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The Russian Understanding of War: Blurring the Lines between War and Peace, Oscar Jonsson

Reviewed by Lionel Beehner



A telling statistic distills the Russian Federation’s approach to war: previously, its conflicts involved 80 percent violence and 20 percent propaganda. Today, they consist of 80 to 90 percent propaganda and 10 to 20 percent violence. That breakdown, quoted by Lieutenant General Andrei Kartapolov of Russia’s General Staff (p. 153), is instructive of how Russia’s understanding and application of war have evolved over the past few decades.

A primary lesson of Russian military strategy is that nonmilitary means are increasingly replacing military forces as the primary method for advancing Russian goals—to “win without fighting,” as Sun Tzu succinctly put it. Yet Russia also perceives itself as the primary victim of such nonmilitary means—whether in the form of influence operations or the “controlled chaos” of color revolutions orchestrated by foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). What is more, Russia views this as an existential threat—so much so that Moscow has boosted its military capabilities in space, cyber, and the information realm. Its foreign policy, adventurous and even cartoonishly muscular at times (planting the Russian flag on an arctic seabed, for instance) on this front has famously included meddling in American and European elections, the use of bots and trolls to peddle fake news o

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