Table of Contents

Russia sees itself as a status quo power and views NATO, and the United States above all, as a challenger to the status quo.1 For Moscow, preserving the status quo means retaining and exerting its influence in the former Soviet republics other than the three Baltic states.2 The more Moscow sees a real prospect of former Soviet republics like Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, or Moldova drifting westward, the harder it seeks to crackdown on those states and the more determined it becomes in its efforts to weaken, divide, and keep the West busy.

These efforts reflect security concerns and a common history as well as close economic, cultural, religious, and societal ties.3 No less important, Moscow’s desire for regional preponderance helps fulfill a national narrative of Russia’s return as a great power.4 Another crucial reason lies in Russian historical experiences of being attacked by continental powers, including Germany and France. These experiences make it seem prudent for Russia to have some degree of influence over its western periphery.5 Last but not least, Moscow sees itself as a security patron of Russian citizens, “wherever they may be,” in the words of former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, including those in the former Soviet republics.6

It is no exaggeration to assert that losing the ability to influence the former Soviet republics would be seen throughout Russia as no less than a humiliating national catastrophe. Any serious attempt by other powers to pry the former Soviet republics away from Moscow, or to even encourage their independence, has, therefore, met with strong Russian resistance.

Toward that end, the eastward enlargements of NATO and the European Union (EU), which are often seen by Russia’s leadership as equally concerning,7 are perceived as both harbingers that Russia may one day lose her sphere of influence and as a potential military security threat. Seen from Moscow, NATO has dangerously been moving ever closer to Russia’s sphere of influence, step by step.8

This struggle is all the harder to sustain because, as Russia’s leadership is all too aware, the United States and the West in general have greater economic and military resources at their disposal and provide a more attractive model to the former Soviet republics, particularly in the economic realm.9

NATO and the Post-Soviet Space

To further its interests, Russia’s leadership has developed a strategy toward the former Soviet republics that aims, to adapt the words of former NATO secretary general Lord Hastings Ismay, to keep Western institutions out, the Russians in, and the former Soviet republics down.10 This strategy clashes with the interests of powerful NATO members, most prominently with those of the United States, which seeks to encourage the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of states on NATO’s periphery.

Russia’s approach to the former Soviet republics and its relationship with NATO should not be conflated. Yet, they interact with one another. While Russia keeps the former Soviet republics from drifting westward, at the same time, it is doing everything it can below the level of open military hostilities to prevent NATO from even thinking about offering membership to those countries.

In doing so, Russia has three advantages vis-à-vis NATO. First, because of its authoritarian rule, Russia’s leadership faces much less domestic pressure to justify its strategy. As a result, internal decisionmaking on issues such as the use of military force or military procurement is much swifter and less publicly controversial than in most NATO states. Second, Russia has no real allies but rather client states with limited room for independent political maneuver. NATO, by contrast, has to take into account the diverse views of its member states, which, again, slows down decisionmaking. Third, open liberal societies, including most NATO states, are inherently more susceptible to influence campaigns than semi-closed, authoritarian systems.

To further its interests, Russia’s leadership has developed a strategy toward the former Soviet republics to keep Western institutions out, the Russians in, and the former Soviet republics down.

NATO’s weaknesses have been recognized in Moscow, and the Kremlin tries to exploit them to its advantage. According to the chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, Valery Gerasimov, “no matter what forces the enemy has, no matter how well-developed his forces and means of armed conflict may be, forms and methods for overcoming them can be found. He will always have vulnerabilities and that means that adequate means of opposing him exist.”11

Nevertheless, Russia has to take into account NATO’s combined economic and military strength. In these realms, Russia has a stark comparative disadvantage and Moscow has, so far, shied away from using military force against the alliance. Instead, by constantly engaging NATO member states through intimidation, threats, or propaganda, Moscow has tried to split the alliance and to deter NATO from extending its influence into the post-Soviet space. As a result, allies are now forced to focus primarily on their own security vis-à-vis Russia.

NATO’s weaknesses have been recognized in Moscow, and the Kremlin tries to exploit them to its advantage.

The situation in the post-Soviet space with its economically vulnerable and often democratically dysfunctional states is somewhat reversed. Against those states, Russia’s relative economic and military dominance allows it to exert economic pressure or, if necessary, to employ military force. By actively creating, manipulating, or prolonging secessionist conflicts in Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, or Moldova, Moscow prevents those states from fully joining NATO and the EU at some point in the future.

New-Generation Warfare

Western analysts often refer to the model of hybrid warfare to describe Russian tactics.12 This description is not correct and might even be misleading.13 Hybrid warfare originally referred, in Western theoretical analyses, to a tactical approach by inferior insurgents in the Middle East to try to not lose a conflict against a superior opponent (such as Hezbollah’s struggle against Israel).

Moscow’s approach of new-generation warfare(NGW), as it is called in Russia, differs significantly from hybrid warfare. NGW is a distinct and genuinely indigenous Russian innovation aimed at winning the conflict with NATO by coercing the alliance—largely through all measures short of open warfare—into giving up on the post-Soviet space and, perhaps, finally forswearing further enlargement. As part of this strategy, Russia seeks to avoid a direct military conflict with NATO for as long as possible.14 If Russia were to attack the Baltic states militarily, that would be going significantly further than its current strategy envisions. But even then, Russia would presumably seek to paralyze NATO’s decisionmaking to the point where it would not respond with as much force as is possible under the collective defense assistance clause, contained in Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty.15

Gerasimov asserts that, in the twenty-first century, “the role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness.”16 The Russian Military Doctrine of 2014 lists some of those means: “Integrated use of military force, political, economic, informational and other non-military measures, implemented with the extensive use of the protest potential of the population, and special operations forces.”17

Moscow attributes the initial development of these tactics and operations almost exclusively to the West and sees the events of the Arab Spring as a prime example of a Western strategy that begins with stirring political unrest, is followed by foreign military support of insurgents, and—finally—ends with intervention. However, Russian actions in Ukraine and elsewhere provide strong evidence that Moscow emulated these tactics and developed this integrated NGW doctrine with the post-Soviet space and, to a much lesser degree, NATO member states in mind.

Western analysts often refer to the model of hybrid warfare to describe Russian tactics. This description is not correct and might even be misleading.

A significant feature of NGW is the absence of any delineation between the civilian and military realms. Russia’s actions in Ukraine serve as a good example.18 Against the background of nationwide protests in Ukraine and a general sense of chaos and disorganization in early 2014, Russia first launched a major military exercise in its Western Military District. Blurring the lines between the military and civilian realms, Moscow then deployed disguised military elite units to Crimea and armed local pro-Russian civilian groups. In parallel, its civilian media outlets staged a twenty-four/seven disinformation campaign aimed at frustrating the new leadership in Kyiv, unsettling and de-motivating Ukrainian forces in Crimea, and unleashing a wave of Russian nationalistic pride at home. The following months saw repeated Russian-originating cyberattacks on civilian Ukrainian targets (and vice versa), such as Ukraine’s educational sector,19 as well as nuclear threats against NATO from the highest echelons of the Kremlin. These tactics allowed Russia to re-take Crimea and, at the same time, prevent a unified military response from Ukraine, while weakening the pro-Western forces in Kyiv.20

Although NGW employs a holistic approach, it is nevertheless possible to distinguish between three separate but interrelated aspects of this concept of warfare.

  • Nonkinetic Tools: As part of its NGW concept, Moscow employs various nonmilitary means, including standard diplomacy; economic pressure; financial and/or rhetorical support of political groups or parties that are friendly to Russia and hostile to the EU and NATO; propaganda and disinformation campaigns; overt criminal activities by paid mercenaries or mafia-style groups; and covert intelligence and cyber operations. Importantly, at times, the whole state apparatus—as well as nonstate actors, such as private hacker groups—are operationally involved or tolerated, depending on the goal and the target.

    Moscow’s aim is to manipulate the enemy’s strategic choices by constantly targeting a foe’s perceptions in order to impose Russia’s own will. In the case of Crimea, this approach meant coercing Kyiv into accepting the loss of the peninsula instead of staging military countermeasures. To achieve such strategic goals, the tool of informational superiority in particular, especially in terms of the content being broadcasted, is key.21
  • Classical and Nontraditional Military Activities: NGW also consists of both classical and nontraditional military activities. The former category encompasses procurement; research and development; modernization; exercises, including snap and large-scale exercises; brinkmanship; covert operations; and open attack. Nontraditional activities comprise financial and military support of militias or mercenaries, and the employment of Russian soldiers without national insignia (the so-called little green men).

    While such military activities are important, Russian proponents of NGW place much less emphasis on them relative to nonkinetic tools. Israeli scholar Dmitry Adamsky refers to a four-to-one ratio of nonkinetic and military activities in Russian operations such as the annexation of Crimea.22 Thus, NGW, as Adamsky puts it, “presumes the use of force, but it is, primarily, a strategy of influence, not of brute force.”23 In fact, Russia hopes that the concept’s nonkinetic aspect will allow it to achieve significant military gains, such as the seizing of territory, with maximal military pressure and minimal or no fatalities. The occupation of Crimea is an ideal example of this approach and may not be repeatable under different conditions.
  • Nuclear Weapons: Finally, in the nuclear realm, NGW comprises a nuclear force posture that maintains numerical parity with the United States in deployed long-range (strategic) nuclear weapons (with a range of more than 5,500 kilometers); superiority vis-à-vis NATO’s Eastern European member states in short-range (tactical) nuclear weapons (with a range of less than 500 kilometers); the alleged introduction of ground-based intermediate-range weapons (with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers) in violation of the INF Treaty; a nuclear doctrine with potentially offensive intentions; rhetorical nuclear threats; and acts of nuclear signaling.

    Many Western officials and experts believe that these actions serve the purpose of lowering the nuclear threshold, that is to say making nuclear weapons more usable earlier on in a potential conflict with NATO.24 But that is impossible to conclude from open sources, and it is therefore far from clear that lowering the nuclear threshold is really the calculus in Moscow. In fact, Russia might primarily aim to introduce unpredictability and ambiguity—that is, to make NATO think that Moscow has lowered the nuclear threshold and consequently proceed with even more caution when dealing with Russia and the post-Soviet space. Either way, what can be said with some certainty is that the nuclear realm is central to the Russian strategy. It warrants a more detailed discussion.

The Centrality of the Threat of Nuclear Escalation

The threat of nuclear escalation is essential to Russia’s doctrine of NGW.25 Coupled with Russia’s overall geopolitical goals, it contributes heavily to Moscow’s strategy of keeping Western institutions such as NATO out of the post-Soviet space and making NATO members worry that their own security is in peril. Three elements form that threat: (1) an ambiguous nuclear doctrine; (2) nontransparency and noncompliance with arms control agreements; and (3) continued nuclear threats and acts of signaling.

An Ambiguous Nuclear Doctrine: At first glance, Russia’s nuclear doctrine appears to be unambiguous, based on publicly available documents. Accordingly, its 2014 military doctrine speaks of “the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy” (italicized by the author).26

Western analysts have struggled to specify how exactly Russia would employ its nuclear arms. Some experts continue to focus on the concept of escalate-to-deescalate.27 Generally speaking, under this doctrine, Russia—facing NATO’s conventionally stronger, combined forces (or perhaps those of China)—would employ nuclear weapons first, in a limited fashion, perhaps on its geographical periphery. The purpose would be to convince a hypothetical attacker that further nuclear escalation would be imminent if that attacker were to choose not to back down. At the end of the 1990s, when the Russian military was in a moribund state, some Russian strategists played with exactly that idea.28

Western analysts have struggled to specify how exactly Russia would employ its nuclear arms.

Despite its recent military modernization, Russia is still facing two conventionally superior powers along its borders—NATO and China—and Moscow continues to maintain up to an estimated 2,000 tactical nuclear arms (an unclear number of which is expected to be stored in depots west of the Ural Mountains).29 These facts lend certain credence to the assumption that Russia relies on this doctrine to this day.30 Further evidence comes from Russia’s use, in exercises, of a simulated strike with a single nuclear weapon at the end of a conventional conflict. Interestingly, in many such exercises, the strike is conducted with a strategic nuclear weapon—that is, with a missile that could reach the United States.31 This fact has led some experts to question certain aspects or even the very existence of the escalate-to-deescalate doctrine.32 After all, in the event of a war between Russia and NATO, would Moscow not first use relatively short-range tactical nuclear weapons in the Eastern European theater before attacking the U.S. homeland?

In fact, Russian exercises do not preclude the possibility that Moscow plans for limited regional escalation using tactical nuclear weapons. Rather, the exercises suggest that Russia is also prepared to escalate in a limited fashion at the strategic level. Western analysts even assume that Russian escalation to the nuclear level in general could happen rather quickly in a conflict with NATO.33

The key question is what political and military purposes Russia intends for the escalate-to-deescalate doctrine to serve, if the doctrine does in fact exist. There are two possible interpretations, neither of which is conclusive given the lack of clear evidence. The more benign interpretation sees Russia—after being attacked first—escalating an unfavorable conventional battle to the nuclear level in order to, in effect, deescalate the overall standoff. Russia’s inherently defensive goals in this scenario would be to deter further aggression or terminate the conflict with an acceptable outcome. The more malign view assumes that Russia would seize territory through conventional means and threaten, simultaneously or afterward, to escalate to the nuclear level in the event of a counterattack. Here, the inherently offensive goal would be to terminate such a conflict before Russia’s opponent(s) could regain ground. In both scenarios, escalation to nuclear use would presumably only make sense against adversaries that Moscow believes it could deter from responding in kind with nuclear weapons. Some Russian analysts strongly deny either of these interpretations and instead argue that no Russian concept of intra-war deterrence has ever made it to the operational military levels. They claim that, especially if Russia were attacked by the United States and NATO, the Russian military would probably be quick to escalate to all-out nuclear war.34

In fact, it is not impossible that all of these interpretations contain some grain of truth. As Russian expert A. Pechatnov has put it, “at the present time the Russian Federation uses a concept based on the ideas of Mutual Assured Destruction and limited nuclear war” (italicized by the author).35 In spite of all this speculation, Moscow has not responded by clarifying whether the escalate-to-deescalate doctrine exists and, if it does, what purpose it serves.

Nontransparency and Noncompliance With Arms Control Agreements: One reason so little is known about Russia’s nuclear doctrine is that Moscow has, for many years, rebuffed initiatives by the United States and its allies designed to increase transparency regarding Russia’s tactical arsenal or to include those weapons in arms control talks.36 Transparency about the numbers, locations, and state of readiness of tactical nuclear weapons, arms control proponents have long argued, would increase confidence about Russian intentions and introduce a significant level of predictability.37 Instead, Moscow demands the removal of some 200 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe as a prerequisite to discussions about tactical nuclear weapons, ignoring the huge disparity between its own and the U.S. tactical nuclear arsenals.38

More recently, the United States has accused Russia of violating the INF Treaty by having developed, tested, and deployed a ground-launched cruise missile (the SSC-8) with a range prohibited by the treaty.39 General Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained to the House of Representatives in March 2017 that “we believe that the Russians have deployed a land-based cruise missile that violates the spirit and intent of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty.”40 Moscow denies any such transgression and has accused the United States of multiple failures to comply with the INF Treaty.41

One reason so little is known about Russia’s nuclear doctrine is that Moscow has, for many years, rebuffed initiatives by the United States and its allies designed to increase transparency.

Following the INF’s entry into force in 1988, the Soviet Union and the United States dismantled all their medium- and intermediate-range weapons that targeted all of Europe, including western parts of the Soviet Union. If, today, Moscow were to re-introduce these weapons west of the country, they would give Russia’s military leaders the means to hold at risk additional European targets not already targeted by Russian tactical nuclear weapons. As such, these weapons would be entirely consistent with the doctrine of escalate-to-deescalate, whether its purpose is defensive or offensive. If they were dual-capable, they would also give the Russian military additional means for conventional escalation.

Nevertheless, from a military point of view, the utility of the SSC-8 for Russia is somewhat questionable. Russia can already target all of Europe with its sea- and air-launched dual-capable missiles.42 Perhaps, Russian military leaders do not trust those delivery platforms in a second-strike scenario and believe that they would lose them early on in a war with NATO. Another possibility is that the SSC-8 is intended to put pressure on NATO members to formulate a political and military response, thereby exposing alliance members’ divergent views on nuclear weapons. Intentionally or inadvertently, the INF crisis risks further damaging what remains of the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control process, most notably the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) limiting strategic arms, which is set to expire in 2021.43

Taken together, Russian nontransparency and noncompliance with nuclear arms control agreements helps Moscow acquire prohibited capabilities and obscure its capabilities at the same time. It thus contributes to the ambiguities Western experts encounter in analyzing Russia’s nuclear doctrine.

Rhetorical Nuclear Threats and Signaling: Since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis, Russian actors have repeatedly issued nuclear threats, often targeted against NATO members. At the height of the Crimea crisis, the head of the Russian state news agency reminded his audience that “Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash.”44 Only a few months later, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared: “Thank God, I think no one is thinking of unleashing a large-scale conflict with Russia. I want to remind you that Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers. . . . Russia’s partners . . . should understand it’s best not to mess with us.”45 In addition to these general threats, Moscow has issued very specific nuclear threats. Following the test deployment of 330 U.S. Marines to NATO member Norway, the deputy chairman of Russia’s defense and security committee asked: “How should we react to this? We have never before had Norway on the list of targets for our strategic weapons.”46

Russia frequently has augmented such threats with acts of nuclear signaling—meaning nonroutine and perhaps offensive military actions that involve nuclear forces. In recent years, for example, Russia has regularly sent nuclear-capable long-range bombers close to NATO territory, although always strictly within international airspace. Russian nuclear signaling often occurs in conjunction with important political events, such as Russia’s occupation of Crimea, NATO’s 2017 defense ministers meeting in Brussels, or even on July 4, the United States’ Independence Day.47 This timing indicates that the relevant actions are not simply practice maneuvers but are intended to convey a threat.

Purpose and Applicability of Nuclear Escalation Threats: In general, Russian nuclear threats serve three purposes. First, Moscow wants to send the message that whatever NATO does, the alliance has to take into account that Russia is nuclear-armed and ready to use its weapons. This message is inherently ambiguous in that it could bolster both defensive and offensive operations. Second, Moscow correctly assumes Western publics are paying some attention to the simmering conflict with Russia and wants to cause widespread fear of nuclear war among NATO populations.48 Its goal is to prompt citizens to question and oppose the approaches of leaders who support policies inimical to Russian interests. Third, and perhaps most importantly, Russia wants to unsettle NATO leaders, make them worry that the alliance is ill-prepared for possible nuclear escalation, and, therefore, get them to focus their military and political energy on how to respond in the event of a crisis.

Moscow wants to send the message that whatever NATO does, the alliance has to take into account that Russia is nuclear-armed and ready to use its weapons.

In doing so, Moscow’s ultimate goal is to expose the various contradictory views on nuclear deterrence within the alliance and undermine its unity. Indeed, this purpose, and the aforementioned second one, illustrate that Russia’s nuclear doctrine contains a subversive element aimed at undermining Western institutions. Taken together, the different missions that Russia assigns to nuclear weapons—deterrence for defensive and, perhaps, offensive purposes, and political subversion—allow Moscow to threaten nuclear escalation in various scenarios. A famous Cold War metaphor likens escalation to climbing a ladder.49 The upper rungs of this ladder involve the actual use of nuclear weapons. Immediately below them is large-scale conventional warfare, which would, in the case of a Russia-NATO conflict, be shaped by the awareness that escalation to nuclear use is all too possible.

The threat of nuclear escalation is central to Moscow’s NGW doctrine precisely because Russia constantly employs this tool not only at the high end of the proverbial ladder of nuclear escalation, but also on the ladder’s lower rungs and in the background of conflict. For instance, if Russia wanted to initiate low-level violence against NATO—by, for example, sending disguised special forces across the border of a Baltic state—the supporting threat of nuclear escalation could be a potential enabler, intended to deter NATO from responding strongly. In such a scenario, NATO would have to contemplate the possibility of Moscow escalating to nuclear use. Whether NATO would perceive such a threat as credible is an open question, but it might affect and perhaps slow down NATO’s response.50 Apart from being employed to support specific operations, Russian nuclear threats also have served as a kind of constant background noise to intimidate and distract NATO for at least the last few years. In this way, such threats are intended to help enable any possible low-level action that Russia might want to initiate.


1 See Kremlin, “Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club,” October 24, 2014,

2 The former Soviet republics include now-independent Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. For historical reasons, the three Baltic states have always been a special case, and one can argue that Russia accepts, to some degree, that they are not a direct part of Moscow’s sphere of influence. For a description of Russia’s interests in the post-Soviet space, see Samuel Charap and Timothy J. Colton, Everyone Loses: The Ukraine Crisis and the Ruinous Contest for Post-Soviet Eurasia (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2016).

3 When asked about the concept of zones of influence and Russia’s special interest therein, then-president Dmitry Medvedev responded, “It means one simple but very important thing: our neighbors are without any doubt states that are traditionally close to us and they represent the traditional sphere of interests of the Russian Federation. And the Russian Federation is for them exactly the same sort of traditional sphere of interest. We are so close to each other that it is impossible to come between us: it is impossible to say that Russia would like things a certain way, and our neighbors another. It is not even a matter of belonging to this or that organization, this or that bloc, but rather the common history and genetic connectedness of our economies and the very close kinship of our souls. Therefore, of course, our neighbors and good relations with them are our number one priority.” Kremlin, “Transcript of the Meeting With the Participants in the International Club Valdai,” September 12, 2008,

4 A November 2016 poll by the independent Russian Levada Center reported that 64 percent of Russians responded affirmatively to the following question: “Do you think that Russia today is a great power?” In 2011, three years before the Ukraine intervention, only 47 percent responded positively to that question. Levada Center, “Russia as a Great Power,” January 9, 2017,

5 John J. Mearsheimer, “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault. The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin,” Foreign Affairs 93, no. 5 (September-October 2014): 77–89,

6 According to Medvedev, when he outlined his principles of Russian foreign policy: “protecting the lives and dignity of our citizens, wherever they may be, is an unquestionable priority for our country. Our foreign policy decisions will be based on this need. We will also protect the interests of our business community abroad. It should be clear to all that we will respond to any aggressive acts committed against us.” “Interview Given by Dmitry Medvedev to Television Channels Channel One, Rossia, NTV,” Kremlin, August 31, 2008,

7 While Russian criticism of NATO tends to focus on hard security issues, Moscow has criticized the EU particularly for its alleged policy of democracy promotion. See Sergei Lavrov, “Democracy, International Governance, and the Future World Order,” Russia in Global Affairs, February 9, 2005,

8 Back in 1997, then Russian president Boris Yeltsin warned that “the eastward expansion of NATO is a mistake and a serious one at that.” See Thomas W. Lippman, “Clinton, Yeltsin Agree on Arms Cuts and NATO,” Washington Post, March 22, 1997, At the Munich Security Conference in 2007, Vladimir Putin stressed, “I think it is obvious that NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernization of the Alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe. On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended?” See “Putin’s Prepared Remarks at 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy,” February 12, 2007,

9 See Kremlin, “Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club,” October 27, 2016.

10 The original phrase by Lord Ismay referred to the purpose of NATO: “to keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” NATO, “NATO Leaders: Lord Ismay,”

11 Valery Gerasimov, “The Value of Science in Prediction,” Military-Industrial Kurier, translated by Mark Galleoti, February 27, 2013,

12 See Andrew Radin, Hybrid Warfare in the Baltics: Threats and Potential Responses (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2017).

13 Adamsky, Cross-Domain Coercion, 21–30. Jānis Bērziņš, “Russian New Generation Warfare Is Not Hybrid Warfare,” in The War in Ukraine: Lessons for Europe, eds. Artis Pabriks and Andis Kudors (Riga: University of Latvia Press, 2015), 40–51.

14 Some authors refer to “cross-domain coercion,” whereas others describe Russian strategy as “coercive gradualism.” See Adamsky, Cross-Domain Coercion and William G. Pierce, Douglas G. Douds, and Michael A. Marra, “Understanding Coercive Gradualism,” Parameters 45, no. 3 (2015): 51–61.

15 Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty states: “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.” NATO, “The North Atlantic Treaty,” Washington, DC, April 4, 1949,; also Johnson, Nuclear Weapons in Russia’s Approach to Conflict.

16 Gerasimov, “The Value of Science in Prediction.”

17 Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, “The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation,” December 25, 2014,

18 For a good overview of Russia’s actions in Ukraine in early 2014, see Lawrence Freedman, “Ukraine and the Art of Limited War,” Survival 56, no. 6 (2014): 7–38.

19 Ben Farmer, “Ukraine Cyber War Escalates Alongside Violence,” Telegraph, May 28, 2014,

20 For an exemplary account, see Jonsson and Seely, Russian Full-Spectrum Conflict.

21 This form of psychological coercion is often described under the old Soviet term of reflexive control, meaning “a sustained campaign that feeds an opponent select information so that the opponent makes the decisions that one wants him/her to.” See Annie Kowalewski, “Disinformation and Reflexive Control: The New Cold War,” Georgetown Security Studies Review, February 1, 2017, Adamsky, Cross-Domain Coercion, 24.

22 Adamsky, Cross-Domain Coercion, 23.

23 Ibid, 30.

24 For a critical view, see Kristin ven Bruusgaard, “The Myth of Russia’s Lowered Nuclear Threshold,” War on the Rocks, September 22, 2017,

25 Johnson, Nuclear Weapons in Russia’s Approach to Conflict.

26 Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, “The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation.”

27 For one of the first discussions of the concept in Western literature, see Nikolai N. Sokov, “Why Russia Calls a Limited Nuclear Strike ‘De-Escalation,’” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 13, 2014, For a more recent discussion, see Anya Loukianova Fink, “The Evolving Russian Concept of Strategic Deterrence: Risks and Responses,” Arms Control Today, July 10, 2017,

28 Loukianova Fink, “The Evolving Russian Concept of Strategic Deterrence.”

29 Andrei Zagorski, Russia’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Posture, Politics and Arms Control (Hamburg: Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, 2011),

30 More broadly speaking, any time a conventionally weaker power uses nuclear weapons to deter a stronger adversary, it almost necessarily has that doctrine. One example is NATO during the Cold War in Europe. Another one is Pakistan’s weaker conventional forces vis-à-vis India. See George Perkovich and Toby Dalton, Not War, Not Peace? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). In the case of Israel, the quality of its conventional forces somewhat compensated for its disadvantage in quantity vis-à-vis the Arab states during the war in 1967. Nevertheless, Israel relied on a nuclear deescalation strategy, see William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, “‘Last Secret’ of 1967 War: Israel’s Doomsday Plan for Nuclear Display,” New York Times, June 3, 2017,

31 See, for example, the 2016 Kavkaz (meaning ‘West’ in Russian) exercise. Roger McDermott, “Moscow Tests Network-Centric Military Capability in Kavkaz 2016,” Jamestown Foundation Eurasia Daily Monitor 13, no. 151 (September 20, 2016),

32 See Olga Oliker, Russia’s Nuclear Doctrine. What We Know, What We Don’t, and What That Means (Washington: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2016),; Dmitry Adamsky, “If War Comes Tomorrow: Russian Thinking About ‘Regional Nuclear Deterrence,’” Journal of Slavic Military Studies 27, no. 1 (2014): 163–188.

33 Łukasz Kulesa and Thomas Frear, NATO’s Evolving Modern Deterrence Posture: Challenges and Risks (London: ELN, 2017), 9,

34 Alexei Arbatov, “Understanding the US-Russia Nuclear Schism,” Survival 59, no. 2 (April-May 2017), 50–51; Robert Legvold, “The Challenges of the New Nuclear Age in the 21st Century World (Dis)Order,” in The Multipolar Nuclear World: Challenges and Opportunities (Moscow: Carnegie Moscow Center, forthcoming). For the exact opposite view, see Yury E. Fedorov, “Russia’s Nuclear Policy,” [Japanese] National Institute for Defense Studies Twelfth Symposium “Major Powers’ Nuclear Policies and International Order in the 21st Century,” November 18, 2009,

35 Yu. A. Pechatnov, “Analiz Otechestvennykh i Zarubezhnykh Podkhodov k Formirovaniyu Kontseptsii I Mekhanizma Sderzhivaniya ot Razvyazyvaniya Voennoi Agressii,” [Analysis of Domestic and Foreign Approaches to the Formation of the Concept and the Mechanism of Deterrence from Unleashing Military Aggression] Vooruzhenie i Ekonomika [Armament and Economics] 3, no. 11, (2010), 11–17. Quoted from Johnson, Nuclear Weapons in Russia’s Approach to Conflict, 68.

36 This largely holds true, with the exception of the voluntary, bilateral U.S.-Russian Presidential Nuclear Initiatives of the early 1990s.

37 Jacek Durkalec and Andrei Zagorski, Options for Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures Related to Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons in Europe: Cost-Benefit Matrix (Warsaw: Polish Institute of International Affairs, 2014),

38 Ibid, 7–8.

39 Michael R. Gordon, “Russia Deploys Missile, Violating Treaty and Challenging Trump,” New York Times, February 14, 2017,

40 Gordon, “Russia Has Deployed Missile Barred by Treaty.”

41 See Woolf, Russian Compliance With the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

42 Ulrich Kühn and Anna Péczeli, “Russia, NATO, and the INF Treaty,” Strategic Studies Quarterly 11, no. 1 (Spring 2017): 66–99,

43 The argument that is often brought forward by proponents of bilateral U.S.-Russian arms control is that without verifiable resolution of the INF crisis, an extension of New START or even a follow-on treaty would have no chance of ratification in the U.S. Senate. Greg Thielmann, “Can the INF Treaty Survive? Russia’s New Missile Presents a Major Test for Arms Control,” Arms Control Today, 47, no. 3 (April 2017): 6–13,

44 Lidia Kelly, “Russia Can Turn US to Radioactive Ash - Kremlin-Backed Journalist,” Reuters, March 16, 2014,

45 Alexei Anishchuk, “UPDATE 1-Don’t Mess With Nuclear Russia, Putin Says,” Reuters, August 29, 2014,

46 Matt Payton, “Norway Is Now a Nuclear Target Over US Marines Posted There, Senior Russian Politician Warns,” Independent, November 1, 2016,

47 Andrew Buncombe, “US Scrambles Fighter Jets to Intercept Russian Bombers Close to American Coastline on Fourth of July,” Independent, July 7, 2015,

48 This is particularly prevalent, for instance, in the German yellow press. See “Russen übten den Atom-Krieg!” [Russians Exercised Nuclear War!] BILD Zeitung, April 3, 2014,

49 Herman Kahn, On Escalation: Metaphors and Scenarios (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2010), 39 (for illustration of the forty-four rungs).

50 Latest research, based on statistical analysis of coercive nuclear threats, indeed comes to the conclusion that these threats seldom work. See Todd S. Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann, Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).