Due to the fall of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a newer type of threat, in the form of terrorism, organized crime, and cyberspace, the Intelligence Community (IC) was forced to reinvent itself and find a way to still provide relevant and timely information to policymakers and military units in order to combat these threats. However, while the IC was reorganizing itself to focus on such grand and serious issues, the re-emergence of dominant state actors has occurred. And that, of course, means a revanchist Russia is becoming once again a growing challenge for the United States and its allies.
A New and Growing Threat from Russia…and New Tactics
Clearly, Russia is a prime example of state-on-state competition reemerging, having become a sizeable threat to the safety and security of the United States and the West. Using both conventional and unconventional methods, Russia has been able to emerge on the world stage as a formidable foe. Russia, utilizing organized criminal elements, has been able to engage in assassinations, take control of the natural resources of foreign countries, and launder money, taking advantage of the rebirth of organized crime and the privatization of real estate in post-Soviet Union Russia. By also aiding Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Taliban, and supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, Russia has been able to provide new challenges by covertly supporting enemies of the United States and the West, further enmeshing them in costly conflicts.
With cyberspace, Russia has been able to severely disinform the populace of foreign countries, influencing their political votes and stances and increasing their hostility towards one another. This is very evident in the United States with the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election and Russia’s purchasing of anti-Black Lives Matter adverts on Facebook (with a focus on telling black Americans to note vote in the 2016 election). By taking advantage of these new techniques, Russia is able to further occupy the IC with more transnational threats while covertly being able to accomplish their own foreign and domestic policy goals. Russia is challenging the United States by creating more transnational threats (providing aid to terrorist groups, stirring up domestic troubles, and supporting harmful politicians) for their own benefit. Militarily, Russia is a highly advanced force.
Russia’s Military Rising
Beginning in 2008, Russia undertook reforms meant, “to — among other things — replace or modernize 70 percent of its military equipment by 2020, increase the number of enlisted personnel, and overhaul the defense industrial base,” with these reforms being largely successful. This included an update of Russia’s nuclear defense programs. These reforms were largely taken following a poor showing of force during the invasion of Georgia. The Russian Federation also continually updated their military doctrines to fall in line with larger foreign policy goals and prepare their forces for invasion of Crimea and military interventions in Syria and Ukraine. Russia seemingly has increased their military forces and engaged in these activities because they believe, “[the European Union and NATO] act as checks on Russian power”.
Russia, based upon their interventions in Syria, Ukraine, and Crimea, have shown themselves to desire their own sphere of influence, comprised of Russian-speaking peoples and countries that they perceive as, historically, being under Russian control. Michael Kofman, a Senior Research Scientist at the think tank CNA, holds that “Reform, modernisation and the combat experience gleaned from Ukraine and Syria will have lasting effects on the Russian armed forces. Russia retains the ability to deploy decisive force anywhere on its borders, overpowering any former Soviet republic. In terms of its strategic nuclear arsenal, Russia is not only a peer to the United States, but actually ahead in modernisation and investment in non-strategic nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, Russia’s conventional forces are now capable of imposing high costs on even a technologically superior adversary such as Nato in a high-end conflict – i.e. a fight would be quite bloody for both sides,”.
What Should America and Its Allies Do About It?
Despite this advancement in technology and military capability, many experts do not believe that Russia could be able to rival either U.S. or NATO forces yet do see the need for increased defense against these threats. It is evident that Russia does pose a threat to Europe and to Western interests in Europe and the Middle East via their military forces. While this is not a threat that would be able to adequately go head-to-head against U.S. military forces in a prolonged engagement nor be able to hold territory for a long period of time, this does not mean that Russia’s interventions abroad are not a threat to the West or territories Putin sees being within his country’s sphere of influence.
The threat posed by the Russian military is a mixed one, complete with efficient equipment and tactics, but heavily bolstered by Russia’s usage of those transnational tactics.
Alan Cunningham is a graduate of Norwich University and the University of Texas at Austin. He aims to become a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy in 2022. He has been published in many other outlets and can be reached on Twitter at @CadetCunningham