Ukraine-mapMartin N Murphy, PhD | Heritage Foundation

Russia perceives itself as surrounded by enemies, and that the strategic depth that has been its principal security must be restored. In this sense, no territory is more significant than Ukraine. Russian leadership also worries about the erosion of a zone around Russia’s borders where politically dangerous ideas can be stifled before they undermine the regime’s hold on power.

Russia’s leadership believes it can stem this erosion and achieve its objectives by combining organized military violence with economic, political, and diplomatic activity, a combination called new generation warfare (NGW). NGW is a concept for fighting total war in Europe, across all fronts—political, economic, informational, cyber—simultaneously through fear and intimidation without launching a large-scale attack. If fighting is required, it is highly networked and multi-directional. The stakes can be raised rapidly, possibly without limit.

President Vladimir Putin is confident in this approach because he sees U.S. hesitation as opportunity and believes the U.S. is overly dependent on military responses. Thus, NGW is designed to avoid giving the U.S. and other adversaries a reason to respond using military force. The U.S. needs to broaden its response portfolio to include political, diplomatic, economic, financial, cyber, covert, and other means coordinated into a comprehensive approach to counter the NGW strategy. Russia has brought total war back to Europe—in a hidden, undeclared, and ambiguous form. Failure to confront Russian opportunism will validate Putin’s approach.

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.