Can Vladimir Putin in an impulsive start to press the nuclear button? The answer, as far as we know, is no.
For security reasons, in Russia there are three “cheguets” (nuclear briefcases). One accompanies the Russian president everywhere, and the other two are carried by the Defense Minister, Sergey Shoiguand the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Valery Gerasimov. At least two of the three have to activate the codes to launch a nuclear attack, and one of them must necessarily be the president.
That is why when Putin warned this Sunday that it had put its nuclear deterrence forces on alerthe did so sitting at a long table – like the ones he usually uses in these times of pandemic – at whose end were precisely the other two owners of the strategic briefcases, Shoigu and Gerasimov.
The three check (Чегет), are similar. They weigh about 11 kilos and, in addition to a telephone, they have a terminal with numerous encrypted codes, connected to the special telecommunications system reserved for nuclear emergencies, called Kavkaz.
And in this war with UkraineAfter Putin, the key man is Gerasimov, who is much more than one of the bearers of the famous briefcase. The 66-year-old general, appointed by Putin 9 years ago at the head of the entire armed forces, is also the author of the so-called “Gerasimov doctrine”, a war strategy adapted to modern times of “hybrid warfare”, in which that conventional weapons are not enough to win the fight.
“In contemporary conflicts, priority is increasingly given to a joint use of non-military, political, economic, informational and other measures, which are put into practice with the support of military force. They are the so-called hybrid methods”, Gerasimov said in 2013 in his speech “The value of science lies in its anticipation”.
Since there is nothing new under the sun, several authors attribute this doctrine to other strategists. But the truth is that it is usually called by the name of the Russian high chief.
For him, in the current war it is necessary to assimilate many of the tactics that he uses, for example, terrorism, which in many cases has proven capable of defeating conventional armies. In this sense, the “color revolutions” in the former Soviet countries, the “springs” in the Arab world, or cyber attacks are also a good example of hybrid strategies. Another precedent is the Chinese doctrine of “unrestricted war” of 1999.
Gerasimov does not understand then the current conflict with Ukraine only as the advance on enemy territory with tanks, planes and soldiers. According to his strategy, the war must also be developed in the legal, economic, communicational, cybernetic and media spheres. In these areas, the combat modality often expresses itself by creating confusion and weakening the enemy through psychological campaigns.
One of the advantages of hybridity is that the line that divides peace from war is blurred, because everything is part of the same strategy. In this sense, the diplomatic negotiations taking place in Belarus between Russians and Ukrainians should not be confused as if they were something different from the Kremlin’s war strategy for this conflict.
The Gerasimov doctrine then turns the famous principle of Karl Clausewitz (1780-1831) that “war is the continuation of politics, but by other means”. Instead, the Russian chief sees politics as continuing the war with other means.
Gerasimov, born in Kazan, about 700 kilometers east of Moscow, who graduated with honors at the age of 18 from the Kazan Suvorov Military School, began his rapid rise in the military career in the tank regiment. But he became a key man of power in Russia since his appointment as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in November 2012 and especially since his actions in the occupation of Crimea in 2014 and the Russian participation in the war in Syria the following year. .
It was after this last conflict that in May 2016 Putin honored him with the highest state decoration: “Hero of the Russian Federation”.
Last week, the Treasury Department of United States added Gerasimov to the list of people sanctioned with the economic blockade of their assets abroad, for being “directly responsible for the new invasion of Ukraine.” But at the same time, because Washington knows he is a key man in the Kremlin, he is working to reopen the unofficial channels of communication between Gerasimov and the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley.
For now, the Western sanctions do not affect the Russian high military chief too much. Putin’s key man in the military field, continues to have one of the three controls of the strategic check that they can lead the world, Putin warned last week, to “consequences never before seen in history.”
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Note originally published in The nation.