‘Security Insights’ on Russia

Russia’s Security Council Where Policy, Personality, and Process MeetI’m fortunate to be part of a research project based at the George C Marshall Centre for European Security Studies looking at Russian strategic intentions and institutions, and as part of that I – like the illustrious other members of the team – are writing a series of short briefs that are being published under their Security Insights rubric.

There is a lot of good material there, but for those who might be interested, here are the ones of mine published to date, with their key points:


The Baltic States as Targets and Levers: The Role of the Region in Russian Strategy (2019)

  • Before the worsening of Russia-Western relations in 2014, the Russian speakers of Narva, Estonia, and Riga, Latvia, in particular, were willing to leverage their sense of being excluded and neglected in the name of mobilizing constituencies for political impact. However, they show no enthusiasm now for exchanging membership of prosperous, democratic European states for Kremlin rule.
  • Furthermore, Moscow appears to understand how unwelcome and dangerous direct intervention would be, over and above bringing Russia into direct conflict with NATO. As one recently retired Russian general staff officer noted, when asked about the state of contingency planning for such operations, “the trouble with the Baltic States is that they are full of Balts”; in other words, in his eyes, a feisty, contrary people who have already shown the will and capacity to resist under overwhelming odds.

The Intelligence and Security Services and Strategic Decision-Making (2019)

  • The intelligence and security communities have a disproportionate influence in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, exerted not only through their institutional roles within the system but also through their social and political authority.
  • They share certain common assumptions about the world—notably that it is essentially hostile and dominated by zero-sum competition—but also are deeply divided along generational, factional, personal, and ideological lines.
  • In broad terms, the strength of the agencies contributes to several key policy tendencies: a combination of strategic caution and tactical risk-taking, multitrack approaches driven by individual and institutional initiative, and an essentially isolated and covert decision-making mechanism that makes it difficult for alternative views to be considered.

Active Measures: Russia’s Covert Geopolitical Operations (2019)

  • Active measures—covert political operations ranging from disinformation campaigns to staging insurrections—have a long and inglorious tradition in Russia and reflect a permanent wartime mentality, something dating back to the Soviet era and even tsarist Russia.
  • A strategic culture whose participants see the world full of secret threats and an operational culture whose adherents regard the best defense as offense have ensured that both have become central aspects of modern Russia’s geopolitical struggle with the West.
  • Active measures are not solely the preserve of the intelligence services, but of other actors as well, and these actors are expected to generate their own initiatives aimed at furthering the Kremlin’s disruptive agenda.

Living in Different Worlds: The European Union and Russian Political War (2019)

  • Russia is waging a political war campaign of active measures intended to divide, distract, and dismay European states.
  • The institutions of the European Union (EU) have made very patchy and often reluctant responses to this campaign, in part as a result of a lack of consensus among member states.
  • A primary issue, though, is the dramatically different strategic cultures and operational codes of the EU and Russia.
  • The EU faces a campaign of Russian active measures—covert political subversion—that has been called “hybrid warfare” but is probably best understood as opportunistic political warfare. The aim is to divide, distract, and dismay the Europeans such that they cannot or will not resist Moscow’s wider political agenda. Against this campaign, in the words of an admittedly Euroskeptic British security official, “the EU is nowhere, simply nowhere.”

Russia’s Security Council: Where Policy, Personality, and Process Meet (2019)*

  • The Security Council, an autonomous element of the wider Russian Presidential Administration, is the central body responsible for managing the formulation and execution of security-related policies.
  • It has a variety of roles both formal and informal, as well as considerable influence—not least because of the trust Russian President Vladimir Putin places in its veteran secretary, Nikolai Patrushev. However, it does not have direct authority over the security agencies and ministries, and it is often more a broker of consensus than anything else.
  • As a structure, it can best be characterized as a conservative renovator: Its leadership is committed to preserving Russia’s existing strategic culture and operational code but also appreciates the need for technical reform to preserve the fundamentals.

* and on this one, an erratum: Viktor Zolotov is not a permanent member of the Security Council, but a non-permanent one, after the revision of what seems likely to have been a mistaken announcement of his appointment as the former.

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  1. Reblogged this on Wirtschaftsprofiling und Unternehmenssicherheit and commented:
    Current research papers by Mark Galeotti – ever an interesting read!

  2. Excellent work, Mark.


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