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US Army War College

COL George Shatzer – “SRAD Director’s Corner: Russia’s Strategy and Its War on Ukraine”

Released  1 June 2022.

In this podcast, Colonel George Shatzer, director of the Strategy Research and Analysis Department of the Strategic Studies Institute at the US Army War College, discusses books of relevance to US Joint planners and strategists, as well as those of allies and strategic partners. He applies his experience and education as a US Army senior strategist to extract insights useful to anyone contemplating how to confront the challenges of today’s strategic environment.

Click here to read the article.

Keywords: Russia, Ukraine, Russian military theory, integrated warfare, NATO

Episode Transcript

 Stephanie Crider (Host)

Welcome to Decisive Point, a US Army War College Press production featuring distinguished authors and contributors who get to the heart of the matter in national security affairs.

The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are those of the podcast guest, and are not necessarily those of the Department of the Army, US Army War College, or any other agency of the US government.

The guests in speaking order on this episode are:

(Guest 1: George Shatzer)

 (Host)

Decisive Point welcomes Colonel George Shatzer, director of the Strategic Research and Analysis Division in the Strategic Studies Institute at the US Army War College. Colonel Shatzer authors the (Strategic Research and Analysis Division or) SRAD Director’s Corner in Parameters. In the 2022 summer issue, he covers Russia and Ukraine.

 SRAD Director’s Corner is relatively new to Parameters. In it, you review books of possible interest to contemporary military strategists—especially, those serving in US Army and Joint positions. The summer issue contains the second installment of this section, and the focus is on Russia and Ukraine. Thanks for being here.

(Shatzer)

Well, thanks for the opportunity to discuss the article and this important issue.

(Host)

This conflict has not unfolded the way many people thought it would. Your piece emphasizes the value of knowing your enemy, and how it’s a pathway to understanding oneself and the kind of war on which we’re embarking. It’s through this lens that your reviews are written.

(Shatzer)
That’s right. As I mentioned in the article, the day-to-day demands of commanders, leaders, and strategists to ensure our nation’s security can be all-consuming. There are endless demands on time when you are preparing to deter war or to be ready for it, and those demands are mostly internal or focused on ourselves. Even with the assistance of very dedicated intelligence professionals, it can be easy for decisionmakers and strategists to lose sight of the adversary’s views or motivations.

So, taking the time to read works such as those that I profile in the review series can help us build insight on what the adversary is thinking.

(Host)

How does Oscar Jonsson’s The Russian Understanding of War: Blurring the Lines between War and Peace inform this topic?

(Shatzer)
Jonsson’s book was fascinating. I really appreciated how thoroughly he built a case through his review of pre-Soviet, Soviet, and modern Russian military writings and doctrine. He argues that the current Russian view of the very nature of war, not just its character, has fundamentally changed.

In brief, Jonsson asserts that Russian leaders and security professionals believe that the US and the West have become so expert in information and psychological warfare that the nature of war is no longer defined by armed violence. Instead, they believe that the nature of modern warfare is defined by political and social subversion and that these means now have effects akin to those of armed force, when you consider what subversion campaigns have done to governments recently.

And what the Russians are referring to, of course, are the so-called “color revolutions” in the early 2000s, particularly in countries such as Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and Belarus, but also in the Arab Spring events in the Mideast in 2011. What most in the West saw as populist grassroots movements by oppressed peoples to demand a voice in their otherwise corrupt governments, the Russians saw as coordinated subversion campaigns engineered by the US and the West to overthrow legitimate governments and trample traditional social values in those countries. And, more broadly, the Russians view these movements as the opening moves of a campaign—an undeclared war, in effect, by the US and the West intended to destroy the Russian state and nation as they exist today.

So understanding this perspective is important for a couple of reasons, I think. First, it clarifies the motivations for the current Russian war in Ukraine. From the point of view that Russia is defending itself against an undeclared US and Western war, then most any action is justified. In fact, Russia has been very open for many years now, well before its 2014 intervention in Ukraine (the Ukraine crisis), that Ukraine is in essence a vital national interest for Russia. And Russia has been clear that it would act to defend its security interest there—namely, the ethnic Russian people that live in Ukraine and the territory of Ukraine that borders the Russian state, which is also, in Russia’s view anyway, actually the land of the larger Russian nation.

There are also a host of other factors that make Ukraine important to Russia that I mentioned in the article—chiefly, the agricultural and industrial capacity there as well as the Black Sea coast. So this all gets to the second reason why the Russian perspective is important to consider: It gives us a better sense of Russia’s commitment to their so-called “special military operation” there.

A lot of attention has been paid so far in the war to the Ukrainian will to resist, but we should also be gauging the potential Russian will to persist. Accepting that Russia views its vital security interests as bound up in Ukraine to the point that those security concerns are even existential for Russia, then it would seem to suggest Russia will not end their invasion readily. When we also consider that Russia has been trying to destabilize the Ukrainian government for at least 10 years at this point through support to rebel groups in the eastern regions of Ukraine and even with the direct, unconventional intervention of its own soldiers in 2014, then we see even more clearly the depth of Russia’s investment. Russia will not give up in this conflict quickly.

(Host)

Neal Jesse’s Learning from Russia’s Recent Wars: Why, Where, and When Russia Might Strike Next was your next choice. What does it add to the conversation?

(Shatzer)

Neal Jesse’s book brings in an additional layer of analysis on past Russian modern interventions and aggressions since the end of the Soviet Union. Particularly, he focuses in on the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute in Azerbaijan; the civil war in Tajikistan; the Transdniestria conflict in Moldova; the Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts in Georgia; the wars in Chechnya; but, especially, the 2014 intervention in Ukraine (the Ukraine crisis). Jesse’s commentary on Russia’s actions in Ukraine in 2014, which he wrote in 2020, I think, are particularly insightful.

Despite corruption issues and other problems in Ukrainian government, Jesse contends that Ukraine actually did a fair job at dealing with the resistance groups and Russian infiltrations. He argues that it managed to stabilize the security situation and largely forwarded Russia’s primary aims. His analysis makes one wonder what lessons Russia might have failed to learn in 2014 about Ukrainian resilience, actually.

Additionally, from his assessment of past Russian interventions, Jesse lays out a pattern of operations that Russia might use in a future conflict with Ukraine, and those assessments actually seem to hit the mark exactly with what we see going on there today: subversive activity to destabilize the situation, deployment of regular military forces, information campaigns, eventual violation of borders, seizing terrain, and the threat of nukes as strategic blackmail. As Jesse correctly concludes, quote, “The Russian threat to Ukraine is the most obvious and the most constant.”

(Host)

There’s no shortage of books on this topic. In fact, you very kindly suggest some at the end of your article. Why did you choose these two to focus on?

(Shatzer)

What I try to do with the article series is review one work that has a more, you know, theoretical, policy, or strategic focus and pair it with a review of a second book that is still strategic but offers a deeper look at theater, strategic, or even operational questions.

I did that in the first article, with reviews on two excellent books examining the security challenge China poses to the US. So Jonsson’s Blurring the Lines and Jesse’s Learning from Russia’s Recent Wars are a very good companion set of books. They’re both concise, at about 200 or fewer pages each. Both still managed to pack in an impressive amount of detail and some thoughtful analysis that I find very relevant to understanding what’s happening in Ukraine today. And together, the two books do a great job of encompassing theory, policy, strategy, and operations in a way that I think leaders and strategists will find useful. There are plenty of other books worth considering on this topic, and I do list a few of those at the end of the article, but I recommend these two as fine places to start if someone is looking for short, insightful works.

(Host)

I wish we had more time. I need to wrap it up, though. What are your final thoughts before we go?

(Shatzer)

So there’s been a fair amount of attention in the media recently about the upcoming 9 May Victory Day (V-E Day) celebrations in Russia and whether or not President (Vladimir) Putin will take the opportunity of those celebrations to declare war on Ukraine. I don’t think Jonsson’s or Jesse’s book really provides any direct insight into that. Who knows what Putin may decide to do on a particular day? But if their books are any kind of guide, I think we can be fairly confident that Russia will only deepen its commitment to the war in Ukraine.

And the other point I think I would make in closing is returning to the earlier aspect about understanding the enemy and the difficulties in doing so, I argue that even understanding the enemy, as a concept itself, is sometimes misunderstood. It’s a mistake to think the goal is to somehow predict what the enemy will do; not even the enemy knows what they will do in a particular situation. Instead, we should be trying to build an appreciation for knowing enemy habits and weaknesses—you know, identifying real vulnerabilities. The other point is to understand the motivations so that the limits of their will is made clear. If we know where the enemy is vulnerable and the limits of their endurance, we will have a major edge in competition in conflict with them. Understanding the enemy is also a pathway to understanding ourselves because it frees us from our limited perspectives. And because war is fundamentally defined by those involved in it, then this knowledge goes a long way towards understanding the kind of war on which we are embarking.

(Host)

Thanks so much for joining me today. It was a real pleasure.

(Shatzer)

Thanks again for the opportunity to talk about this today.

(Host)

Listeners, if you’d like to learn more and check out Colonel Shatzer’s other book recommendations, visit press.armywarcollege.edu/parameters. Look for volume 52, issue 2.

If you enjoyed this episode of Decisive Point and would like to hear more, look for us on Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or any other major podcasting platform.

 

Author information:
Colonel George Shatzer is the director of the Strategic Research and Analysis Department in the Strategic Studies Instituteat the US Army War College.