Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Russia uses tactics of strategic deception

In a geopolitical landscape dominated by shifting alliances and strategic maneuvering, the Russian approach to conflict resolution often veils ulterior motives. Despite calls for peace and temporary ceasefires, the Russian modus operandi seems rooted in exploiting diplomatic processes to buy time for economic recovery and military resurgence.

At present, while global attention is fixated on the Middle East, Moscow actively advocates for “peace talks” concerning Ukraine, enlisting partners from Turkey and the UAE.

Ukrainian intelligence has previously indicated Russia’s contemplation of freezing the conflict—a move that could grant Russia until 2028 to rebuild its military might, potentially expanding aggression beyond Ukraine to the Baltic states.

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This practice of tactical maneuvers is not new for the Kremlin; Putin himself has adeptly manipulated public statements and actions. Drawing parallels, the Russian-Chechen conflict saw a similar pattern, dividing the bloody conflict into phases after significant losses suffered by Russian forces against local resistance. Initially aiming to annex the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Russia faced staunch opposition, leading to a divided conflict. Ultimately, the conflict resulted in the withdrawal of Russian forces and the preservation of Chechnya’s independence.

Post the Russian defeat in the first Chechen war, discontent brewed within Russian political circles, particularly the military, regarding the outcome. Concerns surfaced that the Chechen issue remained unresolved, setting a precedent for other national autonomies historically annexed by force.

To reinitiate hostilities, a formal pretext was utilized, purportedly combating non-governmental armed formations considered a terrorist threat. The second war proved more successful for Russia, primarily due to active targeting of civilian populations. Mass clearances of settlements resulted in substantial civilian casualties. Between 1999 and 2002, an estimated 16,000 lives were lost, a significant toll for the relatively small population of the republic.

Russia’s hybrid tactics extended beyond direct engagements. Signing agreements with other states, it employed proxies to destabilize regions, providing a formal pretext for resuming hostilities. This was evident in the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, where Russian intervention followed actions by South Ossetia and Abkhazia—regions under Russian influence—creating conflict with Georgia’s armed forces.

This intervention was preceded by formal appeals from the separatist groups of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to the Russian parliament for recognition. Simultaneously, Georgia proposed international peacekeeping forces in the separatist regions, prompting escalated Russian actions post-April 2008. Despite Western initiatives for peaceful resolutions, rejected by separatists and Russia, the conflict escalated into a full-scale war with Russian forces occupying significant Georgian territory, termed by Russian propaganda as “peace enforcement.”

Photo by Mikhail Tereshchenko

Throughout history, Russia has demonstrated a pattern of ceasefire simulations only to resume conflicts under diverse pretexts. Understanding this historical context becomes imperative in assessing current geopolitical tensions and forecasting potential escalations in global security.

In a similar vein, the crisis in Ukraine unfolded along analogous lines when, employing their proxies and even involving, for the first time, the deployment of the private military company (PMC) “Wagner,” Russians gained control over Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine. Notably, at that juncture, official Moscow distanced itself from Wagner and the separatist factions, labeling them as “little green men.”

Moscow and Putin consistently denied direct involvement in Ukraine. On March 4, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted that the forces in Ukraine were not Russian Federation troops but rather “self-defense units” who acquired weapons from local Ukrainians. Simultaneously, media reports analyzing the armaments of the “little green men” revealed Russian weaponry.

It wasn’t until April 17, 2014, that Putin publicly acknowledged Russian military presence in Crimea. The direct involvement of state institutions in creating and managing the PMC “Wagner” was only acknowledged in 2023 during an attempted coup led by the group’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who subsequently perished in an explosion aboard his private plane over Russian territory.

Initially, the Kremlin denied the existence of the PMC “Wagner,” later referring to it as a “volunteer group” before eventually acknowledging its direct involvement. Putin personally confirmed Russia’s full support and provision of the private military company on June 27 during a meeting with the Ministry of Defense officials.

During the period from 2014 to February 2022, Ukraine pursued diplomatic avenues to resolve the conflict, resorting to ceasefire agreements, notably the Minsk Agreements. These agreements, signed by parties in the Normandy Format, involved Russia and Putin himself as negotiators. However, they were consistently violated, primarily by Wagner mercenaries and proxy forces controlled by the Russian Ministry of Defense.

The tenure of Russia under Putin’s leadership has been characterized by the use of clandestine hybrid tactics, propaganda, and a blatant disregard for international law and legal accountability. Adopting a modus operandi akin to organized crime syndicates, the Kremlin feigned agreement signings only to breach them using its hybrid forces. Furthermore, on the international stage, Moscow reneged, denounced, and terminated several crucial agreements concerning human rights, disarmament, and the prevention of global conflicts.

Therefore, the likelihood of Russia, under Putin’s helm, adhering steadfastly to its commitments in the future appears improbable. Expecting the Russian regime to acknowledge its mistakes and engage in talks to create a foundation for a long-term peaceful process might not align with its historical patterns.

Hence, it’s imperative not to don rose-colored glasses and anticipate that the Russian regime will concede its errors or engage in negotiations for the establishment of a prolonged peace process.

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Executive Editor

About author:

Dylan Malyasov
Dylan Malyasov
Dylan Malyasov is the editor-in-chief of Defence Blog. He is a journalist, an accredited defense advisor, and a consultant. His background as a defense advisor and consultant adds a unique perspective to his journalistic endeavors, ensuring that his reporting is well-informed and authoritative. read more

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