Gustav Gressel (European Council on Foreign Relations)
Russia has already twice surprised the West with its military options. First, it did so in Ukraine, and now also in Syria. This situation is based the current perspective of the Russian contemporary military leadership, which has never mentally accepted the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the loss of the position of a global superpower. Given these circumstances, one can question whether European countries sufficiently reflect on this fact and what is really behind the rise of the Russian army.
In 2008, a military conflict between Russia and Georgia broke out. Russia took under its control only South Ossetia and overall it was not satisfied with the result of the war. As a consequence, the Russian army is undertaking the biggest reform overhaul since 1930. This reform consists of three phases: The first phase focused on the professionalization of the army, the creation of a clear hierarchy of commanders and the decrease in the number of soldiers participating in the basic military training. Moreover, following the example of Western countries, Moscow also developed an efficient system of education with appropriate training and increased the number of professionals in the army. In the second part of the reform, logistics and organization of the army have been improved. The army’s combat readiness and its operational capabilities have increased thanks to numerous trans-regional exercises. These two phases of the reform process can be evaluated as successful and thanks to them Russia succeeded in the conflict in Ukraine.
The third point is the re-armament of the Russian army. The process of re-arming of the Russian military is stagnating, mostly due to economic sanctions and low prices of mineral resources in global markets. Russia has been cooperating with Western European countries within its armament program and thus been gaining know-how of the production processes. Nevertheless, the current state of Russia’s diplomatic isolation has led to an interruption of this cooperation.
Europe still maintains supremacy, when compared with Russia, when it comes to its navy, air and ground forces capabilities. This qualitative and quantitative supremacy is disappearing in the context of the changes in the warfare. The new model is a hybrid war, which blurs the distinction between a soldier and a civilian. In the hybrid war, the whole society is targeted, especially through the omnipresent media and Internet. It is a new type of war of the 21st century, in which the most important elements are the speed of moving troops and the propaganda work. European states should ultimately get ready for this type of complex conflict and create a common flexible mechanism that will enable them to deal with a potential disinformation, trade or financial war.
(The study can be downloaded here: http://www.ecfr.eu/page/-/Russias_Quiet_Military_Revolution.pdf)