Source: Global Britain in a competitive age – 2021

Great Britain has recognized Russia as one of the main and acute threats. This is stated in a review of the security, defense and foreign policy of the United Kingdom. Britain has decided that it will defend itself “against any threats posed by the Russian side.” The publication reported that it is about “frequent aggressive incursions” of Russia into the water and airspace of Great Britain.

  1. Russia remains the most acute threat to our security. We will work with allies to deter nuclear, conventional and hybrid threats to our security, particularly from Russia.
  2. The United Kingdom is one of Russia’s top Western intelligence targets and must equip itself to counter such efforts. Russian intelligence services are disproportionately large and powerful. Russia’s promotion of disinformation and attempts at political influence overseas- whether through the use of social media, hack and leak operations, or its state-owned traditional media.
  3. Opportunistic states will increasingly seek strategic advantage through exploiting and undermining democratic systems and open economies. Russia will be more active around the wider European neighbourhood.
  4. Until relations with the Russian government improve, we will actively deter and defend against the full spectrum of threats emanating from Russia. Through NATO, we will ensure a united Western response, combining our military, diplomatic and intelligence assets in support of collective security.
  5. We will uphold international rules and norms and hold Russia to account for breaches of these, working with our international partners.
  6. We will also support others in the Eastern European neighbourhood and beyond to build their resilience to state threats. This includes Ukraine, where we will continue to build the capacity of its armed forces.


According to most experts, Moscow’s strategic thinking and actions are based on a combination of defensive and offensive factors, rooted in Russia’s history, geography and aspirations. President Putin’s regime defines itself by political demarcation from and cultural opposition to Western democracies. There are four major beliefs, overlapping and mutually reinforcing:

  • The continued existence of the autocratic system of rule must be secured by all means, ostensibly out of concern for Russia’s stability and security. Only a strong, centralized state is seen as capable of safely holding together this huge country, with well over one hundred ethnic groups. In this context, law and order serve to secure power.
  • A self-image of Russia as unique – in sheer size, imperial history and status as a nuclear power – makes the Kremlin believe it has a natural right to be recognized as a great power and act accordingly, on an equal footing with the United States. Its relationship with the U.S. is seen as one of global rivalry: wherever possible, Russia aims to reduce the United States’ position in the world, while improving its own.
  • Russia has a constant sense of encirclement and containment by the West. This, and a never ending concern about securing and protecting its borders – some 60.000 kilometers overall, one third of which are land borders – have led to a near-insatiable need for absolute security, and a belief that dangers must be kept far away from the Russian heartland.
  • In conjunction with its perceived need for security, Russia considers politics and security as zero-sum games: Russian security comes at the expense of others’ security, above all neighboring states.

As a consequence, Moscow’s actions in foreign, security and defense policy have been designed to restore Russia’s great power status while at the same time re-establishing the cordon sanitaire it enjoyed until the end of the Cold War. In particular, it wants to regain control of Russia’s “near abroad,” making demands for an allegedly historically justified “zone of privileged interest.” This would come at the expense of the sovereignty and security of neighboring states. While Russia’s actions may have defensive origins, these insecurities are manifested in an aggressive and unpredictable manner. 

Standing in the way of Russia’s expansionist ambitions are the EU and NATO, and above all the U.S. military presence in Europe. If NATO unity were sufficiently undermined, its decision-making capability paralyzed, its ability to defend itself undercut, the organization itself could collapse. Were that to happen, Russia would gain control over an open field; the expansion of Russian control over Europe would be almost automatic. This is why Russia is seeking to undermine the Euro-Atlantic security order that emerged after the Cold War: its goal is to weaken NATO and the European Union (EU), disrupting Western initiatives and regional and global arrangements. 

In terms of a strategy to pursue its goals, the Russian government knows it cannot win a long-running war with the West, nor any strategic confrontation with NATO in the near future. So instead it focuses on undermining NATO’s capability and it willingness to defend itself. To this end, Moscow has adopted a policy of permanent confrontation with the West. Its “Strategy of Active Defense” is designed as a long-term multi-domain campaign to de-stabilize individual NATO members and the alliance as a whole from within: to intimidate them from outside, compromise their decision-making and deny NATO effective military options for defense. For that purpose, Moscow applies a broad range of overt and covert, non-military and military instruments in an orchestrated way, measures tailored for peacetime, crisis and war. In peacetime, these “hybrid” operations remain below the threshold of direct military confrontation with NATO, blurring the boundaries between peace and conflict so as to create ambiguity, uncertainty and confusion. In this way, it can undermine effective responses.

In accordance with this “Strategy of Active Defense,” Moscow believes that modern conflicts are conducted by the integrated employment of political, economic, informational and other non-military means, although the whole continues to rely on military force. In Western parlance, this strategy is often called Hybrid Warfare. The information domain provides options for covert actions, against critically important information infrastructure and against the population of other countries, for example by disinformation campaigns, malign cyber activities, weaponizing energy supply, interfering in democratic elections, nurturing corruption, supporting and training far-right radical groups, and mobilizing insurgents. Used together, these tactics have the potential to directly influence a country’s security conditions. These kind of non-military instruments, employed before and during a military conflict, are used to create favorable conditions for the successful use of military force. At the same time, Russia threatens with military force, using large-scale military exercises on NATO’s borders, military build-up in critical regions on land or at sea; violation of Allies’ airspace in the Baltic region; patrolling of strategic bombers in certain regions; and/or deployment of nuclear missiles close to NATO’s borders, for example in the Kaliningrad Oblast, and even nuclear threats against individual NATO members. This list of actions is designed to remain below the threshold of direct military confrontation with NATO, thus avoiding triggering military response, but achieving similar effects to military action by blurring the boundaries between peace and conflict. This blurring can create insecurity, intimidation and fear, while impeding NATO decision-making. In crisis or conflict, military means would be “proactively” used for “pre-emptive neutralization of threats,” with non-military means in a supporting role.


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