The Baltic States form too small a region for a serious confrontation between Russia and the US to arise there, said Andrei Manoilo, one of the top information- and hybrid-warfare experts in Moscow with an FSB background, in an interview for Diplomaatia.
In the 2000s, Manoilo worked in the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) as an information-warfare specialist mainly focusing on the Middle East, but he has also worked in the Nordic countries. According to Manoilo, he worked on developing measures to counter “information aggression”. In 2013, together with colleagues, he published a monograph about information warfare. Later Manoilo also worked in the FSB on the “colour” revolutions. Since 2012 he has been working at Moscow State University as Lecturer in Political Science, and is a member of the scientific advisory board to the Security Council of Russia, which makes the country’s most important national security decisions. According to Russian media, Manoilo also advises the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.
The annual conference of the Russian Academy of Military Science [expert council, established by presidential decree in 1994, that brings together leading scientists from all Russian power structures and is funded entirely from the state budget–JP] has become a very important indicative event in the Russian military sphere. An example is the presentation in 2013 by the Chief of the General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov, in which he formulated all the principles of hybrid warfare that the Kremlin later used, first in the Crimea and then in eastern Ukraine. A year later Gerasimov further developed his thesis at the same event. At this year’s conference in February in Moscow, Gerasimov dedicated a lot of time to how “colour” revolutions threaten Russia. You were one of the presenters at the conference. How great does the Russian administration still consider the threat from colour revolutions? How seriously does the Kremlin take this, especially two years after the Maidan events?
Gerasimov mainly discussed opposing colour revolutions outside Russia. He regarded them as an element of hybrid warfare. He believes such attempted coups need to be opposed because if they take place as colour revolutions, they inevitably bring about the onset of hybrid warfare. Gerasimov always has a very systematic approach to such questions. His presentation was not broadcast and its full text was not published, but I can tell you that the basis of his planning was immensely detailed. He presented his plan about resisting colour revolutions exactly like a military operation is planned.
Do I understand correctly that he presented a specific plan that Russia should follow if another colour revolution occurs somewhere close to the Russian border?
That is correct. [While discussing a side-topic during the interview, Manoilo mentions in passing that the Russian General Staff is currently making serious preparations to avert a colour revolution in Syria.–JP]
But what has a revolution got to do with the army, the military forces, even if it is a colour revolution? It is not an invasion of a country that the army needs to defend.
That is a reasonable question. If colour revolutions take place with the help of coup technology, it is a matter for the police and security services. However, it all comes down to the fact that there is an element in the technology of carrying out colour revolutions—the moment the revolution transitions to the active phase. Usually one incident signals the beginning of mass protests: public self-immolation or protesting the [results of] presidential elections. When people protest spontaneously, there are never immediate massive protests as in colour revolutions; instead, people initially gather in small groups, which start to create larger groups until they form demonstrations. This takes at least a month. With colour revolutions, however, as soon as the incident occurs, it signals the protesters to take to the streets all over the city led by their activists, which means that this protesting electorate has been formed earlier and is only waiting for the signal.
This is preceded by recruitment and building of a city-wide hierarchy of protest cells, where each cell has its own leader, who does not know the leaders or members of other cells, only his direct superior. This system is very similar to how Al-Qaeda is structured or how the underground boyevik units operated in the Northern Caucasus. Their requirements for conspiracy are the same. It is very difficult to fight such organisations, which act as networks, because destroying one cell does not take you to the next.
Let us assume that is the case but still, what has this got to do with the army? Why should the army fight colour revolutions?
It has to do with the army because such organisations can be fought only with agency work, by blending into them unnoticed. Military intelligence has acquired these methods excellently. The army has this type of experience and it is exactly what Gerasimov was talking about.
So they [military intelligence, i.e. the GRU in Russia] have the knowledge, experience and skills to fight colour revolutions?
In short, General Gerasimov is convinced that potential colour revolutions close to Russia’s borders can and must be prevented by hybrid warfare. What did Gerasimov have in mind when he said “the general headquarters [of the Russian armed forces] has changed its views of modern warfare”?
He was talking about how wars nowadays have a hybrid character and it is impossible to imagine using classical military force without hybrid measures. These days there is no warfare that is not hybrid. Such wars begin long before war is officially declared and end long after a peace treaty has been signed. They begin in the form of information warfare, diversionary acts and guerrilla warfare, and this is what the headquarters level proceeds from in planning modern warfare—this is what Gerasimov meant. Among other things, this means that defence attachés need to be excellent specialists in information warfare, influencing the public and psychological operations. In this aspect Gerasimov is absolutely right.
So a modern army, including Russia’s, needs more and more experts in what used to be civil areas?
Yes, specialists without epaulettes.
There are probably many “specialists without epaulettes” acting in eastern Ukraine.
I do not know about that. But the proportion of people without epaulettes is growing fast in the [Russian] military.
At General Gerasimov’s initiative, the growing role of private military corporations in Russia was also widely discussed at this event. How should they operate in cooperation with Russian armed forces and other power structures? Has Russia decided to move in the direction of using more of them in future conflicts beyond Russia’s borders?
Private military corporations [PMCs] are largely an invention of hybrid warfare. In my opinion, they are just a new type of mercenaries. The Russian Duma is currently discussing a law on the status of PMCs. The Americans use PMCs widely in modern military conflicts because they perform tasks that neither the Department of State nor the Pentagon can carry out for various reasons. In this sense it is an inevitable development. It is also evident in Syria. [An interesting related detail: much has been written in the Russian media about Russia’s most well-known, albeit for now unofficial, PMC unit, which is led by a former officer going by the name of Wagner. This unit has operated in eastern Ukraine but most actively in Syria. According to the influential St Petersburg-based website fontanka.ru, which published a detailed investigation about Wagner’s unit, the man behind the name is 46-year-old Dmitry Utkin, a reserve Lieutenant Colonel in the Russian special forces, who in 2013 served in the Independent Spetsnaz Detachment of the 2nd Independent Brigade of the GRU as commanding officer of its subdivision in Pechory—a few kilometres from the Estonian border.—JP]
If the Duma adopts the law and allows the use of PMCs in Russia’s interests, how will this change Russia’s strategy for foreign conflicts? What new options does it open up for you?
It creates new possibilities to participate in military conflicts in their active phase while not risking military involvement at the state level. Not risking the lives of the soldiers of your own army is a typical hybrid-warfare tactic. The aim of the world powers is to fight foreign armies. This guarantees that they will not clash with each other, until a certain moment of course. An ideal future war would be two PMCs doing the fighting—if, of course, international law regarding PMCs does not change, if they do not realise that it is in fact a screen to legalise mercenaries.
If this law is adopted, official PMCs will probably be established quite fast in Russia?
Certainly. Unfortunately, there are numerous tensions between Russia and the West and the option to use PMCs would be considered in such cases in the future if necessary. Hybrid warfare without PMCs is probably not even possible anymore. The speciality of hybrid warfare is that direct confrontation between the main opponents is only a worst-case scenario. In hybrid warfare, world powers monitor each other’s strength, potential, and readiness to protect their interests, usually on the battlefields of the developing world. At the moment, Ukraine and Syria are typical such fields but they are not the only ones.
Could the Baltic States be in that category?
The Baltic States are too small for that. I don’t want to offend anyone, but the Americans are very good at manipulating the Baltics. As the Baltic States are very small, they can be easily scared. This panic will later spread to larger European countries as well. Then they of course turn to the US for help, which enables the Americans to set the condition for the Europeans that they finally need to pay the famous two per cent [the target to spend 2% of GDP on defence—JP], as you all promised.
In your presentation at the conference, you said that Russia needed to have its own forces, measures and technological arsenal for hybrid warfare. Is Russia’s current arsenal really not sufficient?
Of course they have their own arsenal. I meant “their own” in the sense that it should not duplicate the Americans’ tools. We are talking of asymmetric means against the Americans and NATO. We need to act differently from the Americans so that they do not understand our logic.
Could it be said that Russia has its own model and strategy for hybrid warfare?
It could. It does now. I cannot reveal it in detail but I can recommend reading a textbook, published a year ago by Moscow State University, titled very simply Hybrid Warfare, which our political scientists study. [The group of authors of the 190-page monograph was led by the Dean of Moscow State University’s Faculty of Political Science, Andrey Shutov, but the best-known author is Doctor of Political Science and former president of Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin, who is famous for his extremely conservative views.–JP]
An important aspect of hybrid warfare is non-military activities. To what extent has the Russian foreign ministry adjusted to the strategy or even tactics of hybrid warfare, in your opinion as a former FSB information-warfare specialist?
In the past two years, Russian diplomacy has made a giant leap forward in development. This is best seen in relations with the US, which is still a major power and can implement a deterrent policy against Russia and China simultaneously. Russia’s power does not even come close. But we have learned asymmetric action and this is a strong advantage for Russia right now. The US clearly has difficulties with predicting Russia’s activities; they still proceed from some very simplified models but Russia is already behaving differently. Russian diplomacy and everyone connected to making foreign-policy decisions in general take into account the detailed psychology of US leaders. Russia is well aware of their inclinations, the decision-making patterns in various situations. We already know perfectly well how [US president Barack] Obama and [US Secretary of State] John Kerry will act even before they get into a situation that they need to resolve. Meanwhile, nobody knows how [Russian president Vladimir] Putin will act. The West is constantly trying to fit Putin into some standard mould and predict how he might behave, but he behaves differently. There is a pattern for Putin’s behaviour but it is different from what the West believes it to be.
What is it then?
You know, unpredictable behaviour is also in fact an element of predictability. Putin’s behaviour always remains within the confines of logic. Retrospective analysis of his behaviour shows us very simple logic there. Yes, it could be said that he has applied the style of domestic policy from the 2000s, where he often made seemingly very unexpected decisions, to making foreign-policy decisions as well.
In today’s circumstances, where all warfare is already hybrid, the Americans are still betting too much on brute force, on the fact that force can resolve any kind of issue. But it is no longer the most important thing in the world. It is no longer important to strike a mighty blow from the outset; instead you need to have very fine fencing skills. Russian diplomacy is trying to strike by fencing like that.
Do you believe Russian foreign policy is too asymmetric for the Americans and that they are incapable of adjusting to it?
Yes, the Americans are still expecting symmetric responses from us, expecting that we respond to a strike with a strike. You know, we are very lucky to have Sergey [Lavrov] as foreign minister. He is a Gorchakov-style diplomat and leader of the department of foreign policy in Russia. [Alexander Gorchakov, born in 1798 in Haapsalu, studied at the same school as Russian poet Alexander Pushkin and was his friend. In the second half of the 19th century, Gorchakov led the Russian Empire’s foreign ministry for 25 years, making Russia a very influential country in Europe.–JP] Lavrov participates actively in making foreign-policy decisions in Russia. He has created a very strong think tank and team in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Who are the key people in Lavrov’s team in the ministry?
The most important body in Lavrov’s ministry is the General Secretariat, which prepares specific decisions. It is a headquarters but not a very public structure. [Since autumn 2014, the director of the General Secretariat has been Pavel Kuznetsov, who in 1999–2004 worked as a counsellor in the Russian Embassy in Tallinn.–JP] All diplomats who work there are very experienced and they are mainly Lavrov’s age. Some of them were Primakov’s advisers when he turned his plane around over the Atlantic. [In a famous incident, the then Russian foreign minister (and former Director of Foreign Intelligence) Yevgeny Primakov was heading to the US for an official visit in March 1999 and ordered the plane to turn around over the Atlantic when he heard that NATO aircraft had attacked Serbia without notifying Russia. This incident is considered a turning point in Russian–US relations since the end of the Cold War.–JP)
This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.