On March 2, Army General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, addressed the Academy of Military Sciences (Akademii Voyennykh Nauk—AVN), in Moscow. In a wide-ranging speech, Gerasimov explored themes related to Russia’s military strategy and perspectives on modern warfare. He outlined a “strategy of limited actions,” based on operations in Syria, which envisages actions beyond the country’s borders to promote its national interests (see EDM, March 6, 7). Gerasimov’s address was important due to the fact that, last year, President Vladimir Putin ordered a new military doctrine; moreover, his remarks provide insight into current and future priorities in Russian defense planning. Gerasimov addresses the AVN annually, encouraging military science to focus on future warfare and new approaches to combat (Krasnaya Zvezda, March 4).
General Gerasimov’s approach to the military science community builds upon the speeches of his predecessor, Nikolai Makarov, and further draws on various leading Russian and Soviet military theorists. In his highly misunderstood address in February 2013, later prompting some commentators to allege it formed the basis of a “Gerasimov doctrine,” he appealed to the country’s leading military scientists to aid the General Staff in developing strategic foresight, part of which was to remain open to new ideas and deeper understanding of the trends in modern warfare. In many of Gerasimov’s speeches and articles, he cites one of the most outstanding Soviet military theorists, Alexander Svechin (1878–1938). Likewise, in 2013, he reminded the AVN of Svechin’s well-known dictum: “The situation of war […] is extremely difficult to foresee. For each war, it is necessary to develop a special line of strategic behavior, each war is a special case that requires the establishment of its own special logic, and not the application of any template.” Highlighting the uniqueness of each armed conflict or war, Gerasimov called for military science to provide insight into the likely shape of future warfare, or risk becoming irrelevant to the state (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, February 26, 2013).
Similarly, Gerasimov pointed to the example of Georgy Isserson (1898–1976), who was able in the pre-war era to forecast the likely contours of the coming conflict. Gerasimov referred to Isserson’s 1940 work Novye Formy Bor’by: Opyt Issledovaniia Sovremennykh Voin (New Forms of Combat: An Essay Researching Modern Wars). Isserson had predicted mobilization and concentration of forces occurring imperceptibly and conflict commencing with pre-deployed forces. Isserson also warned about the need to monitor the buildup of forces on a shared border to avoid becoming a victim of strategic surprise (strategicheskaia vnezapnost’) (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, February 26, 2013).
In his address to the AVN in March 2017, Gerasimov again appealed to the legacy of Svechin and leading Soviet military theorists who had made important contributions to military science. He referred to a supporter of Svechin, Andrei Snesarev (1865–1937), who not only helped develop the science of war, but was one of the country’s leading Asia scholars. On Snesarev and Svechin, Gerasimov noted the main themes of their research were the key trends in warfare resulting from political, economic and social factors (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, March 13, 2017). It is interesting to note that Soviet theorists cited by Gerasimov fell afoul of the regime: they were executed or internally exiled, their views underestimated by the political-military leadership. While Gerasimov uses this to frame his appeals to contemporary military scientists and to provide strategic insight for the benefit of the General Staff, he admits the comparison with the pre-war military theorists does not reflect well on modern experts. Thus, in his 2013 AVN speech, he asserted, “The state of Russian military science today cannot be compared with the flowering of military-theoretical thought in our country on the eve of World War II” (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, February 26, 2013).
While the legacy of Soviet military science permeates Gerasimov’s stimuli to contemporary Russian defense specialists and theorists, he consistently links strategy and engagement in analysis of future warfare. Returning to his 2019 AVN address, he declared, “Strategy must engage in predicting the nature of future wars, developing new ‘strategies’ for waging them, and preparing the state as a whole and the Armed Forces for war. In this connection, it is necessary to update the list of research tasks by supplementing them with new directions of scientific activity. Without question, the General Staff Military Academy, together with the Academy of Military Sciences, must head up work in these directions of military strategy” (Krasnaya Zvezda, March 4).
Gerasimov told his audience that modern warfare is characterized by the Armed Forces directing both military and non-military means of waging war. He also noted the continued importance of achieving surprise: “By acting quickly we must preempt the enemy by our preventive measures, identify his vulnerable places in a timely manner, and create threats of inflicting unacceptable damage on him. This ensures seizure and maintenance of the strategic initiative.” He followed this with a reference to the Russian military leader Aleksandr Suvorov: “Theory without practice is dead,” which according to Gerasimov means, “It is impossible to imagine practical activity of military strategy without its scientific substantiation” (Krasnaya Zvezda, March 4).
Therefore, Gerasimov concluded, “The important thing for military science today is preemptive [with respect to practice], continuous, and purposeful research to determine the possible nature of military conflicts, to develop a system of forms and methods of actions both of a military as well as a nonmilitary nature, and to determine directions of development of systems of arms and military equipment.” Preemption, strategic foresight, and applied lessons from military science are thus seen as vital for the General Staff. Gerasimov referred to the “military-scientific complex” and the General Staff assigning research projects that feed into longer-term defense planning and form the basis of “updating and developing documents of the National Defense Plan for the new period” (Krasnaya Zvezda, March 4).
Gerasimov essentially wants Russia’s military scientific community to innovate and provide forward-looking ideas on strategy, future warfare and new forms and methods of combat. He consistently frames this by reference to some of the leading Russian and Soviet military leaders and theorists, such as Svechin, Isserson, Snesarev or Suvorov. Delivered in the context of preparing a new military doctrine, Gerasimov seeks to exploit military science as it examines Russia’s recent experience of warfare and build on the combat experience of the country’s senior officers. As the means and methods are further explored, it appears the confidence of the General Staff will revolve around preemption.