thousands of pianos, hundreds of thousands of carpets, furniture, and clocks among the “spoils of war” brought back by the Red Army.

Myth 4. The USSR defeated Nazi Germany without the help of allies. The Russian forces could have won the war without the help of other nationalities of the Soviet Union

Soviet textbooks described the role of Soviet allies in the war in a rather superficial manner. While they are blamed for allowing the occupation of the Czech republic and waited till the last moment to open up the Second front, little is said about US help as part of the lend-lease program. During the Cold War, this myth was particularly important, as it elevated the contribution of the Soviet Union and diminished the contributions of its allies who were now on the other side of the Iron Wall. Today, in line with the growing isolation of Russia from the West, this myth is once again accentuated, one recent example being the book of now-Minister of Culture of Russia Volodymyr Medynsky “War. Myths of the USSR. 1939-1945.”

In reality, the lend-lease was one of the decisive factors in the victory of the Allied forces against the Axis. The USSR, and Russia as its successor, still has not repaid its debt for the lend-lease to the USA.

According to different estimates, western equipment added up to:

  • 12-16% of the equipment of the Soviet armored troops
  • 10-15% of USSR’s aviation
  • 32.4% of its Navy.

Pilots of the 21st Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment stand near the American fighter plane P-39 “Aircobra”, May 1943

Up to 70% of the transport of the Soviet army came from the USA, meaning that the Soviet army drove around mainly on US cars. While the USSR released only 600 trucks for mounting “Katyusha” mortars, the USA contributed 20,000 Studebakers, making it the main vehicle for Soviet artillery. Apart from that, the lend-lease program gave the USSR 56% of its own production of railroad tracks and 43% of tires 42% of its sugar, 108% of meat preserves, 18% of aviation fuel. The number of locomotives that the West provided exceeded the USSR’s production by 2.4 times and the number of train cars – by 10.2 times. The amount of food that the USSR received as part of the lend-lease would have been enough to feed a 10-million army over 1688 days, i.e. the whole course of the war.

Soviet BM-13 “Katyusha” rocket launchers on top of US-made Studebaker trucks, June 1945

Soviet BM-13 “Katyusha” rocket launchers on top of US-made Studebaker trucks, June 1945

In the first months of the German invasion of the USSR, over half a million Soviet citizens died. “It is the extensive losses that allow Russian propagandists to pronounce the special role of the Soviet people in the victory over Nazism. In reality, 76 countries took part in the largest world conflict in all human history, involving over 1.5 billion people. Battles took place in North Africa. Around 60 million people died every 5th Ukrainian and 6 Pole lost their lives in the war. We couldn’t have won without the Ukrainians, nor the Americans, the British, the French, nor the Poles,” notes Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Myth 5. Ukrainians are world champions in collaborating with the Nazis

Reality: Russians military collaboration with the Nazis was larger than that of Ukrainians. Researchers estimate that there were 250,000 people from the “Ukrainian formations” working in the structures of the Wehrmacht, SS, police and others the amount of people from the “Russian formations” varies between 300 to 800,000, depending on the methodology. This difference is significant, considering that Ukraine was fully occupied by Germany, with its population exceeding the population of the 17% of Russia that was occupied, and that Ukraine was occupied for a longer time.

What were the factors underlying Russian and Ukrainian collaboration? Both Russia and Ukraine were suffering from Stalin’s totalitarian regime and were hoping to overthrow Soviet power. Ukrainians had an additional motive behind their desire for USSR’s defeat – they wanted to restore their state independence. This especially concerned residents of western Ukraine, who were part of the USSR for less than two years, and this short experience was not rosy.

The myth that Ukrainians especially collaborated with the Nazis was cultivated in the USSR not only to hide facts of Russian collaboration, but also to vilify the liberation movements that fought against Soviet rule and justify the fight of the Soviet NKVD against their remnants after the war ended. The chief target of the attacks is the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, or UPA, which following a short term of collaborating with Hitler in hopes of achieving an independent state turned against Germany. Both the Soviets and the Germans considered UPA’s actions as an anti-German uprising.

Myth 6. Ukrainian nationalists extreminated Jewsen masse during the war, especially in Lviv and Babyn Yar

This is another historical myth that Russian propaganda actively exploits today with the purpose of justifying the struggle that the Soviet secret police led against the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and UPA up till the end of the 1950s. In modern Russian media, one can often read about “mass extermination of Jews by Bandera [OUN leader] followers,” which aims to create the following logical chain: Ukrainians who want an independent state are nationalists, Ukrainian nationalists killed Jews in WWII, consequently all those that want an independent Ukrainian state are secretly antisemitic and criminals.

Paul Blobel – the commander of the Sondercommandos that shot Jews in Babyn Yar

In reality, it was the Nazis that carried out a mass systematic extermination of the Jews on the territory of Ukraine. For this, they created special structures – Einsatzgruppen, Sonderkommandos. To enhance these departments, the so-called auxiliary police, employed in mass exterminations of the Holocaust, was used. They were formed from the local population, Soviet prisoners of war, former employees of the Soviet police. It is possible that OUN members were among them too. Their ethnic composition included not only Ukrainians but also Russians and other nationalities. The local population took part in the Jewish pogroms too, but they were not only Ukrainian by nationality. Most of them were not OUN members or other nationalist organizations neither did they necessarily adhere to nationalist views.

For instance, the HQ of the German Einsatzgruppe arrived to Lviv on 1 July 1941, the second day after the German army occupied the city. At this time the Jewish pogrom took place. A common myth is that the alleged main organizers and executors of the massacre were members of the OUN and the soldiers of the “Nachtigall” battalion.

In fact, the leadership of the OUN (b) in its April 1941 regulations of the Second II Great Assembly indicated that its main aim is to obtain a Ukrainian state, and the organization of pogroms are attempts of external forces to distract the “Ukrainian masses” from that goal, using their anti-Jewish sentiments.

Nachtigall as a military unit as well did not take part in either organizing or carrying out the massacre. One of the soldiers later recalled the battalion commander Roman Shukhevych ordered not to engage in violence against the civilian population. In addition, the involvement of Nachtigall in the pogrom was not confirmed at the hearing of the case Theodor Oberlander in West Germany after end of the war. Moreover, recently declassified KGB documents showed that the accusations against the soldiers of this battalion were part of the Soviet secret police operation of 1959-1960.

Of course, some of the soldiers of the battalion, as well as some Ukrainian nationalists, could have participated in the pogrom with their own motives. However, its main instigators and organizers of the pogrom were Germans, who managed to direct anti-Soviet sentiments of the local population into the channel of antisemitism.

Unfortunately, the local population did take part in pogroms and other antisemitic actions on the territory of Ukraine. But they were not only Ukrainians, but also Russians, Poles, and representatives of other nationalities. Among them could have been members of Ukrainian nationalist organizations or persons with nationalist views. But references about the absence of wide support for Jewish pogroms among the local population are easily found even in the German documents of the period of World War II.


The Road to Slaughter

HALF A CENTURY ago, the controversy over which country was responsible for the outbreak of World War I seemed to have been settled. The “war guilt” clause of the Treaty of Versailles, which put the blame on Germany, had long been discredited. German and French historians had met and agreed that history textbooks in their respective countries should make it clear to students that no one country was to blame more than any other. Surveys of international relations, most notably A.J.P. Taylor’s classic The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1848-1918, published in 1954, tended instead to portray the plunge into the twentieth century’s seminal catastrophe as an automatic process in which decision-making was largely taken out of the hands of politicians and statesmen by the military plans each country had in place: contingency planning became ineluctable reality once mobilization orders, involving complex and elaborate troop movements across large distances by railway, had been issued. In Taylor’s phrase, it was “war by timetable.”

Then, in 1961, the consensus was broken by the German historian Fritz Fischer. Fischer’s appointment to his post at Hamburg went back to the Nazi years (he had avoided too close an involvement with the regime), and his Protestant conscience prompted him to question the orthodox version of events. Gaining access to the Reich archives, then located in Potsdam, in Communist East Germany, Fischer and his assistants plunged into the voluminous manuscript sources that documented Germany’s aims, and the fierce internal political battles fought over them.

To their astonishment, one of the documents they discovered, drawn up shortly after the outbreak of the war, the so-called “September programme” of 1914, gave official German government backing to a vastly ambitious set of objectives, including huge territorial annexations in western and eastern Europe, extensive colonial conquests, massive economic demands to be made of the countries the Germans expected to defeat, and much more besides. Surely, Fischer reasoned, if these aims were there in September 1914, they must have been in place in August too, if not earlier. So World War I did not begin as a kind of automatic process—to quote the title of Fischer’s book, it represented Germany’s “grasp for world power,” a conscious war of aggression.

When Fischer’s book was published, it caused an uproar among German historians. The controversy exploded above all around the relatively short account that Fischer gave of the origins of the war, rather than the many hundreds of pages of detailed scholarly analysis of war aims that followed. Senior historians in Germany denounced the book as unpatriotic and persuaded the German Foreign Office to cancel a lecture tour arranged for Fischer in America outraged in their turn, senior historians in America, including Fritz Stern, Klaus Epstein, and Gordon A. Craig, raised the money and the tour went ahead anyway. In 1964 the annual congress of the German Historians’ Association was dominated by the row over the book.

The implications of Fischer’s arguments went far beyond 1914. They opened up the troubling possibility that Germany’s war aims in 1914 were not so very different from what they were in 1939, when Hitler was in power. In the wake of the controversy, the issue of continuity in modern German history and the longer-term roots of Nazism, hitherto portrayed by leading German historians as a short-term reaction to the humiliations of Versailles, moved to the center of the picture. Fischer and his assistants produced a second volume, War of Illusions, focusing on the run-up to the war and relating foreign policy to political, social, and economic structures in Germany. Others entered the fray with the thesis that the war had been launched to deflect an impending and possibly terminal crisis in the authoritarian rule of the Kaiser, the military, and the elites.

By the time the controversy receded in the 1970s, the study and teaching of modern German history had been transformed, freed from the need felt by an older generation of nationalist historians (writing about a war in which some of them had been personally involved) to defend Germany’s honor, and liberated from the shackles of a purely political and diplomatic approach to the history of foreign policy and war aims. Among younger generations of German historians, Germany’s primary responsibility for the outbreak of the war became a virtually unchallengeable dogma.

Fischer’s more extreme thesis of a deliberate bid for world power by force of arms had failed to win many adherents, but even after factors such as human error, misunderstanding, and chance had been allowed for, there was still a general consensus that the brunt of responsibility for the catastrophe had to be borne by Berlin. Fischer and his followers had narrowed the focus of the debate by confining it to Germany and placing it within a longer-term account of the origins of Nazism that argued Germany had trodden a “special path,” or Sonderweg, to modernity, involving the enthronement of domestic authoritarianism and international aggrandizement at the center of power. So robust was this narrative that for a time it carried all before it.

In this picture, the role of other powers’ war aims confirmed their limited and reactive character. Time and again, research into the origins of the war from other angles besides the German one showed that, as D. C. B. Lieven’s book Russia and the Origins of the First World War, published in 1983, concluded: “Study of the July Crisis from the Russian standpoint indeed confirms the now generally accepted view that the major immediate responsibility for the outbreak of the war rested unequivocally on the German government.”

In this brief new study, however, Sean McMeekin seeks to overturn this consensus. He wishes to do for Russia what Fischer and his assistants did for Germany. Has he succeeded?

McMEEKIN POINTS OUT correctly that for a century or more, Russia had been seeking to expand southwards at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. Many of the relatively few international conflicts experienced by nineteenth-century Europe revolved around this issue: wars launched by Russia in 1811-1812, 1828-1829, 1853-1856, and 1877-1878 resulted in the acquisition of much of the coast of the Black Sea, along with a large part of the Caucasus, but the intervention of the other European powers, nervous about Russian expansionism, restricted further gains and stopped the Russians from penetrating into the Balkans and thence to the Mediterranean. Russia, if one is to follow the argument of Richard Pipes in his book Russia Under the Old Regime, had a built-in, permanent drive for expansion, and when it was frustrated in the south, it more than compensated for this by acquisitions in Central Asia, Siberia, and the east. But the search for a warm-water port in the Pacific eventually brought the Russians up against the newly modernized power of Japan, which inflicted a stunning defeat on them in the war of 1904-1905, closing off the possibility of any further expansion in this region for a generation. And so Russian expansionism turned back to south-eastern Europe.

It has often been claimed that the Russians embraced the ideology of Pan-Slavism, which sought the cultural and in some versions the political unity of all Slavs. The trouble with this claim is that there were major Slavic nations, notably the Poles, who saw it merely as an excuse for Russian imperialism, while the complex alignments of rival nationalisms in the Balkans meant that Bulgaria, a key player in the region, had no truck with the ideology either, and launched a war against Serbia in 1914 in pursuit of territorial gains. McMeekin rightly dismisses Pan-Slavism as a red herring in the search for the causes of World War I.

But he is far less convincing when he tries to downgrade the Russo-Serbian alliance as a factor in the run-up to World War I. The defection of Bulgaria, which entered the war on the German side, left Serbia as the sole ally of the Russians in the Balkans, one that Tsar Nicholas II and his government could not afford to abandon. True, as McMeekin points out, the Russian Foreign Ministry did not go along with Serbia’s policy of territorial aggrandizement, opposed the Serbs’ drive towards the Adriatic, and initially urged restraint on Belgrade during the July crisis in 1914. But as he concedes, “Russia had no wish to see ‘heroic little Serbia’ carved up by hostile neighbors such as Austria-Hungary or Bulgaria.”

So when McMeekin writes that “to assume Russia really went to war on behalf of Serbia in 1914 is naïve,” he is making a leap too far: the Austro-Hungarian conquest of Serbia would have been an unacceptable blow to Russian prestige, a factor not to be underestimated in 1914, at a time when aristocrats and elites in Russia, Germany, France and Austria-Hungary still fought duels over “affairs of honor” it would also, more pertinently, have cordoned off the southern Balkans from Russia with a band of territory controlled by Germany’s allies. Moreover, as McMeekin concedes, Pan-Slavist propagandists did have at least some purchase on Russian foreign policy by warning that any setback to Serbia would encourage Polish nationalists to rise up against Russian rule. And the obvious decrepitude of the Habsburg Empire, made manifest by its lamentable failure to exercise any influence in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, encouraged policymakers in St. Petersburg to consider seizing the ethnically Polish territory of Galicia, on the southern flank of Poland, from Austria-Hungary in any future conflict, to bolster its control over the Poles.

Brushing all this aside, McMeekin argues that Russia’s real aim all along was to use any and every opportunity finally to gain access to the Mediterranean by destroying the Ottoman Empire and thus winning control over the Bosporus. Russian military exercises and war games already envisaged the seizure of Constantinople, the destruction of the Ottoman Empire, and the subsequent rolling-up of hostile Balkan powers from the north and east. By the early twentieth century the Ottoman state seemed to most European powers to be in a condition of terminal decay. But it had already begun to arm itself against the Russian threat as best it could, especially after the Young Turk revolution of 1908 brought about reforms in the administration.

This only went so far: in the war launched against Turkey by Italy in 1911, which ended with the Italian annexation of Libya and the Dodecanese islands, the Italians had completely destroyed an Ottoman naval force off Beirut. Still, the Turks had started to modernize their navy, with the aid of British naval instructors, whose first action was to insist that Turkish naval officers had to learn how to swim. Petty officers were made to play English team games, perhaps in homage to the Duke of Wellington’s boast that the Battle of Waterloo had been won on the school playing fields of Eton. And, rather more importantly, the Turkish government put in orders for five state-of-the-art Dreadnought battleships, with delivery dates well before that of the first Russian Dreadnought ordered for the Black Sea fleet. Cruisers, minesweepers, and submarines were also ordered, and the British were brought in to modernize the naval facilities at Constantinople. Taking all this into account, McMeekin argues that Russia was propelled into war in 1914 for fear that the opportunity to take over the Straits would soon be lost.

Yet there is no convincing evidence to support this charge. It is possible, of course, to point to the furor in 1913 over the German military presence in Turkey, incorporated by the appointment of Liman von Sanders and forty other German officers to organize the defenses of the Straits. Russia’s Foreign Minister warned that “the state which possesses the Straits will hold in its hands not only the key of the Black Sea and Mediterranean, but also that of penetration into Asia Minor and the sure means of hegemony in the Balkans.” A furious press war broke out between Russia and Germany with journalists on both sides urging military action. But McMeekin massively over-interprets the significance of this episode, reading the proposed joint action with France and Britain to expel Liman’s mission as “in reality a prelude to partition.” In fact, the Russian Foreign Minister was only talking about facing down Germany, not deliberately planning a war. And indeed a compromise was eventually reached over the Liman affair, though one which still left a strong German military presence in Constantinople.

Russia’s military and naval planning in 1913-1914, McMeekin points out, was concerned above all with the Straits, not with Serbia. The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand came as a surprise to everyone. Still, the Russians did have contingency plans in place for an Austrian conflict with Serbia. Their key aim in such a situation, it was agreed in November 1912, would be to announce an immediate general mobilization, so “that the actions of the Russian armed forces should be fully developed at a time when Austria had still not finished its struggle with Serbia.” This would force the Austrians to deploy a large part of their army to the north, to defend Galicia, thus weakening their thrust in the south and giving the Serbs a chance. On July 31, 1914, the Russians ordered a general mobilization, fearing the consequences if they only mobilized on a partial basis, given the complexity of the operation and the amount of time it would take to have every part of their armies in the right place. But far from making war inevitable, this came at a moment when war was already well on the way to breaking out, thanks to the bellicose mood in Berlin and Vienna.

In any case, contingency plans, military scenarios, and war games are not evidence of actual intentions, not even on the part of the generals and admirals who habitually engage in them, let alone of the politicians ultimately responsible for making war and peace. Armed forces constantly have to mount exercises of one kind or another their choice of enemy only has very limited implications for the realities of policymaking. Unlike Taylor, however, McMeekin does not ascribe to military planning the automatic function of propelling states into war: he sees them as the deliberate expression of a conscious will on the part of the entire policymaking apparatus of the state.

Yet in the end it was the Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia that set off the process that ended in the outbreak of World War I, not Russian ambitions in the Straits. Even the official Russian declaration of war on the Ottoman Empire as an ally of Germany and Austria-Hungary, several weeks after the outbreak of the war in Europe, failed to mention the Straits but referred instead to “Russia’s path towards the realization of the historic task of her ancestors along the shores of the Black Sea.” Moreover, and crucially, Russia’s opening shots in World War I were fired not against the Turks but against the Germans, when Russian forces invaded East Prussia, forcing the Germans to transfer significant forces from the western front, thus fatally weakening the force of their blow against the Anglo-French army.

McMeekin’s argument that “it was Russian statesmen who unleashed the war through conscious policy decisions based on imperial ambitions in the Near East,” and that “the key to the outbreak of violence lies in St. Petersburg” and not in Berlin (to quote the blurb on the book’s back cover), has other problems as well. It is not even borne out by the book itself, which more reasonably gives the Germans equal standing by concluding that “the First World War was the inexorable culmination of a burgeoning imperial rivalry between Wilhelmine Germany and tsarist Russia in the Near East, each lured in its own way down the dangerous path of expansionist war by the decline of Ottoman power.” Just as Fritz Fischer extrapolated back from the German war aims put forward in September 1914 to what he thought must have been the German war aims of July and August, though there was no direct evidence that they had been the same, so much of the evidence McMeekin adduces in support of his argument is drawn from aims developed only after the conflict had begun.

Fischer and his followers were aware of the many divisions and conflicts within the leadership of the German Empire. One leading figure in the Austrian government asked rhetorically, “who rules in Berlin?” after receiving contradictory messages from the German capital during the crisis. But McMeekin, after concluding that the peace party in the Russian leadership, such as it was, had been ousted from power well before the war began, treats all segments of the policymaking apparatus in St. Petersburg as if they were working together as part of one vast conspiracy pushing Europe towards war. In reality this was no more the case in St. Petersburg than it was in Berlin. In every European capital there were furious arguments and debates during the crisis, and it was by no means inevitable that the war party in any of them would triumph. In portraying the outcome as the result of deeply laid plans for territorial aggrandizement, McMeekin goes too far, just as Fischer eventually went too far in the similar arguments he applied to Germany.

NOWHERE IS ITS author’s tendency to see history in terms of plots and conspiracies more apparent, and more tendentious, than in this book’s portrayal of the role of Ottoman Turkey’s Armenian population, which appears here as a Russian fifth column seeking to destroy the Ottoman Empire from within. McMeekin shows how Russian war games envisaged Greeks, Armenians, and other Christians rising up against the Turkish government in the rear, burning down Muslim settlements and destroying bridges and other arteries of communications. But identifying this aspiration is a long way from proving either that the Russians actively fostered uprisings before the war or that the Armenians took part in them.

McMeekin’s bias on this issue is breathtaking. The story, he claims, began with the Armenian uprisings and massacres of 1894-1896, which he blames on Armenian revolutionaries, guerilla groups, and assassins. In 1897, he writes, “a new wave of Armenian sedition led the sultan to initiate violent countermeasures.” But historians generally agree that what was only a minor revolt against Ottoman exactions sparked wholly disproportionate reprisals, leading to 100,000—in some versions, 300,000—Armenians being massacred by Ottoman troops, Kurdish irregulars working for the Sultan, and Muslim mobs incited by Ottoman propaganda. What seem to be the best contemporary estimates put the figure of the dead at around 90,000. Hundreds of thousands of Armenian Christians fled from their burning villages, or were forced to undergo conversion to Islam. Atrocities were committed by the score, including the burning of a church with a thousand Armenians inside. McMeekin’s attempt to pin the blame on the Armenians is absurd.

The massacres were driven forward by the Ottoman Sultan’s paranoia, which saw Armenians as agents of foreign powers—a view apparently shared by McMeekin, who describes British prime minister Gladstone, author of a pamphlet denouncing the massacres, as “the first and greatest British ventriloquist for Russian imperial designs on Ottoman Turkey.” These designs, according to McMeekin, matured into fully fledged plans for an Armenian uprising. When it finally came, the uprising, provoked by the Russians, and described by McMeekin with much lurid detail of alleged Armenian atrocities against Muslims, was what in his view sparked the Ottoman policy of deporting the Armenians in 1915.Under the impact of continued Armenian partisan activity, he says, this got out of hand, leading to around 664,000 deaths, the “vast majority” of them, however, from “starvation or thirst,” not from deliberate murder by Turks.

In fact, however, there is abundant contemporary evidence for massacres in which Ottoman troops burned Armenians alive, raped, shot, and beat them to death, and committed numberless atrocities against wholly innocent civilians. The transports themselves were carried out with brutal and murderous violence. The starvation was deliberately caused by the Turks denying food and water to the deportees. Some non-Turkish, non-Armenian scholars have put the number of dead as high as 1,500,000. Almost every serious historian outside Turkey agrees that this was a genocide in which vast numbers of innocent people were killed for racial reasons alone.

It is unfortunate that, perhaps because he teaches at a Turkish university, McMeekin seems to think it necessary to take the official Turkish line on the Armenian genocide. In many ways his book is yet another salvo, this time in words only, in the centuries-long conflict between Turkey and Russia. As in his previous books, he is far too prone to see conspiracies and plots everywhere, especially where there were none. He writes not like a historian but like a prosecutor in a criminal court. He shares with Fischer an almost monomaniacal obsession with a single country and its behavior before, during, and after the crisis of 1914, rather than seeing it in the broader European context.

Every now and then, however, France crops up in this narrative too, and any historian who writes on Russia and the origins of World War I surely needs to give the French alliance more careful consideration than it is accorded here. In January 1914, the French Prime Minister told Maurice Paléologue, about to depart for St. Petersburg to take up the post of French ambassador there, that “war can break out from one day to the next … Our [Russian] allies must rush to our aid. The safety of France will depend on the energy and promptness with which we shall know how to push them into the fight.” In the Russian capital in mid-July 1914, a top-level French delegation was enthused by displays of Russian military strength. “There’s going to be a war,” the wife of the man who would shortly be appointed Russian commander-in-chief told Paléologue: “There’ll be nothing left of Austria. You’re going to get back Alsace and Lorraine. Our armies will meet in Berlin. Germany will be destroyed!”

In London, too, the anti-German mood was in the ascendant, fuelled by worries about the German threat to Europe and the Empire. More generally, the whole spirit of the age, which affected the actions and the attitudes of the statesmen in whose hands the fate of Europe lay in 1914, was imbued with what a century later appears as an irresponsible, almost frivolous attitude to war, regarding it as a sort of duel on a gigantic scale, fought for honor and glory or an inevitable outcome of the Darwinian struggle for survival and supremacy between Anglo-Saxons, Germans, Latins, and Slavs. Few saw the terrible nature of the mechanized mass slaughter that was to come.

Richard J. Evans is Regius Professor of History and President of Wolfson College at Cambridge University and the author of numerous books on modern German history. He is currently writing The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914, a volume in the Penguin History of Europe.


Interview with World War II Historian Andrew Roberts


Andrew Roberts' new book takes an alternative look at German and Russian roles in World War II.

‘When it came to killing Germans on the ground, the Russians were far and away more effective’

Why a new history of World War II?
There is an enormous amount of Second World War scholarship, and to synthesize that seems to me to be worthwhile. Though some books are very good about covering some areas of the conflict, there didn&rsquot seem to me to be a really satisfactory one-volume history that covers the whole war comprehensively. So, I attempted to provide one. This is the culmination of 20 years of research and writing about the war, so it fitted in very well with what I wanted to do at some stage.

Did your research reveal any especially valuable new sources?
Yes, I was fortunate to come across English businessman Ian Sayer, who since the 1970s had been building up a personal archive of, by the time I met him, more than 100,000 Second World War documents&mdashdiaries, letters, photographs and so on. He&rsquod bought a lot of the material from some really serious and substantial figures, and no historian had ever asked to examine the collection. When I invited myself to his home, I discovered such new things as a 1940 letter by German Maj. Gen. Alfred Jodl that completely explodes the myth that Hitler deliberately allowed the British Expeditionary Force to escape from Dunkirk in an attempt to persuade Britain to make peace. It&rsquos every historian&rsquos dream to discover a lot of valuable new material, and there it was.

How useful were your visits to many of the World War II battlefields?
They were absolutely invaluable. Historians who write about a battle without having visited the battlefield are like detectives trying to solve a murder without visiting the scene of the crime. A sense of the topography, the sight lines, the actual distances between points of attack, the climate&mdashall of these things can only truly be appreciated if you&rsquove trod the ground yourself.

Which battlefield affected you most on an emotional level?
The site of the 1943 Battle of Kursk, in Russia. It was not only the greatest tank battle in human history, it was also the point at which Nazism really breathed its last. The dead are literally buried all around you it&rsquos impossible not to be affected by the sheer courage of those Russians who stood up against the massive German onslaught. It&rsquos a very moving place indeed, and one that really got me in the gut.

You write that Hitler&rsquos war aims were impossible&mdashhow so?
The Germans were trying to win a straightforward conventional war and, at the same time, trying to fight an ideological war: a specifically Nazi war as opposed to a German war. I believe that a true German nationalist&mdashOtto von Bismarck, say, or Helmuth von Moltke&mdashcould have won the Second World War, because he wouldn&rsquot have made the kind of demands of the German military that Hitler did, which was to win a two-front conventional war while at the same time imposing the policies of the &ldquoAryan master race.&rdquo Those aims were directly in opposition.

Could the Nazis have won, had they done something differently?
Absolutely. If they had not invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, and if they had instead thrown at the Allies even a fraction of the 3 million men they eventually unleashed against Russia, they would have chased us out of the Middle East and cut off access to 80 percent of the Allies&rsquo oil. We simply would not have been able to continue the struggle.

Was Hitler solely responsible for Germany&rsquos military blunders?
No, there were plenty of people to blame. Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring is a perfect example: He promised Hitler that no Allied bombs would fall on Germany he promised to destroy the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk solely through airpower he promised to completely supply the German forces at Stalingrad by air. Yet he could not deliver on any of these promises. In the end, all of these poor military leaders were appointed or promoted by Hitler, many solely because they were Nazis, and that&rsquos no way to fight&mdashor win&mdasha war.

Had Hitler been assassinated, would Germany have sued for peace?
Not necessarily. Had Hitler been assassinated on July 20, 1944, Heinrich Himmler, Göring and Joseph Goebbels were all still alive, and any one of them&mdashor others&mdashcould have taken over and carried on the war. And remember, while Claus von Stauffenberg and his fellow conspirators were undoubtedly brave, the idea that they were somehow liberal democrats is rubbish, and we can&rsquot assume they would have ended the war. Possibly the only positive thing that would have resulted from Hitler&rsquos death, from the German point of view, is that whoever replaced him would probably have made fewer strategic blunders than he did.

Why didn&rsquot Germany and Japan cooperate more closely than they did?
The Germans saw the Japanese as adjuncts to the greater effort they were putting in. The Japanese never trusted the Germans they didn&rsquot even tell Berlin they were going to attack Pearl Harbor. Neither country put in the diplomatic work required to really coordinate their efforts. Essentially, the Second World War was two separate conflicts fought simultaneously.

Who were the most effective combat generals of the war?
The Russian Georgy Zhukov, because he was given every impossible task and succeeded at all of them. For Germany, Erich von Manstein, who came up with the &ldquosickle cut&rdquo maneuver that in May 1940 defeated France and was the most effective German general on the Eastern Front. George Patton, who seemed to have a sixth sense for war, despite the fact that by the end of the conflict he seems to have been stark, staring mad. Britain&rsquos General Sir William Slim was an astonishingly good commander, both when he led the retreat from Burma and when he led the advance back through Burma. And the greatest French combat general was the very gifted armor commander Philippe Leclerc.

What about the Soviet Union&rsquos part in the war?
The major problem with the historiography of World War II is the Cold War&mdashit was not in the West&rsquos postwar interest to acknowledge that it was the Russians who destroyed the Wehrmacht, at an unbelievable cost to themselves. We are just now beginning to acknowledge the Soviet Union&rsquos contribution. Consider that when in August 1944 the Allies closed the Falaise pocket, they captured some 35,000 Germans. At roughly the same time, during Operation Bagration, the Russians killed, wounded or captured 510,000 Germans. Statistically, the Eastern Front was where the war was won&mdashout of every five Germans killed in battlefield combat, four died on the Eastern Front. Yes, the British and Americans smashed Germany&rsquos war economy and defeated the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine but when it came to killing Germans on the ground, the Russians were far and away more effective.


Understanding Russia’s Concept for Total War in Europe

In the night of February 26 to 27, 2014, small groups of armed men, who later acquired the labels “little green men,” and even “polite green men” (which were anything but), appeared across Crimea.[1] They corralled Ukrainian forces in their bases, making it plain that any attempt to leave would be met with violence they took over communications masts and studios, ensuring that the only messages accessible to the Crimean population were those they sent out they took over government offices, ensuring that no decisions other than those they approved could be made and eventually, at the point of a gun, ensured that the Crimean assembly voted to approve a plebiscite, which would eventually return a near-Soviet-era approval rating of 93 percent for the (re)-unification of Crimea with Mother Russia. Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, later admitted the denials made at the time about Russian involvement were untrue, and that the entire operation had been planned and conducted by Russia’s armed forces. Shorn of its disguise it was a Russian invasion and occupation pure and simple.

Crimea is a peninsula extension of Ukraine that, while incorporated into Russia in Tsarist times, had been part of Ukraine since 1954.[2] It remained so when the Soviet Union collapsed and Ukraine emerged as an independent state. The transfer was reaffirmed in a further treaty in 2003.[3] Russia’s invasion was an act of war in contravention of the United Nations Charter and international law. Moreover, when Russia subsequently absorbed Crimea, it was the first forced transfer of territory in Europe since 1945. Russia’s claims that it has acted legally in response to appeals by the ousted Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych, and the region’s majority Russian-speaking population, were manifestly bogus.[4]

This illegal act, and the subsequent Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine, has sparked shamefully little international outrage. The belief appears widespread that, while the West seeks a negotiated settlement to the eastern Ukraine invasion, it will acquiesce to the seizure of Crimea. The principal Western response has been economic: the imposition of a very limited range of sanctions on Russian individuals and corporations which, although they have inflicted quite possibly greater economic pain than is realized or yet apparent, has not made Russia’s leadership re-think its aggression or restore the status quo ante.[5] No attempt has been made to supply Ukraine with the arms it needs to expel the Russian-backed forces from its territory. This reluctant response, not least by the Obama Administration, makes a broad-based understanding of what appears to be a new Russian politico-military doctrine essential. The same goes for the steps the United States and its allies need to take to counter it successfully in the future.

How Russia Views the West

Russia perceives itself as a country surrounded by enemies. This has been a persistent theme throughout its history. It was an important driver of its westward territorial expansion into Central Europe, south across the Black Sea and into the Caucasus, and east all the way to the Pacific, in search of strategic depth. It began under the tsars, took a pause during the early days in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution, but continued in 1945 under the rule of Stalin. With the fall of the Soviet Union, significant portions of that depth were lost, most significantly in Europe.

Russians also ascribe cultural and military significance to territory it is difficult for outsiders to understand how important it is to Russians’ sense of national identity. In this sense, no territory is more significant than Ukraine, in which is located much of the original Russian heartland known as the Rus, and Crimea which, when transferred to Ukraine by Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, occasioned considerable resentment even at the time. Equally, it seems that many Russians are unable to appreciate how seminal personal and political freedom, democracy, and the rule of law are to the self-identity of people living in Western Europe and North America, and to the peoples of Central Europe that retain a clear recollection of Soviet oppression.

The sense of encirclement featured prominently in the 2003 Russian Defense White Paper, which essentially dismissed the concept of a “common European home” that had been proposed by the last Soviet premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, along with its commitment to non-aggression.[6] Suspicion of Western good faith, and the belief that NATO and the European Union had abrogated agreements arrived at following the fall of the Berlin Wall, compounded Russia’s belief in its own isolation and vulnerability. In particular NATO was accused of expanding into former Warsaw Pact states in defiance of understandings. Yet in 1993, Russia’s first post-Soviet president, Boris Yeltsin, in speeches in both Warsaw and Prague, conceded that Russia could not stand in the way if former Warsaw Pact states wished to join NATO or the European Union, and that such moves did not compromise Russian interests. Although Russian officials quickly repudiated their leader’s public statements, the U.S. and NATO’s European members made it clear that in the light of Yeltsin’s admission they would welcome the accession of Central European states.

The crucial point, however, was that it was the facts on the ground that counted. NATO enlarged because it could. Russia, now no longer the Soviet Union, was weak. Because Russian weakness continued, Western European governments subsequently felt able to shrink their own defense establishments radically, while successive U.S. Administrations felt free to withdraw forces back to bases in America. Even as Vladimir Putin’s antagonistic rhetoric and Russian investment in its military capability increased, fed by high energy prices, neither was met with a commensurate response from the West. The upshot is that NATO is relatively weaker militarily, and less cohesive politically, than it was. Russia is aggressive now because it can be.

Putin stated that Crimea was annexed to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO.[7] While there was a remote possibility that Ukraine may have been admitted to the EU, its chances of joining NATO in the near future and sheltering under Article 5 collective defense guarantees were close to zero. Putin’s statement was political: The message to his domestic audience was that Russia was strong again and would remain so under his leadership to NATO and Western leaders it was a signal that Russia had the means and the will not just to stop NATO coming to Ukraine’s aid (as it had done to a limited extent with Georgia in 2008) but to take back what had been taken from it during its own period of weakness.

This defiance, however, is not born of strength, but of the recognition that, while the gap has narrowed considerably, its inferiority to the West continues. Russia believes it is under attack. It believes that the strategic depth, which has always been its principal security, must be restored, and for that to happen it needs to gain the strategic initiative. The narrative that the West has defaulted on, or even broken, post–Cold War agreements is useful as a justification for aggressive diplomacy and covert measures even though it takes no account of Western Europe’s de-militarization and the fact NATO made no attempt to advance its front line hundreds of miles eastward. In 1994, Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov even stated that he had “become convinced NATO is not a threat to Russia, but I have millions to convince in Russia who are still worried that it is a threat.”[8]

Under Putin, no effort was made to correct this impression, arguably because no substantial authoritarian state has survived without external enemies. Consequently, it now demands, in effect, that the West acquiesce in suppressing (or at best refusing to support) Ukrainian democracy, personal and press freedom, rule of law, and economic ties to European and world markets. It wants the countries in what it refers to as its “near abroad” to remain locked into its sphere of influence without any prospect of release.[9] While Putin talks about the need for a military buffer zone between Russia and the West, what worries him and his lieutenants more is the erosion of a political dead zone around Russia’s borders where politically dangerous ideas can be stifled before they infect the homeland and undermine his position. A Ukraine—or even Belarus—that escaped Russian control sufficiently to hold free and fair elections, defeat corruption, guarantee judicial independence, and succeed in building a diversified market economy free of state-run enterprises would stand as a powerful rebuke to the faux democratic, corrupt, and energy-dependent home of oligarchic-capitalism that is Russia today. Unfortunately, too many Western countries are prepared to appease Russia—at least to a point—in hopes of a quiet life. Under President Obama, the United States appears to be one of them.

Russia’s Tactics, Ability, and Hostility

Russia’s tactics, its ability to carry them out, and its hostility toward the West have come as a shock to Western observers. In each case this shock is misplaced. Each is underpinned by a coherent strategy, but the policy that drives the strategy is mired in a sour mixture of anti-Western resentment, conspiracy theories, clericism, and nationalism.

Crucially, Russia has clearly thought about how it can use asymmetric means to offset its own weakness. In part this has meant drawing upon its Soviet past. What has occurred in Crimea and eastern Ukraine has its roots in Leninist theory and early Bolshevik military experience. Lenin built on Clausewitz when he subordinated all military activity to political purpose and drew no distinction between military and civilian domains, but left his own mark on military theory when he emphasized the role of propaganda and taught that terrorism was a legitimate tool of war. In 1924, Estonia was attacked in a manner similar to the 2014 invasion of Crimea: The attacking force consisted of unmarked Soviet troops and local agents—backed by the threat of an invasion by Soviet regular forces—which took over strategic locations, government buildings, and communications facilities in what turned out to be a failed attempt to overthrow the Estonian government.[10] Later, in 1939, a large Soviet force invaded Finland in what became known as the Winter War. As soon as the Soviets crossed the border, they set up a puppet government, like the “little green men” did in Crimea.[11]

During the Cold War the Soviet Army reportedly laid elaborate plans to infiltrate Western Europe with small groups drawn from the Main Intelligence Agency (GRU) and the Spetznaz, its special operations forces (SOF), to carry out intelligence, surveillance, sabotage, terror, and assassination missions. These groups would have worn civilian clothing, arrived in the target countries using civilian transport, and once there would have teamed up with Soviet spy networks, sleeper agents, and sympathetic locals before drawing their weapons and explosives from pre-positioned stashes.[12] Finally, the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was led by 700 Spetznaz troops wearing Afghan uniforms.[13]

Yet military thought does not stand still and Russian military thought, both pre-Soviet and post-Soviet, has, like Soviet military thought, a long history of sound analysis and effective innovation. U.S. military thinking over the past 20 years, for example, has been shaped in many ways by the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs, which has its origins in the Soviet concept of a “military-technical revolution” that evolved in the 1980s.[14] More recently, Russian thinkers have married previous Soviet thinking about asymmetric warfare to lessons drawn from modern warfare involving the West and their own experience in Chechnya.

The chief of staff of the Russian Federation, General Valery Gerasimov, writing in the journal Voenno-promishlenniy kurier in 2013 argued, with reference to the events of the “Arab Spring,” that the rules of warfare had changed, making open warfare both harder to realize and in many cases unnecessary.[15] The objectives that had previously been viewed as attainable by direct military action alone could now be achieved by combining organized military violence with a greater emphasis on economic, political, and diplomatic activity, a combination he called new generation warfare (NGW), and which observers in the West have labelled the Gerasimov Doctrine.[16]

In Gerasimov’s view, non-military methods could be superior to direct military action in reaching political and strategic goals, and this needed to be reflected in a new and diversified order of battle. He makes the point that in recent conflicts non-military measures occurred at a rate of four to one over military operations.[17] Consequently, when laying out his argument, Gerasimov emphasized the importance of controlling the information space and the real-time coordination of all aspects of a campaign, in addition to the use of targeted strikes deep in enemy territory and the destruction of critical civilian as well as military infrastructure. The ground force element, he continued, which should be concealed as long as possible, needed to consist of paramilitary and civilian insurgents backed by large numbers of SOF and supported by robotic weapons, such as drones. Regular units “should be put into action only in the late phases of the conflict, often under the disguise of peacekeeper or crisis-management forces.”[18]

New generation warfare is a live topic among Russian strategic thinkers. Russian presidential adviser Vladislav Surkov has written about “non-linear” war, describing it as one that involves everybody and everything while remaining elusive in its main contours.[19] Two other writers, Sergei Chekinov and Sergei Bogdanov, elaborated Gerasimov’s thesis. They argued that the Gulf War was the first NGW conflict in history and illustrated the importance of neutralizing the enemy’s military superiority through the combined use of political, economic, technological, ecological, and information campaigns, and optimizing the effectiveness of all these tools by integrating them into a single, shared system of command and control.[20]

Chekinov and Bogdanov shared Gerasimov’s concern that the U.S. could orchestrate a NGW campaign against Russia. Consequently they argued that Russia had to develop the capacity and capability to deploy non-military methods on a large scale before—and during—any armed confrontation. They listed media, religious and cultural organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and pro-democracy movements in Russia that benefited from foreign funding, and scholars in receipt of foreign grants, as possible components in a coordinated attack and accused the U.S. of organizing an army of Internet “trolls” and of using Twitter and Facebook for information warfare purposes.[21] This goes some way to explain the 2012 closure of the U.S. Agency for International Development office in Moscow and the more recent crackdown on foreign donor organizations and their recipients.[22]

Finally, the authors emphasized the combat importance of electronic warfare. In their view NGW would be dominated increasingly by psychological and information warfare aimed at crushing the morale of enemy troops and the population, thus breaking their will to resist.[23]

New Generation Warfare in Action

András Rácz, summing up Chekinov and Bogdanov’s thesis, writes that there is a “striking similarity between the new generation war theoretically described by [them] in 2013 and the events that took place in Ukraine in 2014, particularly prior to and during the Russian operation in Crimea.”[24] The salient features of NGW as they describe it, and the facts on the ground in Crimea and later in Eastern Ukraine, are important, but must be viewed as part of an evolving concept not an example of settled doctrine.

Phase One: Weakening the Target and Preparing the Battlespace. Aggressive war is about the exploitation of weakness for political purposes. It is distinguished from other political acts through its extensive—in the classical sense, predominant—use of organized violence. In NGW, organized violence is an ever-present threat, wielded mainly by organized civilian demonstrators, agitators, and SOF but only in the later stages—if necessary—by conventional forces:

  • During Phase One of a NGW campaign, Russia would deploy all arms of Russian power to identify political, economic, and military vulnerabilities, and weaknesses in government administration and the police.
  • In the information domain, Russia would seek to establish or buy media assets it could control (such as the RT network, which has built an increasing presence across Europe and North America headlined by Russia Today) establish or suborn NGOs to support Russian policies directly or indirectly and establish diplomatic and media narratives that, when the time comes, can be used to justify and defend the actions of those who oppose the target government on the one hand, and on the other to cheerlead Russian support for opposition or secessionist interests. These actions are very similar to the agitprop tactics and influence operations deployed during the Soviet era. They have been upgraded significantly in terms of sophistication and reach for superficial similarity with Western news organizations.[25] These Russian outlets do not, however, harbor any doubts about which side they are on.
  • Beyond the information war, Russia would use political, diplomatic, media, and covert means to encourage dissatisfaction with central authority encourage local separatist movements inflame ethnic, religious, and social divisions recruit politicians, officials, and members of the target country’s military make common cause with organized crime groups and, by establishing close economic ties with the target country or specific companies, make it dependent on Russian markets or supplies, thus creating a vested interest in maintaining good relations even in the face of Russian military or political provocations. When the time for action arrives, the established networks will be activated, or the level of their activities stepped up, while Russian regular forces will be massed on the border under the pretext of military exercises.

Countering these moves is difficult because almost nothing illegal has occurred, no violent incidents have taken place, dislocations of food and energy supplies can be presented as commercial disagreements, and much of what is circulated in the media can be regarded as legitimate comment. If the target government overreacts, that can play to Russia’s advantage, enabling it to protest its innocence, establish a narrative of non-intervention, and even condemn the government’s actions if they prejudice the rights and interests of Russian minorities. As Rácz comments, sowing “self-doubt and fear constitute important parts” of Moscow’s subversive ambition.[26]

Phase Two: Attack. During this phase, Russia would exploit the tensions it has created to bring down the legitimate government and establish its own substitute regime.

  • The first moves would be to launch mass protests and riots in key population centers in an attempt to render them ungovernable (and if the target government uses disproportionate force in an attempt to suppress them, so much the better) infiltrate SOF disguised as civilians to sabotage infrastructure and take over administrative centers mount attacks and commit acts of sabotage to inculcate fear and chaos by stretching thin the government’s resources while using intense media attacks to exaggerate the sense of un-governability. Attempts by the targeted government to respond using its own police and armed forces would be deterred by the massed presence of Russian regular forces threatening a conventional military attack from across the border, and neutralized by blockading them in their barracks, bribing their officers, cutting their communications, and using disinformation to break their morale.
  • Attempts by the international community to intervene would be confused and deterred by sustained international media and diplomatic campaigns—and economic disruption—designed to isolate the target country. Uncertainty would be increased by a relentless campaign denying that Russian forces were involved. Previously unheard of political groupings would emerge, which by seizing administrative control, would shroud the Russian-sponsored alternative power centers in quasi-legitimacy.

The operations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine both opened with the appearance of men in unmarked Russian uniforms (“little green men”), in unmarked Russian vehicles, carrying Russian military-issue weapons. They established barricades and checkpoints and blockaded Ukrainian army and police bases, making it clear that force would be used if the units inside attempted to leave.[27]

Political targets were of primary importance. The Crimean parliament building was occupied on February 27, 2014, effectively ending local decision making.[28] Similarly in Donetsk, the regional state administrative office was one of the first targets when the occupation began in April 2014. It remains the headquarters of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic. At the same time, well-drilled demonstrators in civilian clothes (though often carrying guns) occupied less-defended government buildings, media outlets, and critical infrastructure.

Throughout, Russian official spokesmen and domestic media consistently denied that the troops were Russian, and described the demonstrators as members of the “opposition” or the “resistance.” However, on April 17, 2014, Putin admitted that Russian troops had been present, and on March 15, 2015, triumphantly tore down the whole fiction in an elaborate TV documentary.[29] Gratuitously, he made a point of saying that he had “considered” placing Russia’s strategic nuclear forces on alert at the same time.[30]

This denial policy must be considered a clear success. If Russia were to attack a member of NATO—say, one of the Baltic states—Moscow would undoubtedly mount a similar, but likely more intense, denial campaign to at least slow down the invocation of NATO’s Article 5 commitment to mutual self-defense, and to isolate and demoralize the government and population of the target country.[31]

Phase Three: Consolidating Power. The proponents of NGW recognize that occupation is insufficient for achieving a fait accompli an alternative government must be installed, however manufactured its legitimacy may be.

  • This legitimacy hinges on a referendum on secession or independence taking place quickly with strong Russian backing and media support. Once the correct answer has been obtained, Russia is able either to provide larger quantities of support openly or establish a military presence that fights, openly or covertly, alongside the “resistance” to the original government as it defends the newly established state. “A sub-variant,” as Rácz puts it, “is an open invasion under the pretext of ‘peacekeeping’ or ‘crisis management.’”
  • The original state would be confronted by two enormous problems: First, the loss of territory would mean economic and political dislocation, currency devaluation, loss of taxation income, and thus a significant weakening in its international economic standing—problems that may be made worse by fleeing refugees and a humanitarian crisis.[32]
  • The Crimean vote was superficially successful with reportedly 97 percent of the population voting to secede on an 80 percent turnout. Putin used these results to publicly justify Russian intervention in his March 2015 broadcast. In fact, as the Russian Human Rights Council inadvertently admitted later, turnout was only 30 percent, half of whom voted against independence, meaning that Russia gained the support of only 15 percent of the population.

In eastern Ukraine, the initial intervention overthrew the local administrations in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. However, without the presence of Russian bases, as existed in Crimea, and the pressure these could be used to exert on elites and the general population, support for secession remained low. All the irregular forces could do was to hold the two regions in a political and military limbo. Recognizing this, the Ukrainian government launched a counter-offensive, the Anti-Terror Operation (ATO), on April 15, 2014. Initially it could not be regarded as a success.

In May, the Russian-sponsored separatists held referenda in the two territories with results (unsurprisingly) in line with those registered in Crimea. However, following the election of Petro Poroshenko as president of Ukraine on May 25, 2014, the ATO gained new momentum. While the separatists and their Russian backers were able to use NGW methods to undermine and significantly weaken Ukraine, like other irregular forces and irregular methods they were unable to sustain their position in the face of the advancing Ukrainian regular formations.

Russia could have withdrawn its support at this point. It chose, instead, to launch an invasion and initiate a conventional, if limited, inter-state war. For the second time in two years Russia abrogated the Budapest Memorandum it signed in 1994 committing it to “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.”[33] For the second time in two years the other signatories to the treaty, the United States and the United Kingdom, while under no treaty obligation to do so, nonetheless failed to provide Ukraine with the political, economic, and large-scale military assistance it needed to prevent its dismemberment.

What War Are We Fighting?

Clausewitz exhorts political leaders and military commanders to understand clearly the enemy and the war upon which they are engaged.[34] The current confusion over terminology invites practitioners to both overestimate and underestimate Russia’s ability to fight NGW, and run the risk of being ill-prepared for similar campaigns in the future.

NGW is referred to widely in the West as “hybrid” warfare. Other terms including “ambiguous,” “gray zone challenges,” and “non-linear” have also been used, but hybrid was the term adopted by NATO.[35] The term hybrid was first linked with warfare by William Nemeth in his Naval Postgraduate School thesis on the Chechen war in which he proposed that for the Chechens the war amounted to much more than the battlefield itself. Militarily they brought together regular and irregular methods in a highly flexible combination. However, they also perceived war “in a wider, non-linear sense and hence, in addition to field tactics, they also employed all the means of the information age to gain an advantage over their enemies.” In Nemeth’s estimation this style of warfare was made possible by the structure of Chechen society and was specific to it.[36]

Two American scholars who studied the phenomenon subsequently, Michael McCuen and Frank Hoffman, did not view it as society-specific. For McCuen, hybrid conflicts were “full spectrum wars with both physical and conceptual dimensions: the former, a struggle against an armed enemy and the latter, a wider struggle for control and support of the combat zone’s indigenous population, the support of the home fronts of the intervening nations, and the support of the international community.”[37] He drew two critical lessons from his reading of these conflicts: The first was that hybrid warfare required simultaneous success on all fronts instead of following the sequential form of conventional warfare the second was that in order to win hybrid conflicts, military victories had to be followed immediately by social reconstruction to prevent the opponent from filling the vacuum.[38]

Hoffman came to hybrid war by studying Hezbollah in its 1992 war with Israel. His conclusion was that hybrid threats

For Nemeth and McCuen, hybrid warfare was practiced by non-state actors for Hoffman, it could be practiced by states as well.[40] The Soviet Union was the first state to practice hybrid warfare (against Estonia and Finland), establishing a pattern that Nazi Germany followed against Czechoslovakia and Austria, and to which Russia is now returning. In Hoffman’s view, hybrid warfare does not signal the end of conventional warfare, but adds a further layer of complexity to the way violent actors fight to win.[41]

A third American, Russell Glenn, added additional dimensions to hybridized warfare when he argued that any definition that focused predominantly on the use of force and violence and underplayed the use of political, diplomatic, and economic tools was turning a blind eye to critical aspects of this new form of war.[42] Grasping this is essential to understanding what Russia is doing. For Glenn, hybrid warfare involves state and non-state actors, singly or in combination, that “simultaneously and adaptively employ some combination of (1) political, military, economic, social, and information means, and (2) conventional, irregular, catastrophic, terrorism, and disruptive/criminal warfare methods.”[43] This definition accords strikingly with the observed actions of Russian forces and the Russian government during the takeover of Crimea and the invasion of eastern Ukraine.[44]

Glenn’s definition, the Gerasimov Doctrine, and the behavior of Russian forces starting with the Russo-Georgian War of 2008 and developing through the Crimean and eastern Ukrainian crises, all link back directly to the revolutionary warfare theories of Lenin and early Bolshevik practice. NGW is also reflected in Mao, in more recent Chinese thinking about psychological, legal, and media warfare, which is referred to together as the “Three Warfares,” and the theories of “Unrestricted Warfare” articulated by two People’s Liberation Army colonels in 2002.[45] Consequently, the world is likely to see further examples of this warfare around Asia’s periphery.

But Nemeth made another salient comment about hybrid warfare: Its nature, he wrote, is “total.”[46] It blurs the distinction between combatants and non-combatants. The Chechens had no compunction in using terrorism, massacres, criminal methods, and the inhumane treatment of prisoners. Glenn similarly saw potentially no theoretical limit preventing the use of every weapon up to and including acts of catastrophic terrorism that could include the destruction of dams and nuclear power plants.[47]

Current Russian strategic thinking as embodied in the NGW concept is clearly guided by the Leninist view of warfare that is to say its only limit is what is possible and expedient politically. Putin is nothing if not an opportunist. While Russia’s domestic and economic policies are no longer guided by Marxist-Leninism, Putin has filled the resulting hole with nationalism. Putin and the current Russian elite have embraced the idea of Greater Russia. They have married the expansionist nationalism of the tsars to the absolutist military strategy of Lenin. Given Russia’s continuing research, development, and manufacture of biological and chemical weapons, and its investment in low-yield nuclear weapons, these too could conceivably play a role in future confrontations while staying true to the NGW formula. It is worth recalling that Leninism never assumed it had the support of the people it always came to power by seizing it.

Continuing to refer to NGW as hybrid war may, therefore, blur understanding of its true nature. It may circumscribe the West’s response by encouraging the belief that what the West is facing is a sub-set of conventional war, a variation that might be best viewed as a complication, when in fact it is total war that can be escalated without limit. NGW is a concept for fighting total war in Europe that borrows many of its features from what the Russians encountered—and learnt from—during the brutal fighting in Chechnya.[48] It envisages achieving effect across all fronts—political, economic, informational, and cyber—simultaneously. It aims to achieve its objectives through fear and intimidation without launching a large-scale attack. If conventional fighting is required, however, it is highly networked and multidirectional the stakes, moreover, can be raised rapidly and possibly without limit. Russia has brought total war back to Europe—in a hidden, undeclared, and ambiguous form.

Contextualizing and Defeating NGW

It is worth repeating that it is important to neither overestimate nor underestimate Russian capabilities.[49] It is important, too, to recognize that the local circumstances that made Russia successful in Crimea and eastern Ukraine may not be repeatable, at least not initially:

  • Russia achieved strategic and tactical surprise the first is unlikely to be repeated while the second will be if defensive methods r,emain underdeveloped.[50]
  • Surprise worked best when combined with deception, such as making the attackers indistinguishable from civilians.
  • Information warfare was successful at all levels in confusing and isolating defensive forces the relentless denial program succeeded in sowing doubts about Ukrainian claims while meshing with Western reluctance to revise widely held opinions about Russia as an economic and political partner political leaders and commentators in many countries found it difficult to acknowledge that a member of the G-8 was willing to tear up international norms and defy Western good opinion.[51]
  • High levels of Russian ownership of media assets made it easy to hammer home pro-Russian messages the Ukrainian government found it practically impossible to counter this messaging it also lost contact with many of its own units which, in the absence of higher direction, often gave up their arms or went over to the Russian side, a collapse of morale that was exacerbated by the presence of disloyal Ukrainian army and police commanders.
  • Russia was able to portray Russian-speaking minorities as threatened and in need of protection, although the actual level of popular support was far less than claimed. The exaggeration and exploitation of minority dissatisfaction has been a feature of Russian policy in what it refers to as the “near abroad” since the fall of the Soviet Union. Long and bitter experience of living under Soviet rule had pre-conditioned large numbers of people to react passively in the face of threatened violence.
  • Shared borders enabled Russia to mass large numbers of regular forces that inhibited Ukrainian (and Western) reactions, for fear of provoking a larger conflict this presence was especially marked and effective in Crimea, where Russian forces were based inside the country common borders also enabled and simplified covert, and eventually overt, Russian logistical support for its separatist proxies.
  • Finally, Ukraine was a weak and divided country had suffered years of economic mismanagement and widespread corruption and those living in the eastern oblasts and Crimea had legitimate grievances against the Kiev government that Russia could exploit.

Consequently, it is possible to suggest that NGW can be stymied and defeated providing:

  • The target government has a sound democratic mandate, manages the economy competently, counters corruption, and responds to minority concerns without alienating majority interests the latter is important because experience suggests that Russia is able to leverage low levels of dissatisfaction among a Russian minority even in the absence of active support.
  • Dependence on Russian energy supplies is progressively reduced permitting the export of U.S. oil and gas would provide European countries with an important alternative.
  • That the sum total of national and NATO collective defense measures is able to neutralize the threat of a mass Russian military attack. The difference between the Crimean and eastern Ukrainian outcomes suggests that the proximate presence of Russian forces and their ability to provide insurgents with large-scale logistical support is a crucial factor for NGW success.
  • That while there may be no direct defense against NGW’s preparatory phase, national and collective intelligence resources must be capable of monitoring developments, adequate police resources must be available to investigate subversive activities, and riot teams must be in a position to move decisively against street demonstrations, irregular forces, and Russian SOF within an agreed and understood legal framework that meets international standards.
  • Civilian and military infrastructure is hardened and protected.
  • The target government maintains information warfare dominance by ensuring that sufficient communications channels remain open to deliver its message throughout the country, and it is able to influence public opinion internationally.
  • Advanced offensive and defensive cyber and electronic warfare capabilities are developed and deployed.
  • NATO adopts a strong defensive posture throughout those Central European and Baltic members under greatest potential threat from Russia. Regalvanizing European solidarity is perhaps the greatest obstacle. What NATO cannot afford is to be dissuaded from such a move by a concerted and relentless Russian information warfare program, which would likely include a repeat of the threats to enhance its nuclear warfare capabilities that proved so effective in deterring the Obama Administration from positioning anti-ballistic-missile (ABM) defensive systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. NGW seeks to exploit weakness, and the decision not to deploy ABM systems as planned communicated weakness rather than strength.

Why It All Matters to the United States

President Obama made no immediate response when Russia absorbed Crimea—the first unilateral change in European political geography since 1945. When he spoke about it on March 24, 2014, nearly one month later, his judgment was that Russia was no more than a “regional power,” one that was lashing out “not in strength but in weakness,” could only threaten its near neighbors, and presented no existential threat to the U.S. President Obama was saying, in effect, that it was a matter of little consequence.[52] He was correct as far as he went. In fact, on April 7, when armed men in civilian clothes occupied government buildings in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv, his assessment was confirmed: The action was regional, demonstrated weakness because five months later Russia needed to rescue its irregular action with a limited conventional invasion, took place on the territory of the same near neighbor, and proffered no direct military threat to the United States.[53]

The world, however, is made up of regions. Russia’s regional action, and America’s relative inaction regionally and globally, has made the world a more dangerous place. The current global order is largely America’s creation. It requires American leadership to survive. While the current global order works to America’s advantage—and why should it not?—it also works to the advantage of others, which is why it attracts widespread, though not universal, support. All it takes for less-benign orders to arise is for America to do nothing.

Russia’s assault might be confined physically to its near neighbors. It might well arise out of weakness: Russia is not strong enough to confront American conventional military power.[54] It may also be true that the tactics it uses against its neighbors may present no direct threat to the U.S. and its allies although to imply that Russian military power as a whole, given its enormous nuclear arsenal, presents, no existential threat to the U.S., is some way short of the truth. NGW, however, is an asymmetric strategy. It is not designed to confront America where it is strong but where it is weak. It is designed to exploit America’s inability since the fall of the Berlin Wall to conceptualize its global role in grand strategic terms and thus to see indirect threats for what they are, its consequent political and military uncertainty when confronted by indirect challenges, and finally its concomitant inability to seize the strategic initiative by molding what Frank Hoffman has described as the “full range of methods and modes of conflict”—including political, diplomatic, economic, legal, military, cyber, and covert forms of warfare—into a comprehensive approach.[55]

NGW is designed to exploit the West’s current, limited interpretation of what constitutes conflict and the dangerously unbalanced American and European preference for conflict prevention and conflict resolution over conflict engagement and deterrence. Suggestions, therefore, that the U.S. should engage in risk-reduction and renewed confidence-building measures with Russia are wide of the mark theorists of NGW view “peace treaties and other initiatives” as a way of hamstringing the opponent and limiting its freedom of action.[56] Russia has all the confidence it needs because it sees U.S. hesitation as its opportunity. Failure to confront Russian opportunism will validate Putin’s approach. Russia is a canny opponent. It will learn from the successes and failures of its recent campaigns and the West’s response, as it did from its war with Georgia, and is likely to continue to use and refine NGW to accomplish its objectives.

The United States needs to recognize that its own organizational, institutional, and intellectual approach to war is precisely what is enabling Russia to succeed. The U.S. is overly dependent on military responses. The Russian approach is designed specifically to avoid giving the U.S. and other outside powers a reason to respond using military force. The U.S. consequently needs to broaden its response portfolio to include political, diplomatic, economic, financial, cyber, covert, and other means coordinated into a “whole of government” approach that is able to counter rapid moves by an adversary across the whole spectrum of potential conflict. America has the means and resources to counter this hidden, undeclared, and ambiguous form of warfare, but will only be able to deploy them if it is able to become more flexible and less predictable in its responses. In particular, the 1947 National Security Act, which has served this country well for over half a century, needs to be revised or replaced to facilitate a more comprehensive approach. Deterrence thinking, which is associated too often with nuclear issues, also needs to be revised and reinvigorated to counter moves by adversaries that are intended to operate below the level that the U.S. would regard as war.

The risk to America’s position as the world’s only global superpower is not confined to Europe. Other states, China and Iran particularly but also non-state actors such as Hezbollah and ISIS, will have learned from what Russia has achieved and will use these lessons to diminish U.S. power and harm Western interests.[57] China’s actions in the South China Sea have many similarities with Russia’s in Crimea.[58] Unless the United States recognizes that its enemies are willing to engage in a war that is total but hidden, undeclared and ambiguous, is prepared to show the American people what this truly entails, and coordinates all elements of national power to confront this challenge, U.S. global power will erode, as hostile regional powers arise to take its place.

—Martin N. Murphy, PhD is a political and strategic analyst and and internationally recognized expert on piracy and unconventional conflict at sea. His latest book is War in the Littorals: Navies Confront the 21st Century (Routlege, forthcoming).

[1] “Putin. War: An Independent Experts Report,” based on materials from Boris Nemstov, Free Russia Foundation, May 15, 2015, p. 14, http://4freerussia.org/putin.war/Putin.War-Eng.pdf (accessed August 29, 2015). The democracy campaigner Boris Nemstov was murdered in Moscow on February 27, 2015, the anniversary of the invasion, by unknown assailants widely believed to be working for the Kremlin. See Ben Quinn, “Boris Nemtsov Murder: Putin ‘Politically Responsible’–Daughter,” The Guardian, March 12, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/12/putin-politically-responsible-for-boris-nemtsov-daughter (accessed May 25, 2016), and Vitaly Shevchenko, “‘Little Green Men’ or ‘Russian Invaders’?” BBC News, March 11, 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26532154 (accessed May 25 2016).

[2] Crimea was conquered by Catherine the Great in 1783, and was Russian until 1991 when it became part of an independent Ukraine. In 1954, Crimea was given to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic by then–Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to administer, but it was still part of the USSR. In 1991, upon the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Crimean people voted by 54 percent to leave Russia and stay with Ukraine a majority but a small one. None of these points are meant to be construed as justification for Russia’s invasion and illegal annexation of Crimea. In 1991, Russia agreed that Crimea would be part of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, so that alone should settle the legal debate on the matter.

[3] “Putin. War,” Free Russia Foundation, p. 15.

[6] András Rácz, “Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine: Breaking the Enemy’s Ability to Resist,” Finnish Institute of International Affairs Report No. 43, 2015, p. 36, http://www.fiia.fi/en/publication/514/russia_s_hybrid_war_in_ukraine/ (accessed July 15, 2015). See also Stephen J. Blank, “‘No Need to Threaten Us, We Are Frightened of Ourselves,’ Russia’s Blueprint for a Police State, The New Security Strategy,” in Stephen J. Blank and Richard Weitz, eds., The Russian Military Today and Tomorrow: Essays in Memory of Mary Fitzgerald (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2010), pp. 83–84, and Keir Giles, “Russia’s National Security Strategy to 2020,” NATO Defense College Research Division, 2009, http://www.conflictstudies.org.uk/files/rusnatsecstrategyto2020.pdf (accessed June 6, 2016). The concept of a “common European home” was outlined in a speech to the Council of Europe in 1989. “Excerpts from Speech by Gorbachev in France,” The New York Times, July 7, 1989, http://www.nytimes.com/1989/07/07/world/excerpts-from-speech-by-gorbachev-in-france.html (accessed August 6, 2015).

[7] Rácz, “Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine,” p. 50.

[8] Tim Butcher, “Russian Defense Minister Warms to NATO Growth,” The Washington Times, November 20, 1996, p. A11.

[9] William Safire defined the “near abroad” as “the claim by Russia of political interest and influence in states adjacent to it that were once part of the Soviet Union.” William Safire, “On Language The Near Abroad,” The New York Times, May 22, 1994, http://www.nytimes.com/1994/05/22/magazine/on-language-the-near-abroad.html (accessed May 25 2016).

[10] Merle Maigre, “Nothing New in Hybrid Warfare: The Estonian Experience and Recommendations for NATO,” The German Marshall Fund of the United States Policy Brief, February 12, 2015, http://www.gmfus.org/publications/nothing-new-hybrid-warfare-estonian-experience-and-recommendations-nato (accessed May 25, 2016).

[11] Paul Goble, “75 Years on Russia Again Engaged in a Winter War,” Window on Eurasia, November 30, 2014, http://windowoneurasia2.blogspot.fi/2014/11/window-on-eurasia-75-years-on-russia.html (accessed May 25, 2016), and Rácz, “Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine,” p. 50.

[12] Victor Suverov, Spetsnaz: The Inside Story of the Soviet SAS (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1987), and William H. Burgess III, “Spetsnaz and Deep Operations,” in William H. Burgess III, ed., Inside Spetsnaz: Soviet Special Operations–A Critical Analysis (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1990), pp. 221–233.

[13] Nicu Popescu, “Hybrid Tactics: Neither New, Nor Only Russian,” European Union Institute of Security Studies Issue Alert, No. 4, January 2015, http://www.iss.europa.eu/uploads/media/Alert_4_hybrid_warfare.pdf (accessed May 26, 2016).

[14] Andrew F. Krepinevich, The Military–Technical Revolution: A Preliminary Assessment (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2002), http://www.csbaonline.org/4Publications/Archive/R.20021002.MTR/R.20021002.MTR.pdf (accessed August 9, 2015).

[15] Rácz, “Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine,” p. 36.

[16] Mark Galeotti, “The ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’ and Russian Non-Linear War,” In Moscow’s Shadows, July 6, 2014, https://inmoscowsshadows.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/the-gerasimov-doctrine-and-russian-non-linear-war/ (accessed May 26, 2016).

[17] Timothy Thomas, “Russia’s Military Strategy and Ukraine: Indirect, Asymmetric—and Putin-Led,” Journal of Slavic Military Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3 (2015), p. 455.

[18] Rácz, “Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine,” p. 37.

[20] S. G. Chekinov and S. A. Bogdanov, “The Nature and Content of a New-Generation War,” Military Thought (October–December 2013), pp. 12–23, http://www.eastviewpress.com/Files/MT_FROM%20THE%20CURRENT%20ISSUE_No.4_2013.pdf (accessed August 10, 2015), and Rácz, “Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine,” p. 37.

[21] Chekinov and Bogdanov, “The Nature and Content of a New-Generation War,” p. 17. This is one with Russian determination to secure its “national information space”—in other words, to deny its population access to information not controlled by the Kremlin. Keir Giles, “Russia’s Hybrid War: A Success in Propaganda,” German Federal Academy for Security Policy Working Paper No. 1/2015, February 18, 2015, pp. 3–4, https://www.baks.bund.de/sites/baks010/files/arbeitspapier_sicherheitspolitik_1_2015.pdf (accessed May 26, 2016).

[22] Arshad Mohammed, “Moscow Forces U.S. to Close Down Its Aid Mission in Russia,” Reuters, September 18, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/19/us-usa-russia-aid-idUSBRE88H11E20120919 (accessed May 26, 2015), and “Putin Signs Law to Shut Down ‘Undesirable’ Foreign Organizations in Russia,” Associated Press, May 24, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/24/putin-undesirable-organizations-law_n_7430800.html (accessed August 6, 2015).

[23] Chekinov and Bogdanov, “The Nature and Content of a New-Generation War,” pp. 16 and 19.

[24] Rácz, “Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine,” pp. 39 and 57–70.

[25] Giles, “Russia’s Hybrid War,” p. 1.

[26] Rácz, “Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine,” p. 59, and “Putin. War,” Free Russia Foundation, p. 5.

[28] “Putin. War,” Free Russia Foundation, p. 14.

[29] “Putin Reveals Secrets of Russia’s Crimea Takeover Plot,” BBC News, March 9, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31796226 (accessed August 13, 2015).

[30] Geoffrey Smith, “Putin Admits Plotting Crimea Annexation, Announces Massive Troop Drill,” Fortune, March 26, 2015, http://fortune.com/2015/03/16/putin-admits-plotting-crimea-annexation-announces-massive-troop-drill/ (accessed August 13, 2015).

[31] Giles, “Russia’s Hybrid War,” p. 5.

[32] Peter Spence, “Ukraine Debt Crisis: Kiev Faces Fight with Creditors as it Reels from Putin’s Blows,” The Daily Telegraph, August 8, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11789416/Ukraine-debt-crisis-Kiev-faces-fight-with-creditors-as-it-reels-from-Putins-blows.html (accessed August 8, 2015). Since the invasion, the country has lost a fifth of its entire economic output, seen its national debt rise to unsustainable levels, and its currency collapse by more than 60 percent against the dollar. The economy was predicted to contract by a further 8 percent by the end of 2015. Mehreen Khan, “Ukraine Debt Crisis: Russia Refuses to Accept Terms as Kiev Finally Secures Debt Write-Off Deal with Creditors,” The Daily Telegraph, August 27, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11827542/Ukraine-debt-crisis-Russia-refuses-to-accept-terms-as-Kiev-finally-secures-debt-write-off-deal-with-creditors.html (accessed August 27, 2015).

[33] “Budapest Memorandums on Security Assurances, 1994,” Council for Foreign Relations, December 5, 1994, http://www.cfr.org/nonproliferation-arms-control-and-disarmament/budapest-memorandums-security-assurances-1994/p32484 (accessed August 13, 2015) Steven Pifer, “The Budapest Memorandum and U.S. Obligations,” Brookings Institution, December 4, 2014, http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2014/12/04-budapest-memorandum-us-obligations-pifer (accessed August 13, 2015) and “Putin. War,” Free Russia Foundation, p. 15. It also abrogated two other treaties with Ukraine.

[34] Carl von Clausewitz, ed. and trans. by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, On War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), p. 88.

[35] Peter Apps, “‘Ambiguous Warfare’ Providing NATO with New Challenge,” Reuters, August 21, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/21/us-nato-summit-idUSKBN0GL1K820140821 (accessed August 14, 2015) Mary Ellen Connell and Ryan Evans, “Russia’s ‘Ambiguous Warfare’ and Implications for the U.S. Marine Corps,” Center for Naval Analyses, 2015, http://oai.dtic.mil/oai/oai?verb=getRecord&metadataPrefix=html&identifier=ADA618343 (accessed August 14, 2015) Peter Pomerantsev, “How Putin Is Reinventing Warfare,” Foreign Policy, May 5, 2014, http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/05/05/how-putin-is-reinventing-warfare/ (accessed August 3, 2015) and NATO, “Hybrid War–Hybrid Response,” July 3, 2014, http://www.nato.int/docu/review/2014/russia-ukraine-nato-crisis/Russia-Ukraine-crisis-war/EN/index.htm (accessed August 14, 2015). The term “gray zone” or “gray areas” was probably coined by Xavier Raufer. See Raufer, “Gray Areas: A New Security Threat,” Institute for International Studies Political Warfare: Intelligence, Active Measures and Terrorism Report No. 20 (Spring 1992), pp. 1, 4–7, and 18. See also Max G. Manwaring (ed.), Gray Area Phenomena: Confronting the New World Disorder (Boulder & Oxford: Westview Press, 1993).

[36] Rácz, “Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine,” pp. 28–30.

[39] Frank G. Hoffman, Conflict in the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid Wars (Arlington, VA: Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, December 2007), p. 8, http://www.potomacinstitute.org/images/stories/publications/potomac_hybridwar_0108.pdf (acessed August 29, 2015).

[40] Rácz, “Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine,” p. 43.

[41] Hoffman, Conflict in the 21st Century, p. 9.

[42] Russell W. Glenn, “Thoughts on ‘Hybrid’ Conflict,” Small Wars Journal, March 2, 2009, p. 3, http://smallwarsjournal.com/mag/docs-temp/188-glenn.pdf (accessed August 6, 2015).

[44] Rácz, “Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine,” p. 33.

[45] Timothy A. Walton, “China’s Three Warfares,” Delex Systems Special Report No. 3, January 18, 2012, http://www.delex.com/data/files/Three%20Warfares.pdf (accessed August 15, 2015), and Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, Unrestricted Warfare: China’s Masterplan to Destroy America (Panama City: Pan American Publishing Company, 2002).

[46] William J. Nemeth, “Future War and Chechnya: A Case for Hybrid War,” Monterey Naval Postgraduate School thesis, 2002, p. 74, http://calhoun.nps.edu/bitstream/handle/10945/5865/02Jun_Nemeth.pdf?sequence=1 (accessed August 6, 2015).

[47] Glenn, “Thoughts on ‘Hybrid’ Conflict,” p. 2, footnote 6, and Chekinov and Bogdanov, “The Nature and Content of a New-Generation War,” pp. 14 and 22.

[48] John Arquilla and Theodore Karascik, “Chechnya: A Glimpse of Future Conflict?’ Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Vol. 22 (1999), pp. 207–229.

[50] “NATO Recon Missed Everything: Admiral Reveals Details of Crimea Operation,” Sputnick News, March 13, 2015, http://sputniknews.com/russia/20150313/1019448901.html (accessed May 30, 2016), and “Putin. War,” Free Russia Foundation, p. 14

[51] Giles, “Russia’s Hybrid War,” pp. 3–5, emphasizes that although Russian information warfare might appear clumsy and at times counterproductive when assessed using Western criteria, it delivered against two key Russian aims: “controlling the domestic media environment, and undermining the objectivity of Western media reporting (and hence influencing the information available to policymakers),” which enable it to adjust “key variables in the security calculus determining the risk inherent in future assertive action against its neighbors.” See also Chekinov and Bogdanov, “The Nature and Content of a New-Generation War,” p. 18.


Was Russia the only country in WWII that succeeded in expansionist war aims? - History

At the end of the WWII, the United States of America, Britain and the Soviet Union had been fighting together since the 8 th of December 1941. How come that from allies united towards a single aim, the defeat of Germany, two blocs emerged? The Cold War indeed had all the characteristics of an ordinary war seeing as propaganda, arms race, ideology divergences, main enemies were involved, except that there was never actual direct fighting.

Yalta and Potsdam were the first causes of disagreement between the two great powers represented by the United States and the Soviet Union. In February 1945 at Yalta, the arguments started with the resentment which had been building up during the war, for example Stalin resented the failure to open a second front before 1944. He had for first objective to ensure Russia’s “security” and so wanted “friendly governments” in Eastern Europe. Roosevelt was prepared to make concessions with the Soviet Union, especially as he needed its help in the Pacific against Japanese. However, Roosevelt kept the development of an atomic weapon with Britain secret, an ominous sign of future tensions. Britain, on the other hand, was particularly keen to help Poland become a free country as she had gone to war over it, which was contrary to Stalin’s desire of a friendly government. Furthermore, Churchill was anti Communist from the start and had said that Communism had to be “strangled in the cradle”. Still, in the end, the 3 countries reached an agreement and Russia did even join the League of Nations. Nevertheless, most of it was a façade since Churchill wrote to Roosevelt “The Soviet Union has become a danger to the world” for example. In August at Potsdam, Truman had succeeded to Roosevelt and he was much tougher with Russians. The atomic bomb he possessed meant he did not have to rely on Russians against Japan, though they did not know about it for sure until Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Truman wanted to contain Communism as he had been influenced by George Kennan and he knew that in March, Stalin had invited the non Communist Polish leaders to meet him and he had arrested them. Countries disagreed openly on how to divide Germany, the size of German’s reparations and Russian’s influence in Eastern Europe. Yet compromises were made, such as Russia being allowed to take reparation from her zone in Germany.

Even though, agreements were made at Yalta and Potsdam, the four-zone-Germany was to be at the very the heart of disputes. Russia started dismantling factories in Eastern Germany, to bring materials back to the USSR, and took products from Eastern Europe. As a consequence, the United States and Britain stopped sending products to the USSR because they assumed Staling was wrecking the German economy. Both sides accused each other of not to respecting the agreements and in 1946, Britain and the US merged their zones, making the separation with the USSR even clearer. On top of that, in 1948 they introduced a new Deutschmark which was against the Potsdam agreements. At the same time, many East Germans were trying to leave the Russian zone via Berlin which angered Russians who called them “defectors”. As a result, Stalin started the Berlin blockade in 1948 which the US and Great Britain circumvent with the Berlin airlift. It resulted in the military alliance NATO in April 1949 which Stalin surely took as a challenge. The Berlin blockade was a period of increased tensions because if the USSR had shot an airplane, the Cold War would have turned into a “hot war”.

Germany was not the only cause of the Cold War, the focus was also on Eastern Europe where the US saw the Communist influence growing. The USA and GB wanted free elections but the Red Army was still in place and could control countries. The USSR claimed a huge number of Communists had been elected in Poland whereas Khrushchev later admitted in his memoirs that elections were totally falsified. Little by little there were Communists takeovers in Eastern Europe, Mikolajczyk was even forced to flee for his life from Poland in 1947. Jan Mazaryk’s death in Czechoslovakia in 1948 was also strongly suspected to be a murder. The Salami tactics were being used to undermine the non Communists in governments. It seemed to prove what Kennan had said: that the Soviet Union was being expansionist. It is not sure to what extent these internal coups d’état were directed from Moscow but it did not matter, for the US, the Soviet Union was behind it all: perception mattered more than the actual truth. Purges, arrests, executions of opponents and censorships started to be the lot of Eastern countries as Stalin was getting paranoid after Tito defied him. Once again, it confirmed to the Americans that the Soviet Union was imperialistic as the Long Telegram had stated, and they became even more convinced that they had to stop the Russians. Eastern Europe was a cause and a result of the Cold War. The more USSR controlled Eastern Europe, the more worried the West became and complained and the more the USSR tried to gain influence.

The Cold War also was a result of the policy of containment in accordance with Kennan’s Long Telegram, Truman’s doctrine and the Marshall Plan. Churchill had already introduced the term of the “Iron Curtain” on the 5 th of March 1946 when Kennan published his Long Telegram, an analysis of Russia. Kennan concluded that Russia was an imperialistic, paranoid, and expansionist power. Truman took his advice which resulted in the policy of containment. Czechoslovakia becoming Communist in 1948 prompted the Marshall Plan. The US offered contributions to any country which would fulfil her criteria including inspections. The USSR refused for herself and for countries she controlled. She called it “Dollar Imperialism” as it could be seen as the US making every country depend on her and getting richer at the expense of poor Eastern countries buying equipments. Seeing as the Americans did not manage to have an effect on the East, Truman made radical changes to the US foreign policy. From isolationism he started what is called the Truman Doctrine which involved a big commitment from the Americans. Consequently, the US helped the Greeks and the Turks in their civil war against Communism and provided economic and military help to prevent them from falling into what they perceived as the dangerous Soviet sphere.

Which side caused the conflict which lasted until 1989? Who was to blame? The Orthodox view defends that Russians were to blame for everything. This view is supported by Historians who used evidence such as the Baruch plan when the US offered to reduce atomic weapons. On the other hand, the US disagreed to destroy the ones she already had and wanted inspections which the Soviet Union would not allow. The Revisionist view grants more importance to the Russian’s point of view but the Post Revisionist view defends that both sides had legitimate concerns about their economy or security and so that both are understandable. The Russians archives available since 1989, have made Gaddis think Stalin was to blame even if Eastern Europe’s countries archives do not necessarily show that Stalin was behind everything. It seems the conflict was inevitable as Hitler said “With the defeat of the Reich there will remain in the world only two Great Powers capable of confronting each other […] the laws of both History and Geography will compel these two powers to a trial of strength”.

In conclusion, the Cold War was caused by the disagreements over the future of Europe at Yalta and Potsdam conference, Stalin’s foreign policy spreading Communism and Truman’s mistrust towards Russians. Even if the size of the conflict could have been avoided, it was foreseeable that the two countries would be in competition even ideologically, and a theory tends to say that it is only with the possession of atomic weapons that the conflict did not come out in the open.


About the author

Dr Jonathan Smele, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, is senior lecturer in Modern European History at Queen Mary, University of London and Editor of the journal Revolutionary Russia (Frank Cass). His major publications include Civil War in Siberia: The Anti-Bolshevik Government of Admiral Kolchak, 1918 - 1920 (Cambridge University Press, 1997) and The Russian Revolution and Civil War, 1917 - 1921: An Annotated Bibliography (Continuum, 2003).


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