Throughout this War Studies Advanced Program, students will examine the ways in which Vladimir Putin has used a number of different capabilities techniques and approaches, singly and in various combinations, to achieve his objectives. Students will consider information operations, cyber operations, the use of conventional and unconventional military forces and techniques, the development and use of proxy forces, as well as various techniques of irregular warfare, including assassinations and provocations. They will look closely at Ukraine before and after the Euromaidan revolution. In the end they will consider whether it is appropriate to try to encompass all of these activities within a single framework, and if not how best to understand them individually and the interrelationships among them. The question of where the phenomenon of war begins and ends within the context of a state’s general foreign and national security policy will be central to our deliberations.

War Studies Advanced Programs are open only to alumni of the basic War Studies course. These sessions are offered in the fall/winter and summer, and focus either on a national security challenge or on a historical conflict. Learn more about the War Studies Program.

Image courtesy Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation

Frederick Kagan testifies on the Russian challenge


Nataliya Bugayova

Nataliya Bugayova is a Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), where she leads the Russia and Ukraine portfolio. Her work focuses on the Kremlin’s foreign policy decision-making and ongoing global campaigns. Prior to ISW, she was the Chief Executive Officer of the Kyiv Post, Ukraine’s independent English-language publication.

James M. Dubik

LTG James M. Dubik (U.S. Army, Ret.) is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Study of War and a Professor at Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program. General Dubik has extensive operational experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Bosnia, Haiti, Panama, and in many NATO countries.

Frederick W. Kagan

Frederick W. Kagan is a Senior Instructor with the Hertog War Studies Program at the Institute for the Study of War. The author of the 2007 report “Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq,” he is one of the intellectual architects of the successful “surge” strategy in Iraq. He is the Director of AEI’s Critical Threats Project.

Kimberly Kagan

Kimberly Kagan is a Senior Instructor with the Hertog War Studies Program and founder and president of the Institute for the Study of War. She is a military historian who has taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Yale, Georgetown, and American University.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session




We will lay out what actually happened in some detail and with some context to ensure we have a coherent understanding of the conflict. The next two blocks will dive more deeply into three of the most important aspects of Russian hybrid operations in Ukraine that are likely to be of relevance in other hybrid conflicts.



Discussion Questions:

Hybrid warfare encompasses a disparate set of tools and techniques. We will focus on three: information operations, cyber operations, and unconventional/irregular warfare operations. In the study of information and unconventional/irregular warfare operations we will consider some of the Soviet theories and practices that have shaped and influenced the development of current Russian approaches. For each of the three techniques, we will have to answer the following questions:

  • What is the technique? How is it defined and what kinds of activities does it encompass?
  • How is it executed? What specific means did the Soviets/Russians use?
  • What purposes does it best serve?
  • What factors make it more or less likely to succeed?
  • How does it work together with the other techniques to achieve tactical, operational, strategic, and/or grand strategic objectives?



Discussion Questions:

This block will include some discussion of the Russian worldview and will use Russian military doctrine and foreign policy concept to elucidate the Russian way of thinking about this problem. The focus will be on understanding the Gerasimov doctrine, but we will situate it in the context of Putin’s worldview, the “Primakov doctrine”, and some Soviet context.

  • How does Putin diagnose the problems from which the world is suffering? How does that diagnosis compare with those offered by Gorbachev and his predecessors? How about his attitude toward war?
  • Is there any replacement in these post-Soviet documents for the class struggle as a superseding conflict of which particular wars are only manifestations? How different is the 2016 Russian view of the world, its challenges, and the threats and dangers it poses to Russia from the views of Gorbachev and earlier Soviet leaders and writers?


Optional Readings:

  • Khrushchev speech from January 6, 1961.
  • Sokolovskii, Soviet Military Strategy, 1962, pp. 269-293 (Chapter 4: The Nature of Modern War).
  • Mikhail Gorbachev, “Political Report of the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union] Central Committee to the 27th Congress,” 1986 (published in The Challenges of our time: Disarmament and Social Progress), Chapter I, “The Contemporary World: Its Main Tendencies and Contradictions,” and Chapter IV, “Basic Aims and Directions of the Party’s Foreign Policy Strategy.”



Discussion Questions:

  • How are we understanding what the Russians are doing/thinking about? How congruent or incongruent are our perceptions with what the Russians are actually saying/doing? Why are we having such an argument about it at all, and should we construe that argument as a partial success of Russian information operations?
  • What seems to be at stake for Galeotti such that he is so distressed at the nature of the discussion? Does the discussion actually merit such heat?
  • Rumer’s article is interesting because it highlights two challenges: drawing the boundaries of hybrid warfare and, therefore, of any particular “doctrine” or framework for it and having a civil discussion about Russian activities in the current intellectual climate. Reflect on what Rumer is upset about and, again, whether the issue merits such heat.
  • How does Monaghan’s article relate to the debate? What really is the role of conventional military operations in the current Russian concept of war and/or hybrid war? Has the debate focused excessively on the unconventional aspects?
  • How do the last two reports affect your view of the matter in the context of the debates considered above? Consider how different methodologies can lead to different conclusions when applied to the same data. And, again, consider what questions are actually important to advance our understanding and what debates simply generate unnecessary heat.

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