Modernising Defence Programme Russia: Implications For United Kingdom Defence and Security

Defence Synergia revisits  the implications of a Resurgent Russia


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Modernising Defence Programme

Russia: Implications For United Kingdom Defence and Security


1. The House of Commons Defence Select Committee (HoCDC) conducted an inquiry into Russian defence policy and the implications of this for UK defence and security in February 2016. This has been followed up recently by evidence to the HoCDC by three Baltic ambassadors to the United Kingdom (UK): H.E. Ms Tiina Intelmann, Ambassador of Estonia, H.E. Mrs Baiba Braze, Ambassador of Latvia and H.E. Mr Renatus Norkus, Ambassador of Lithuania1. Defence Synergia (DS) acknowledges that questions concerning Russian motivation and intent, UK/North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) intelligence and understanding of the issues involved are best interpreted by professional agencies. DS’s considerations over the intervening years have demonstrated, very clearly, the malevolent nature of President Putin’s intent, strategy and tactics as he directs Russia’s attempts to undermine the coherence of established policy, diplomacy, security and defence inherent in western democracies.

Copyright Parliament TV

2. DS therefore maintains that it is vital to see the current Russian psyche in the context of a history where the Russian people remain content to be subservient to and admire a powerful and ruthless leader, giving him/her the right to order any number of atrocities in pursuit of maintaining the nation’s hegemony aspirations. The collapse of the Soviet Union dealt a blow to that power but, the advent of Putin has resurrected their belief in a strong leader. For proof, look no further than the latest Russian elections and the overwhelming victory for Putin – this despite sanctions and world wide vilification over Russian foreign policy, illegal adventures and, even, support for some despotic regimes. The post Yeltsin era has spawned the current ruling class whose moral standards the West seem to have great difficulty in recognising or understanding. Against this background, Russia’s current military actions are demonstrating a build up of Russian ‘attack-based’ conventional and nuclear capability coupled with an apparent resolve to use it and “asymmetric warfare” to destabilise areas that will challenge the West (the USA in particular), NATO and the EU.

3. Whilst Russian military capabilities must be pretty well known by the West’s intelligence services, recent political and diplomatic judgement on her intentions seem naive at best. Necessarily, retaliatory reaction can only be made within the context of what the UK knows and with a full realisation of the true nature of Russia’s intentions as refined/defined in the open evidence provided by the three Baltic Ambassadors mentioned earlier. Since there will also be much publicly unavailable intelligence obtained through classified information, we must hope that the National Security Council (NSC) are taking this into consideration when framing the findings on the Modernising Defence Programme (MDP).

4. The HoCDC has made clear, to the government, that insufficient resources have been made available for defence equipment and manpower. As far as investment in equipment is concerned, there has been an emphasis on funding expensive, high profile projects without proper consideration of the requirement for adequate supporting assets. DS has emphasised this, repeatedly, over the years since SDSR 2010.

5. This paper updates DS’s continuing concerns and offers options for consideration in Ministry of Defence’s (MoD)’s contribution to a cross government department UK Security and Defence strategy and is aimed at supporting the recently set up UK Parliamentary Group of Commons Committee chairmen, led by Tom Tugendhat, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee with Bob Seely, a Conservative MP and expert on Russian warfare as secretary2. This group aims to address the ‘Russia Problem’ so, in support of this approach, DS believes the security and defence aspects of dealing with Russia must be set within the wider context of a UK government Comprehensive Russia Engagement and Influence Strategy (CREIS) and its deliverance: this generates a number of questions.


2 MPs form group to study threats posed by Russia –

What Is It That Drives Russia’s Foreign Policy Under President Putin?

6. Current Russian Foreign Policy is far from unique in history so, it is vital to see the Russians’ current psyche in the context of a story where the people have never accepted democracy as we in the West have recognised it. They admire and are content to be subservient to a powerful and ruthless leader, giving him/her the right to order any number of ‘atrocities’ in pursuit of rebuilding the nation’s world standing and influence. The collapse of the Soviet Union, through poor transition, produced an unforgiven blow to the power they had believed in. The advent of Putin as a strong and charismatic Russian ‘People’s Tsar3’ has resurrected that belief and an aim of gaining global ‘respect’, or fear, added to a feeling of homeland safety that she held previously. Thus, Russia’s current aggressive foreign policy actions are being demonstrated in an arms build up and modernisation, leading, almost, to an international equivalent of the Cold War. This Russian capability, coupled with the resolve to use nuclear threat and “asymmetric warfare”, aims to destabilise areas that will challenge and undermine the West (the United States of America (USA) in particular), NATO and the European Union (EU), incorrectly perceiving that prior Soviet states present a threat to Russia’s security and culture4.

How Well Informed Is The UK Government And People About The “Russian Threat”?

7. Whilst her military capabilities must be pretty well known by the West’s intelligence services, the true nature of Russian capabilities and intent has been made unclear to the general public due to the MOD’s recent tendency to clamp down on informed discussion issue banal PR announcements, and underplay any threats. All this has been aggravated by quite recent classification of previously unclassified information. Public perception is now driven by those seeking political advantage through leaks to the Press and stimulating speculation. This becomes aggravated by the avalanche of proactive ‘fake news’, disinformation, and propaganda from the well organised Russian (mis)information campaign machine.

8. DS readily understands the government’s dilemma in this regard since there is a fine balance to be struck between the correct amount of transparency about Russian intentions and the need to protect sensitive sources and intelligence material. Nevertheless, we believe that rather more transparency is possible without incurring risks to the UK’s security.

Where Lies The Responsibility to Secure and Defend The UK From The Russian Threat?

9. This can only be the responsibility of government as informed by the intelligence agencies and as advised by those with a full and detailed knowledge of the UK’s security and defence capabilities. The HoCDC has made clear to the government that insufficient resources have been made available for defence equipment and manpower. As far as investment in equipment is concerned, there has been an over-emphasis on funding expensive, high profile projects without proper consideration of the requirement for adequate supporting assets or coherent capability planning. The majority of SDSR decisions seem to be have been made in ‘how do I stay within my own budget’ silos driven by financial/resource fiefdoms, dispersed capability delivery responsibilities, single Service prioritization, and a significant incoherence in strategic thinking and Joint planning. DS has emphasised this repeatedly over the years since SDSR 2010.

The Threat Of Multi-Dimensional Warfare

10. We are reasonably confident that the intelligence agencies, together with those of our allies, do have a pretty full knowledge of Russia’s warfare tactics and doctrine. However, DS has a view that the past 3 years have brought to light many novel aspects of Russia’s multi-dimensional, ambiguous and hybrid warfare tactics. The list is a long one and includes: the use of deniable military Forces (little green men); ‘Concerned Patriots’; proxy forces and private security contractors in Ukraine, the Crimea and Syria; oil and gas energy leverage on neighbours; use of hazardous CBRN materials to eliminate dissenting Russian voices abroad; manipulation of messaging on social media networks; stirring of resentment and building fake angst in Russian-speaking populations in ex Soviet countries to justify intervention; aggressive and intimidating military exercises near borders; covert and overt penetration of UK home waters and airspace and general cyber interference. Russia also uses complementary non-military ‘total warfare’ supporting tactics such as: the development of economic relationships with vulnerable European and ‘out-rider’ NATO members; investment of Russian funds, via oligarchs and Russian funded companies, in Western interests; and information and election influence campaigns via Russian-backed media and lobbying organisations. These, and more, coupled with cynical lying, gives Russia a well-planned total warfare campaign against the West.

11. Judging by the low priority given in SDSR 2015 to match Russia’s known asymmetric and military developments, either there has been a lack of information (unlikely) or a pusillanimous unwillingness to respond until events are currently forcing a reappraisal under MDP. DS believes this to be a “last chance saloon” issue and that the UK government is only now beginning to wake up to the acknowledgement and understanding of Russia’s multi-dimensional ‘total warfare’ concepts and campaign.

3 Russia under Vladimir Putin, A Tsar is born – 

4 Dmitri Trenin Russia and the Baltic States a Russian Perspective.pdf

Is There Not A Mismatch Between Russian Capabilities And The UK’s Understanding Of Them?

12. The government does not appear to have been recognising the extent of Russian frustration over her “lost empire” and has been naively complacent that Putin will not press his advances further. Putin has seen this as the fundamental weakness for him to exploit. Russians respect tough stances so, rather than peck around the edges with occasional forays such as those recently in Syria, the UK ought to follow the lead of the United States (USA). Military Policy and Strategy cannot act in isolation but must be part of a comprehensive and “robust” action plan against Russia’s economy and Putin’s close associates. This group has thrived under the deeply corrupt Russian State and benefited from their questionable business activities in western capitals (London to a great extent). Militarily, Russia has been developing and expanding State-on-State assault and Anti-Access/Area Denial equipment focused on the vulnerabilities of western forces and populations. This is contrary to the West’s development of technology for COIN and insurgency suppression warfare of the last two decades, resulting in militarily dangerous and irresponsible capability gaps in fundamental systems needed for State-on-State conflicts.

13. Russians are past masters at media manipulation and state control of domestic Russian radio and television output as part of its deception campaign – maskiróvka5. Russian owned and funded media and communications are a supporting arm of their information warfare capability. In Ukraine and elsewhere, communications systems are targeted using cyber, EW and other approaches to target and undermine military personnel, their chain of command and their fighting effectiveness. To that end, it is the primary responsibility of the threatened NATO states involved, along with UK/NATO diplomacy, to ensure that domestic policy is non discriminatory thereby denying any quasi-legitimate grounds for fomenting internal unrest amongst the “in placed” Russian minorities. Now that Russian Hybrid Warfare is active for all to see, it is crucial that NATO keeps up to date with the right level of expertise, through close diplomatic and intelligence ties, to educate the general population in recognising Russian fake news and truth/fact manipulation on social media. To counter Russian coercive propaganda it will be important to use services such as Internet Media, BBC World Service, Voice of America and, possibly, a NATO multi-media outlet: these should be funded to carry, ever more effectively, the West’s message into Russian homes and around the world. Military communication systems need to be secured against Russian hacking, jamming and spoofing and deployed personnel must not be allowed to use personal communications devices. One question might be: has Russia the true overall military capability and capacity it is keen to be seen to have or, is Putin generating a clever illusion with a ‘move the small pea around under the shell’ approach? Are forces used in Ukraine, the Crimea, Syria, et al the same ones judiciously redeployed in different timeframes and places to give the impression of a large modernised military Capability or, does Russia have what it says it has: a full spectrum of military assets? Is this another example of maskirovka and putting Sun Tzu misdirection into practice6?

“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak. All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.“

Russia, The UK And NATO:

14. Mr Medvedev, the Russian Prime Minister, was quoted by the BBC (13th February 2016) as saying “the strains between Russia and the West have pushed the world into a new Cold War”. He claims that Russia is constantly being vilified. However, Russian military action in Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine, Crimea, Syria and use of dangerous chemicals in assassinations on UK soil and elsewhere demonstrate the indiscriminate resolve of Russian action to disregard international law. Established foreign borders within which Russian communities exist are seen as leverage for aggression. Russian motivation must be judged from their own perspective which hinges around a paranoid inferiority complex of personality and national identity and a historic fear of invasion from the West, coupled to a need to be seen as strong and globally influential. The implication for UK and NATO is that Russia, under its current leadership, interprets international rules from her own viewpoint and so, when not held to account, simply manipulates or ignores those internationally defined and agreed rules, unless and until confronted robustly.

How Robust Is Article V Of The NATO Charter?

15. The implications for Article V of the NATO Charter are that if Mr Putin is to be deterred from further military adventure he must be sure that NATO is unified, willing and capable of inflicting unacceptable loss or defeat on Russian forces. This may not be so clearcut in a ‘hybrid’ warfare scenario where, for example, indigenous Russian speaking people domiciled in the Baltic States are used as a catalyst for a sham ‘humanitarian’ intervention. The issue surrounding activation of a NATO Article V response is finely balanced. Call it too soon before Russian forces can be unequivocally demonstrated to have invaded NATO sovereign territory (both physically and virtually on the cyber battlefield) and world opinion may support a Russian alleged humanitarian intervention to protect indigenous Russian speakers from aggressive NATO forces. This is why a combined NATO political, diplomatic, economic, intelligence, military and media response is essential. Establish early what is happening, nip it in the bud with local action to defuse the causes or prove conclusively that an invasion (a la Georgia) is likely or ongoing and confront it with irrefutable evidence and overwhelming force as rapidly as possible using an Article V intervention under United Nations (UN) rules governing the ‘Right to Self Defence’ or, if necessary, the ‘Right to Protect’.

Has The UK The Determination To Counter Russian Threats And Aggression?

16. The United Kingdom (UK) National Security Strategy (NSS) and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) – 2010 & 2015 – lacked coherence in those areas where capability would be crucial to match Her Majesty’s Government’s (HMG)’s stated ambition for Future Force 2020 to counter emerging threats from a revanchist Russia. The UK commitment to a NATO Article V operation will be problematic for UK forces whilst they continue to be ‘Home Based’. The logistic enablers, skills, training exercises, readiness, sustainment and complexity to mount expeditious deployment of ‘Mass manoeuvre’ forces along contested lines of communication (LOC) are being largely underplayed or, worse still, neglected as a serious issue. DS refers to these neglected elements collectively as the 4 R’s (Resilience, Readiness, Responsiveness and Regeneration) and has constantly emphasised to the HoCDC the weaknesses in NSS/SDSR by failing to address the 4R’s for UK armed forces in a joint and effective way. We have argued that Force Readiness, the time within which a unit or formation can be made ready to perform unit-type tasks, and Force Sustainability, the ability of a force to maintain the necessary level of combat power for the duration required to achieve its objective, are being sidelined by HMG for financial reasons. Failure to achieve this balance weakens UK’s ability to provide adequate Forces and to concentrate rapidly in response to a threat to a NATO ally. If Russian in-place forces are able to attack at a time and place of their own choosing, and can effectively oppose, delay, or deny the entry of NATO reinforcements, NATO has a major collective defence problem. Therefore, the UK’s ability to resist a Russian incursion anywhere along NATO’s North Eastern to South Eastern border is being determined not so much by operational capability, but by HMG declaring only as much threat as it is prepared to pay for.

5 maskiróvka – 

6 Sun Tzu –

What Priority Should Be Given To Reinforcement Of The Baltic States?

17. A 2015 RAND Corporation report for the United States (US) military (Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank) concluded that NATO was unable to rapidly reinforce the Baltic States with armoured forces in under 10 days – any armour assumed to be from the USA and not the UK! To meet a surprise Russian incursion, only light forces (including elements from 16 Air Assault Brigade (16AAB), Royal Marines (RM) and the Royal Air Force, say) would be available for rapid NATO reinforcement of local “in-place” forces. However, these would be insufficient to prevent opposing Russian armoured infantry reaching all the Baltic capitals in just 3 days. In such circumstances the utility of British armour and heavy artillery as a deterrent, when based in UK, is minimal and a UK option to forward base and/or pre-stock heavy weapons must surely be put in place now that the Russian threat is more aggressive. This pre-stocking concept is already shaping part of US forward planning doctrine and budgeting for defence of NATO’s Central and North Eastern region as the recent announcement of forward deployment of US Army Armoured Brigade7 and Air Defence Brigades8 to Europe demonstrate. In the Baltic area a NATO agreement with Russia not to station, permanently, non-Baltic forces restricts options so, unless this is reconsidered, pre-stocking of weapons and platforms may be the only solution9. However, if these pre-stocked sites are not properly secured and rapidly deployed (or destroyed/denied) at any sign of Russian aggression, they are just useful war material for invading Russia forces on their way through. UK’s Enhanced Forward Presence in support of Baltic State NATO members has gone a very small way to redress this problem and is very much welcomed by the Baltic nations but, logistical capability and Force resupply resilience in a combat scenario will be fragile at the best under current UK and NATO military posture.

The Nuclear Weapons Dilemma

18. It cannot be denied that Russian military exercises are known to regularly include training to use and fight with a combination of conventional, tactical nuclear and other CBRN weapons. It was Mr Putin who chose to up the nuclear rhetoric by publicly stating that Russia was a nuclear power not to be messed with. Indeed, it is Mr Putin who has authorised the placement of enhanced tactical nuclear forces in the Kaliningrad enclave directly adjacent to the Baltic States despite there being not a scintilla of evidence that NATO threatens any territorial expansion or forced change to Russian independence or border integrity. Given the reported mass civil defence exercise in major Russian cities in 201610, it must be assumed that Russia does expect a nuclear exchange in certain conflict scenarios. The limited deterrence of NATO and UK conventional Forces, and very limited tactical to strategic conflict escalation matching, makes it likely that Russia/Putin has devised plans using non-traditional CBRN WMDs (such as Thermobaric, low yield, natural virus, or EW/cyber) that would make it difficult for western governments to approve and justify proportionate conventional nuclear responses.


19. Putin’s Russia is a growing existential threat to European western democracies and one catalyst in destabilising the world order. Incoherent UK and EU diplomatic initiatives are proving fruitless in reversing these trends, yet efforts must continue through the United Nations and other ad hoc arrangements to bring Russia back to the International Rules Based footing.

20. Meanwhile, a pan-government department Comprehensive Russia Engagement and Influence Strategy (CREIS) should devise, much more robustly than hitherto, coherent defence and security strategy, capability and tactics to support diplomacy and economic sanctions. The MDP must focus on the MOD’s contribution to this.

Readers may also wish to refer to our 2016 paper NATO REFORCE

7 EUCOM commander: US armoured brigade’s deployment to Poland ‘significant’ –

8 South Carolina National Guard prepares to support Operation Atlantic Resolve – 

9 1997 NATO Russia Founding Act.pdf

10 Is Putin preparing for WW3? Russia begins evacuation of FORTY MILLION PEOPLE in huge drill