Soon after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the term “hybrid warfare,” encompassing the hybrid threat Russia poses to its neighbors, gained currency in foreign policy circles throughout the world. The debate over the issue, vibrant and heated, seems to have drawn in almost every conceivable player—journalists, academics, politicians, the highest-ranking military officials, those on the frontline of Russian aggression in Ukraine, and even those who still seem to believe they can view this problem from a safe distance.
At first, conventional wisdom held that the problem only involved those countries which the Kremlin shamelessly still refers to as its “near abroad” (meaning sphere of influence) and over which it has made every effort to exert control. But a sequence of events has by now demonstrated that this approach was mistaken. First were Russia’s efforts to stir mistrust of migrants through propaganda and false news reports in early 2016 (events which are still ongoing and promise further troubles to come); these events reached their apex in the Kremlin’s attempts to interfere in the November 2016 U.S. election.
The Strategy of Constrainment presented by the Atlantic Council in March 2017 rightly notes:
…Over the long term, Russia may be a ‘declining power’ as its population and relative share of global gross domestic product (GDP) have shrunk. But its recent actions demonstrate that it remains capable of serving as a powerful disruptive influence on the global stage. In addition to using direct military force, Russia has resorted to a strategy that emphasizes influence operations, asymmetric tactics, and other forms of political warfare— not unlike those used during the Cold War. Moscow is highly opportunistic—adept at recognizing and exploiting opportunities to advance its goals as they come about.
The debate about whether Putin is a master strategist or just a smart tactician is far from over. There is, however, more widespread agreement that the Kremlin seeks to sow divisions within the West (especially in Europe), to destroy NATO, to build a network of anti-Western states, and by all these means to marginalize the United States and the West in order to achieve regional hegemony and global power.
In many ways, Russia is successfully implementing this agenda. Hence the goal of this paper is to systematically explore how kleptocracy fits into Putin’s global strategy, the roots of the kleptocratic dimension of Russia’s hybrid warfare, and the ways in which it increases the risk of a conventional war between Russia and the West.
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