26.08.2020 | Chronology of Possible Russian Gray Area and Hybrid Warfare Operations
by Anthony H. Cordesman - CSIS

This chronology organizes the broad range of Russian gray zone and multi-domain civil and military operations into geographical regions where Russia is attempting to assert its influence and to compete with the United States. The chronology also provides a map that color coordinates these operations into specific campaigns. This chronology is not an attempt to define the motivations and reasoning behind Russian grand strategy. It attempts to provide a broad historical timeline of Russian civil, economic, and military actions that affect competition with the United States. Whether one calls such activities “gray area” or “hybrid’ warfare, it is clear that both civil and military operations under this category work in tandem to advance Russian interests while seeking to avoid any escalation to serious conventional conflict with the U.S. – and especially to any form of conventional or nuclear warfare on Russian or U.S. territory. There are also important limits to its coverage.The U.S. government does not provide any organized effort to communicate the numbers and nature of such Russian activities through unclassified or "open source" reporting. When reporting is available, it is largely through background briefings and news media reporting that are written in ways that highly compartmentalize civil, economic, and military activities. Military exercises involving air, land, and maritime claims are often described in tactical terms, but not in ways that explain that they too are a form of competition. Similarly, the motives behind civil activities like investments and major civil projects may only be reported in terms of their commercial merit or benefits, and not their overall strategic impact with the United States. There also is no simple or reliable way to define the range of Russian “gray area” or “hybrid” civil and military operations that affect U.S. strategic interests. Many Russian low-level operations, military claims, and political acts are only reported as serving commercial interests, reflecting local claims or interests, or as supporting Russia’s broader security needs rather than as acts directed towards competition with the United States. Many others are covert or involve indirect action, where Russia competes by supporting unofficial disinformation campaigns, private business, and foreign state and non-state actors. The impact of gray zone and multi-domain operations on Russia’s strategic competition with the United States is sometimes too indirect to clearly identify. So is the level and center of Russian government direction of such activities and the motives behind Russian actions. Finally, many of the activities described in this chronology do not have a direct impact on competition with the United States but have an impact on U.S. strategic partners, other states, and non-state actors. There also are many gray zone and multi-domain operations that are not described accurately in open source literature or are not reported at all. Accordingly, if the U.S. is to compete with Russia and China, it needs to make a far greater official effort to provide unclassified reporting, cover the full spectrum of such activities, and provide an open source chronology that provides a full picture of the challenges the U.S. faces. This chronology entitled is available for download here


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