Hard Power

The Coercive Use of Conventional Force

Timeline of Instruments

The Invasion of Crimea


As Tunku Varadarajan stated in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Russia has an aspiration to create a “special mission in the world.” But unlike Stalin, Putin is not in control of 1/6th of the world’s territory, with an economy and military that rivals western powers. Instead, Putin oversees the 13th largest economy in the world, one protected by the 5th largest military. Thus, Russia has turned to its strengths in the field of deception. The Russian concept of maskirovka, which translates to “camouflage” has been the modus operandi for the Russian military that operates under the Gerasimov Doctrine of unconventional warfare. This doctrine combines the tools of deception, such as cyberwarfare, the use of unconventional troops like mercenaries, and special operations forces, with that of conventional forces. This hybrid warfare strategy allows the Russian military to operate far more covertly, and to make major strategic plays under the nose of the international community. There is no greater example of this than the Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine, an invasion set in motion by the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Operational Strategy

In order to invade Ukraine under the public eye, the Russian military initiated a series of “snap exercises” of 40-50,000 troops. Normally, under the Vienna Document of 2011, Russia would have to declare these exercises as they featured over 9,000 ground troops. However, by organizing each group into Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGr), which operated independently from each other, Russia was able to escape under the 9,000 troop number and below the structure of a division. These BTGr’s were operated covertly from a central command. Additionally, these groups were maintained so that they never exceeded 9,000 troops in any given area. This allowed Russia to concentrate a substantial number of troops near the Ukrainian border. With the addition of pre-positioning by dedicated storage and maintenance bases, or BKhiRVT, Russia was able to rapidly deploy brigade level assets such as heavy weapons, armored vehicles, and other equipment.

In order to rapidly deploy these troops, Russia uses the Battalion Tactical Group concept. This meant equipping one fully manned BTGr group per maneuver battalion. This amounted to 700-800 troops and their support elements. One fully manned combined arms BTGr maneuver battalion is formed in every maneuver brigade including marines, airborne regiment, and air assault regiment. The same model is used in Spetsnaz and Reconnaissance Brigades, and though they are able to generate two battalions each (instead of one for conventional forces), they are not equipped with the same support structure. Utilizing this concept, Russia is capable of airlifting 35-38 BTGr’s (20-25,000 men) to BKhiRVT pre-positioning bases in a single airlift.

Considering the number of Russian units involved in the invasion Ukraine, we can see what Russia learned in their allocation of forces. One can see the clear increase of 40-50,000 troops as Russian forces saw more resistance than anticipated. This increase is significant especially in artillery units, as around 80% of the casualties in the invasion were due to artillery. Russian forces realized they needed more units to counter enemy artillery as well as an increase in intelligence as to these positions. This coincides with an increase in special operations forces who would provide exactly this kind of reconnaissance. 


Using the Battalion Tactical Group concept as well as prepositioning sites allow the Russian military to rapidly and covertly mobilize. This is crucial to the Russian military strategy, as conventional military operations in Hybrid Warfare are different from that of a more conventional, 20th century conflict. It hinges on deception and the tactical use of force, rather than overwhelming firepower. Through rapidly deploying specialized forces, Russia was able to successfully annex Crimea, and was able to push into Eastern Ukraine, while achieving surprise and confusion that Russian forces used to their advantage. When combined with disinformation campaigns, cyber attacks to take out critical infrastructure, and financially influencing rebel groups, Russian military operations in Ukraine proved to be a successful model on which to judge the success of the Russian Hybrid Warfare strategy.


  1. Michael Kofman, Katya Migacheva, Brian Nichiporuk, Andrew Radin, Olesya Tkacheva and Jenny Oberholtzer, “Lessons from Russia’s Operations in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine,” Product Page, 2017, https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1498.html.
  2. John W. R. Lepingwell, “The Russian Military and Security Policy in the ‘Near Abroad,’” Survival 36, no. 3 (September 1, 1994): 70–92,  https://doi.org/10.1080/00396339408442751.
  3. Molly K Mckew, “The Gerasimov Doctrine,” POLITICO Magazine, accessed January 29, 2018,  https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/09/05/gerasimov-doctrine-russia-foreign-policy-215538.
  4. Igor Sutyagin and Justin Bronk, "Russia’s New Ground Forces: Capabilities, Limitations and Implications for International Security," 1 edition, Abingdon: Routledge, 2017.
  5. Tunku Varadarajan, “Will Putin Ever Leave? Could He If He Wanted?” Wall Street Journal, March 9, 2018, sec. Opinion, https://www.wsj.com/articles/will-putin-ever-leave-could-he-if-he-wanted-1520635050.
  6. “Russia’s Hybrid War as a Byproduct of a Hybrid State,” War on the Rocks, December 6, 2016, https://warontherocks.com/2016/12/russias-hybrid-war-as-a-byproduct-of-a-hybrid-state/.