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Dempsey Discusses Russian Tactics in Ukraine

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its threats to eastern and southern Ukraine amount to an “alarming use of both military force and subversion” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey discussed the Ukraine situation with his counterparts at the NATO defense chiefs’ conference. The defense leaders used the phrase “proximate coercion and subversion” to describe Russia’s actions in Ukraine over the past few months.

Regarding Ukraine, the Russians have employed the threat of conventional force -- but only the threat, Dempsey said in an interview following NATO meetings. Instead of using conventional military power, he said, the Russians have employed surrogates, proxies, misinformation and economic levers to accomplish their goals in Ukraine.

“I don’t know if that is a new type of warfare,” Dempsey said. “One might argue that it is very similar to the issue in 2008 with Georgia, but it is certainly an alarming use of both military force and subversion to affect the future of a sovereign nation.”

And the tactic has caused great concern among other countries in Eastern Europe, the chairman added.

Defending or deterring this threat requires different capabilities, Dempsey said. “The military instrument of power generally deals strength-on-strength,” the chairman said. “It can array itself against strength and understand the outcomes. In this case, the use of subversive tactics … requires a different combination of stakeholders.”

If an Eastern European nation wanted to harden itself against such a threat it would require different instruments of deterrence, he said. There is a military piece, but there is also a law enforcement portion, an informational aspect and “some governance activities in order for these populations to feel safe within their own borders so they are not subject to being coerced,” Dempsey said.

“It’s a whole-of-government approach,” he said. “You can’t just do this with military power [only].”

NATO nations obviously have experience with this, the chairman said. He pointed to NATO forces deployed in Afghanistan where they have used the whole-of-government approach in establishing and running provincial reconstruction teams around the country.

Such an approach employed “the different agencies of different governments all coalescing on a campaign plan, contributing their unique abilities and authorities and producing a positive outcome,” he said. “They know how to do it externally; I think it surprised them that they might have to think that way internally.”

Meanwhile, there is still no sign of a Russian pull-back from the southern and eastern borders of Ukraine, the chairman said.

“I can’t speak on the exact number of battle groups or tanks or armored personnel carriers,” Dempsey said, noting Russian President Vladimir Putin “still maintains a very sizeable force on the borders of Ukraine.”

The chairman spoke about information the NATO chiefs of defense received during a briefing by Ukrainian army Lt. Gen. Mykhailo Kutsyn.

“He told a very persuasive narrative about the fact that they had built their military to be kind of expeditionary, out of area,” Dempsey said. “As he put it, ‘We believed the commitment our Russian brothers had made to us,’ which was that they wouldn’t affect their sovereignty.”

Ukraine’s army is small and there is no territorial army, no National Guard equivalent, and no ability to call up reserves with any speed or responsiveness.

“He told a clear tale to NATO and particularly the Eastern European countries that they must not make the same mistake,” Dempsey said of Kutsyn’s message.

Looking forward, the Ukrainian general told the chiefs that Ukraine will not use its military against its own citizens, but that the military will ensure the country’s sovereignty.

“He said, if they are invaded, they will defend Ukraine,” Dempsey said. “And he made an appeal for military, economic and political support.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @garamoneAFPS)