The U.S. and NATO must recognize that Russia is serious about integrating information operations with both conventional and unconventional military operations and adjust their preparations for potential conflict with Russia accordingly.
Russia's brazen act of war on Ukraine in the Sea of Azov is part of a broader deliberate campaign by Russia to test the resolve of the U.S. and NATO.
Russia is a poor country—its economy is roughly the size of Italy’s on a bigger population and a vast territory—and conventional warfare is exceedingly expensive. That is why Russia’s Vladimir Putin has opted for hybrid warfare whenever possible—it is the manner of fighting best suited to the brilliant poor.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's political-military campaign in Ukraine undermines Ukraine's sovereignty and threatens Europe more than three years after Russia's invasion. Russian leaders will continue to extend and exploit the war to destabilize Ukraine and prevent its further integration with the West until the costs of their campaign change their calculus.
The United States and its partners can improve regional security and stability in Eastern Europe by supporting the modernization and reform of the Armed Forces of Ukraine more aggressively. Ukraine has suffered from consistent Russian military aggression since Russia occupied the Crimean Peninsula and militarily intervened in the eastern Ukrainian Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts in 2014. The overall unpreparedness of the Ukrainian military and its inability to match the capabilities of Russian forces allowed Russian and Russian proxy forces to gain a foothold in eastern Ukraine from which they continue to destabilize the entire country. The Ukrainian armed forces have been partially restructured and strengthened in the face of this constant pressure, enough to stabilize the front lines for a time. They require significantly more support of all varieties, however, if they are to stop the advance of Russia and its proxies permanently, to say nothing of reversing the armed occupation of Ukrainian territory.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has kept international attention riveted on Russian operations in Syria while escalating military deployments and political operations across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Putin’s global strategy relies on creating the impression that a U.S. challenge to Russian expansion would be met with a conventional military or even nuclear Russian response. Putin aims to present the incoming administration with the false dichotomy of partnering with Russia and allowing Putin to operate with impunity or going to war.
Russia has altered the security balance in the Black Sea, Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East by establishing large anti-access/area-denial (A2AD) exclusion zones. Russia’s power projection in these regions has been further extended by the deployment of the S-400 air defense system to Crimea in August 2016 and to Syria in November 2015.
An ongoing Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders may indicate preparations for conventional military conflict. It certainly marks a dramatic escalation of tensions that will have significant repercussions in Ukraine. Russia has deployed additional military forces and systems to Ukraine’s northern, eastern, and southern borders.
President Putin and pro-Russia actors within Ukraine aim to trigger snap parliamentary elections to bring pro-Russian and populist parties to power and start rebuilding the client regime. ISW assesses that Russia intends to provoke clashes during a large march of Orthodox Christians to Kyiv on July 27 to cause a crisis, to try to set conditions for snap elections. Russia’s military action against Ukraine failed to reverse the political defeat dealt to Russia when the Euromaidan movement came into power in 2014. President Putin seeks to find lower profile methods of regaining control of Ukraine, including exploiting lack of political unity and decreasing public support for the current Ukrainian governing coalition. Bringing Ukraine back to Russia’s orbit is a major strategic objective for President Putin in his efforts to reassert Russia’s power globally.