Russia’s “New Generation War” and Its Implications for the Arctic

Posted By November 10, 2015 No Comments

Since the implosion of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s there has been little public interest or discussion regarding Russian military intentions or capabilities. In fact, prior to the spring of 2014, Moscow was regarded as an active and co-operative member of the international community and the thought of conflict between them and Western nations was inconceivable to most.  However, attitudes have begun to change particularly with the Russian incursion into the Crimea and Ukraine and more recently their deployment into Syria. Unfortunately, this more aggressive expansionist foreign policy posture has not been confined to those specific regions. For the past number of years the Russians have undertaken a major effort to expand and modernize their military capabilities in the Arctic.

This Arctic military buildup has included significant upgrades to Soviet era bases, the deployment of advanced air defence and ground guidance systems along with the long-term modernization of the Northern Fleet. In addition, Moscow has announced the formation of two new Arctic motorized infantry brigades specifically trained and equipped for Arctic warfare.[1]

This renewed military activity in the Arctic has not come as a complete surprise. The Russians believe that much of their future economic prosperity will come from the region’s energy production and maritime transport wealth and they are moving to secure these resources for development. [2]  This focus on economic development has provided some degree of comfort to Western governments as economic prosperity requires a stable environment in order to flourish. As a result, many have concluded that despite the possibility of tensions increasing elsewhere, Russia will want to keep peace in the Arctic.

The problem with this assessment is that the Russians have never been willing to compromise on issues they perceive to be in their national interest. In part, this unwillingness to cooperate has found its way into the aggressive foreign policy posture we are now seeing in the Ukraine and Syria. Moreover, these actions continue despite the significant economic hits the Russians have taken from Western imposed sanctions for their continued activities inside Ukraine. It is therefore unlikely that Russia will stop pushing its expansionist agenda or its aggressive foreign policy stance on security issues as they have seen tangible results from these methods.

Although, its military modernization programs and its more aggressive foreign policy initiatives are troubling to many in the West, there should be far greater unease regarding how these policies are unfolding. Russian operations in Ukraine and Syria have exposed a dynamic new tool set that gives them far more reach and flexibility when dealing with perceived security issues than ever before. This new weapons set, now being refined in the Ukraine, is categorized by the military as “New Generation Warfare.” Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, commander of Army forces in Europe, summarizes this concept when he states:

“Moscow… now seems to favor an approach based on hybrid or multidimensional war…embracing simultaneous employment of multiple instruments of war, including non-military means where information warfare, such as mass political manipulation, is a major capability. “[3]

With the development of “New Generation Warfare” the Russians no longer need to rely on the threat or use of direct military intervention or confrontation to achieve their national security objectives. They can now call upon a host of non-military capabilities to reach their strategic goals and this constitutes a new and possibly greater security threat for all countries in the Arctic region.

This paper will examine Russia’s doctrine and capabilities to wage “New Generation Warfare” on Arctic Council members with specific attention to Canada.[4] In so doing it will provide an overview of the doctrine and outline the specific threats that need to be monitored. In order to place possible Russian actions in the Far North into proper context, one needs first to understand their policy objectives in the region.

Russian policy in the Arctic

In May 2009, the Russians released their national security strategy, which is designed to guide the country’s decision- making process through to 2020. In addition to assessing the country’s security situation the document outlines strategic priorities under the headings of national defence, state security, civil protection, economic growth, healthcare, strategic stability and partnerships among others. [5]

Russia’s defence and security thinking is predicated on the belief that there has been a failure within the current global security structure that is weighted heavily in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) favour. In an effort to overcome this imbalance the Russians are focused on becoming a major economic power and the national strategy document highlights the role of energy security within this context. According to Katarzyna Zysk, a senior fellow at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies, the security strategy document “associates Russia’s international position and strength with its energy reserves, and states that “a pragmatic policy and political use of its natural resources has strengthened Russia’s influence on the international stage.’” Zysk goes on to say, “The strategy asserts that over the long term the attention of international policy will be focused on access to energy reserves.” [6] In fact, the Russians believe that future international insecurity will arise from the problems associated with declining worldwide resources and that these issues may have to be solved with the use of military force.[7]

Along with their national security strategy, the Russians have also adopted a specific Arctic strategy. “The fundamentals of state policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic in the period up to 2020 and beyond.” was published on the Russian Security Council’ website in 2009 and derives from the philosophy found within the national security strategy. [8] In essence, the Arctic strategy reinforces the importance of the Arctic to Russia’s future economic prosperity and recognizes the region as a major source of energy production and maritime transport wealth. A main objective of the strategy is to guide the development of natural resources while enhancing the country’s role as a leading Arctic power. [9]

To achieve these outcomes, the Russians will focus on social and economic development and on their competitiveness in global markets. They will also develop the necessary transport and communication infrastructure in an effort to create an integrated transportation route and become the central link for maritime connections between Europe and Asia. [10]

The Arctic strategy was updated in February of 2013, and like the 2009 document, it continues to emphasize Russia’s sovereignty in the region, as well as the need to defend its national interests. However, in the updated strategy the Russians appear much more open to the idea of international cooperation in the interests of ensuring sustainable development of the Far North. [11]  This desire for cooperation may be due to the fact that the document also acknowledges Russia’s lack of knowledge and technological expertise to exploit the country’s natural resources on its own in its Arctic regions. [12] As a result, the strategy envisions an important role for the military, regional and local governments, as well as private business including the idea of public-private partnerships. [13]

Russian Military Intentions in the Arctic

To protect and support their national interests in the Arctic the Russians have established a new Arctic Joint Strategic Command headquartered at Severomorsk. In addition to the Northern Fleet, the new Command includes the air force, aerospace defence, and Army units in the region, along with the associated infrastructure.[14] In March 2015, the Russians carried out a major Arctic exercise that was designed to test the new Command’s logistical and fighting capabilities.[15]Despite this heavy investment and the increase in operational tempo the general consensus of military analysts is that Moscow has a vested interest in continuing to solve potential disputes peacefully.

According to the Danish Defence Intelligence Service (DDIS), “The competition for legal rights to the Arctic seabed will be intensified in the coming years. Russia continues to pursue the UN [United Nations] track and cooperate on issues related to the Arctic.”[16] However, the document cautions, “the cooperative track will be put under strain internally in the Russian leadership should Russia be unable to reach its key objectives through this strategy.”[17] It goes on to say, “Russia appears increasingly determined to pursue its strategic interests more rigorously, even when this is to the detriment of relations with the West. This could also prove to be the case in the Arctic.”[18]

Should the Russians wish to become more aggressive in the region without resorting to war – how could it be done? To find the answer to that question one needs look no further then the Ukraine. In that conflict the Russians are currently engaged in a number of very effective activities that fall well below the threshold of what has traditionally been viewed as war.[19]This new form of conflict is being referred to as “New Generation Warfare” and dealing with it has been a perplexing problem for Western governments. Moreover, its current success makes it highly likely that the Russians will continue using it to achieve their policy objectives into the foreseeable future. In order to understand how this new doctrine might be employed in the Arctic it is important to first understand what it is and why the Russians have adopted this form of conflict.

Russia’s Doctrine of “New Generation Warfare” and the Future of Hybrid Warfare

Despite their impressive military strength in the Far North, the Russians are vulnerable. They have realized that after years of neglecting their military forces they would likely lose an all out war against NATO. As a result, they have been modernizing their military capabilities since 2008. To compensate for their current conventional military weaknesses the Russians have also been researching the possibilities of asymmetric strategies. These strategies are specifically designed to avoid NATO’s excellence in joint level operational art by moving the focus of the fight to the strategic level of war. This is Lieutenant General Hodges’ idea of “embracing simultaneous employment of multiple instruments of war.” The result of these efforts has been the development of what is being referred to as state level hybrid war doctrine in the form of “New Generation Warfare”.[20]

“New Generation Warfare” was first introduced to the public in a paper published by General Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the Russian General Staff, in February 2013. [21] In it Gerasimov lays out a number of key principles behind Russia’s thinking on the employment of hybrid warfare. The first is the idea that the world is now in a continual state of conflict. He states that “in the 21st century we have seen a tendency toward blurring the lines between the states of war and peace.” He goes on to say that the conduct of wars has changed as they are no longer declared and, having begun, they move in different and unfamiliar directions.[22] He asserts, “This unfamiliar template refers to asymmetrical operations using a host of [strategic] capabilities to “nullification of an enemy’s advantages in armed conflict.” [23]

Gerasimov believes that the specific capabilities needed to affect change will include the use of Special Forces linking up with internal opposition groups throughout the target country to create an operating front that extends throughout the entire depth of the enemy’s territory. These actions will be combined with information operations, cyber warfare, legal warfare, economic war and other activities that are linked to a strategic outcome and constantly modified to meet the specific needs of a particular operation.[24]

The Russians deem that such methods, employed and sequenced properly, can, in a very short period of time, throw a stable and thriving state into a web of chaos, humanitarian upheaval, and outright civil war, making it susceptible to foreign intervention.[25]Although, Gerasimov acknowledges that such events were not traditionally part of what would be considered wartime activities he believes that they will now become typical of conflict in the 21st century.

The idea of collapsing a state onto itself through social upheaval, even before a declaration of war is declared, is an important part of “New Generation Warfare’s” underlying methodology. Gerasimov states, “The very “rules of war” have changed…[as] the focus of applied methods of conflict has altered in the direction of the broad use of political, economic, informational, humanitarian, and other non-military measures — applied in coordination with the protest potential of the population.”[26] The example he uses to illustrate his point is NATO’s role in Libya, where a no-fly zone and naval blockade were combined with the use of private military contractors working closely with the armed formations of the opposition.[27]

Gerasimov understands that new information technologies have allowed much of this change to occur. As a result, the information space has opened the door to the widespread use of asymmetrical possibilities for reducing the fighting potential of the enemy particularly through the use of influence operations.[28]

Jānis Bērziņš, Managing Director for the Center for Security and Strategic Research, at the National Defense Academy of Latvia, emphasizes this point. He asserts, “The Russians have placed the idea of influence operations at the very center of their operational planning and used all possible levers of national power to achieve this.”[29] He adds,[30] Bērziņš explains, that the Russians “have demonstrated an innate understanding of the key target audiences and their probably behavior… Armed with this information they knew what to do, when and what the outcomes are likely to be.”[31]

The Russians feel that these changes have reduced the importance of frontal engagements by large conventional military formations, which they believe are gradually becoming a thing of the past. This is due to the fact that even if conventional operations are required  to finish off the enemy this will be done primarily by using standoff operations, throughout the entire depth of its territory.[32] The Russians believe this shift towards irregular war and standoff operations are blurring the lines between the strategic, operational, and tactical levels, as well as between offensive and defensive operations.[33]

These ideas of future conflict have been formally articulated into what has become known as the eight phases of “New Generation Warfare.” These phases provide a good template for understanding how the Russians could conduct a state level hybrid war in the Arctic. They are as follows:

  • First Phase: deals with non-military asymmetric warfare (encompassing information, moral, psychological, ideological, diplomatic, and economic measures as part of a plan to establish a favorable political, economic, and military setup);
  • Second Phase: special [specific] operations are used to mislead political and military leaders by coordinated measures carried out by diplomatic channels, media, and top government and military agencies. This is done by leaking false data, orders, directives, and instructions;
  • Third Phase: is focused on intimidation, deceiving, and bribing government and military officers, with the objective of making them abandon their service duties;
  • Fourth Phase: destabilizing propaganda to increase discontent among the population, this is boosted by the arrival of Russian bands of militants, escalating subversion;
  • Fifth Phase: establishment of no-fly zones over the country to be attacked, imposition of blockades, and extensive use of private military companies in close cooperation with armed opposition units;
  • Sixth Phase: This phase deals with the commencement of military action, which is immediately preceded by large-scale reconnaissance and subversive missions. This includes all types, forms, methods, and forces, such as special operations forces, space, radio, radio engineering, electronic, diplomatic, secret service      intelligence, and industrial espionage;
  • Seventh Phase: combination of targeted information operations, electronic warfare operations, aerospace operations, continuous Airforce harassment, combined with the use of high precision weapons launched from various platforms including (long-range artillery, and weapons that are based on new physical principles, such as microwaves, radiation, non-lethal biological weapons); and
  • Eighth Phase: roll over the remaining points of resistance and destroy surviving enemy units by special operations conducted by reconnaissance units to spot which enemy units have survived and transmit their coordinates to the attacker’s missile and artillery units; fire barrages are used to annihilate the defender’s resisting army units by effective advanced weapons; airdrop operations to surround points of resistance; and territory mopping-up operations by ground troops.[34]

Each of these phases can occur in sequence or simultaneously depending on the situation. According to Gerasimov, this new doctrine manifests itself in the use of asymmetric and indirect methods along with the management of troops in a unified informational sphere. [35] Should the conflict need to escalate these activities would be followed by the massive use of high-precision weapons, special operations and robotics. This would be followed by simultaneous strikes on the enemy’s units and facilities with battle on land, air, sea, and in the informational space.[36]

Russian Hybrid War Activities against Arctic Council Members

How would “New Generation Warfare’s” eight stages translate into specific operations against Arctic Council members? As many of the Council members belong to NATO the Russians are very likely to focus their activities on the first four stages of this doctrine in order to prevent the activation of NATO’s Article five.  This means that there would be an emphasis on information operations, cyber warfare, legal warfare, economic war, environmental warfare and any other similar activities the Russians feel might be effective. The level of intensity will depend on the situation, however, such activities will likely start off slowly to show displeasure and increase steadily until a satisfactory result is achieved.

The Russians could also employ private military and security companies, criminal organizations and Special Forces. These organizations could be used to link up with internal opposition groups within the target country in an effort to create dissent should that be an option. Regardless, based on the doctrine, specific activities would include any or all of the following:

  • gain physical or cyber control over critical infrastructure including government and military systems;
  • employ Information Operations (Information War) against target nations and target groups;
  • use criminal organizations or private security companies to carry out intelligence, the movement of weapons, and strategic level espionage or sabotage if this were to become necessary;
  • conduct cyber-warfare including espionage, denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, data modification and infrastructure manipulation;
  • employ Airborne or Special Forces to carry out attacks on infrastructure or to create discontent among indigenous peoples and other minority groups; and
  • employ conventional military forces to provide support for ongoing operations by Airborne or Special Forces, criminal organizations, private military and security companies and for intimidation.[37]

In the future, Russia’s conventional military forces in the Far North, which have traditionally been the center of security calculations when dealing with potential Arctic threats, would likely only be used to support different aspects of “New Generation Warfare’s” non-military operations. For example, they could provide the arms or explosives to criminal organizations who could smuggle them into a target country for the purpose of a terrorist event. As we have seen, the military would likely confine itself to conventional deployment for exercises or in a show of force operation unless there was an actual outbreak of war.

Canada’s New Security Priorities

What does Russia’s military buildup in the Arctic and, more importantly, its development of “New Generation Warfare” mean for Canada? From a threat perspective the Russians now have the ability to circumvent the Arctic’s vast distances and strike directly at the heart of Canada’s critical infrastructure and public confidence while provoking internal tensions. Moreover, they can do this without resorting to a formal declaration of war.

If Canada is to effectively deal with this threat it will need to address the security issues specific to the application of “New Generation Warfare” doctrine. These include preventing the acquisition of Canadian companies and infrastructure by Russian state owned companies, monitoring operations by possible surrogate organizations, countering Russia’s information war and cyber warfare defence. Let us look at each of these in a little more detail.

Cyber Warfare – A central component to “New Generation Warfare” is cyber warfare. Long before any increase in tensions occur the Russians will attempt to infiltrate Canada’s government organizations, research institutes, armed forces, energy distribution facilities, telecoms companies, financial services, and logistics management capabilities within the cyber domain.[38] In addition to carrying out espionage, specific cyber activities will include such things as propaganda, denial-of-service attacks, data modification and infrastructure manipulation.[39]

Should the Russians decide to launch an all out cyber attack against Canada they will likely hit banking, government, media outlets and other targets that rely heavily on the digital medium to function. The primary method of assault will be a series of denial-of-service attacks that could result in shutdowns to many of these essential services.[40] Also at risk is the internet infrastructure along with government ISP addresses, which will be hit in an attempt to disrupt communications between government agencies and the various levels of government.[41]

Information War – Another key component of this strategy is the employment of “information war.” The Russians view these operations in a holistic manner and as such they encompass a wide range of activities including cyber operations, electronic warfare, psychological operations, and influence operations. [42] As a result, information war not only deals in disinformation campaigns that could contain such things as half-truths and leaks, it actively attempts to reinvent reality in an effort to shape the global narrative.[43]

To reach global opinion the Russians are very active on social media. For example, the BuzzFeed website recently reported that the Russian government is recruiting large numbers of online trolls in an effort to change global sentiment regarding the invasion of Ukraine.[44] These trolls are currently driving discussions on many of the principal western online media outlets, including “Fox News, Huffington Post, The Blaze, Politico, and WorldNet Daily.”[45] Such activities are intended to get Russia’s message out while creating confusion and uncertainty within the targeted community.

Should the Russians decide to unleash an information campaign against Canada it will be a coordinated effort using psychological and influence operations. They will attempt to capitalize on internal tensions between regions, provinces, religions, and ethnic groups. The main focus of any campaign in the Arctic will be to isolate northern indigenous groups from the Canadian Government while attempting to disrupt the public’s confidence in the ability of the government to deal with the situation effectively or to protect them should a confrontation escalate. [46]

The Acquisition of Canadian Companies -The Russians will also attempt to penetrate established Canadian companies likely through full or partial commercial acquisition. According to Andrew Davenport, Deputy Executive Director of PSSI in Washington, “Russia makes significant use of its State Owned Enterprises for strategic purposes, pursuing key roles in the energy sectors and power production industries of target countries…”[47] Such control will allow them to use these assets to pressure decision making, engage in economic warfare, or simply give them a bargaining tool against the Government should an appropriate situation arise. This use of acquisition for economic and political influence means that the Canadian Government must be cautious about what it allows the Russians, or any foreign power for that matter, to acquire, particularly regarding resources and critical infrastructure within Canada.

Surrogate Organizations – Another aspect of “New Generation Warfare’s” operational approach is the use of surrogate organizations to do much of the dirty work. In this regard, there are two specific threats to Canada that must be monitored, Private Military and Security Companies or PMSCs and criminal organizations

There has been speculation that the Russians have used criminal organizations to perform various tasks in Eastern Ukraine. For example, Tom Porter, writing for the  International Business Times, stated, “It is alleged that Russian organized crime figures have served as agents for Russia in east Ukraine, where they have been used to foment pro-Russian unrest, and transport arms and supplies to rebel groups.” [48]  José Grinda González, a Spanish prosecutor who has spent a great deal of time looking into the activities of Russian organized crime in Spain reinforces this claim. He believes Russian spies often use senior mafia bosses to carry out criminal operations such as arms trafficking. He states that “Law enforcement agencies such as the police, spy agencies and the prosecutor’s office operate a de facto protection racket for criminal networks.” [49]

The close relationship between Government and crime organizations means that as the Russian military and commercial interest expand their presence in the Arctic, so too will organized crime. More importantly, as Russian organized crime becomes more established in Canada the Russian Security Services will have a direct link to a pool of contractors already operating within the country.  As a result, these gangs have moved from a purely criminal justice problem to a national security threat and both government and law enforcement must be extremely vigilant regarding these organizations within Canada.

An emerging Russian security threat that the future Arctic will have to deal with is the deployment of Russian based Private Military and Security Companies or PMSCs. The Russians have been monitoring the employment of Western PMSCs in Iraq and Afghanistan for some time and are keen to start providing similar services.[50] Once in operation this capability will likely become an increasingly important part of “New Generation Warfare” doctrine. As Dr. Mark Galeotti, of “In Moscow’s Shadows” points out, “The Kremlin regards all Russian companies and institutions–and especially those owned, backed or facilitated by the state–as potential tools at its disposal.”[51] He states, “Gazprom turns off the taps when there is a need to squeeze a neighbor; arms companies flock to do deals with despots the government would support…” He goes on to say, “Russia’s PMSCs would no doubt be expected to act at the Kremlin’s behest when need be.” [52] Galeotti concludes his assessment of PMSCs by stating, “The employment of these companies is “neither the soft power of influence and authority, nor the traditional forms of hard power, this would be a kind of “elastic power”–flexible much of the time, but surprisingly tough and painful when wielded with intent.”[53]

Employing Russian PMSCs in the Arctic to protect Russian owned companies would be viewed by many as nothing out of the ordinary.  However, these companies usually employ members with specialized military backgrounds and they could be used by the Russian government to carry out missions ranging from reconnaissance and sabotage on critical infrastructure, to providing assistance to resistance groups or criminal organizations. Because they are working for commercial enterprises the Russian government has a built in plausible deniability should they be apprehended.


For years military analysts familiar with the Arctic have stated there is no conventional military threat in the Arctic. However, things have changed. With the adoption of “New Generation Warfare” the Russians have developed a great deal more flexibility should they wish to pursue their objectives with actions that do not need the employment of conventional military forces. As General Gerasimov proclaimed, “the world is now in a continual state of war …and in the 21st century the conduct of wars has changed as they are no longer declared and, having begun, they move in different and unfamiliar directions.” This means that it is very likely the Russians have already started penetrating government and military institutions along with the critical infrastructure of Canada and other Arctic Council Members, either physically or through the use of cyber operations.

As a result, the Arctic Council members must recognize this new reality and start developing strategies to effectively counter, or as a minimum, mitigate the possible effects of Russia’s state level hybrid war capabilities. The question is will the Arctic nations become flexible and adaptive enough to meet this challenge? To do so they will need to acknowledge that the rules of war have changed and that the threat is no longer the conventional wisdom of yesterday.