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New “old” Russian imperialism and hybrid wars – an historical overview

New “old” Russian imperialism and hybrid wars – an historical overview

by Vitalii Usenko and Dmytro Usenko

Russia and Russian-backed terrorists are starting to use new tactics. Openly demonstrative fire aimed at uninhabited Russian territories bordering on Ukraine was reported by Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council (RNBO) Information Center on July 21, 2014

“First the terrorists open demonstrative fire aimed at deserted Russian territories bordering on Ukraine.  Then the Russian military responds with massive shelling of Ukrainian army positions.  Columns of heavy Russian military equipment and Russian backed mercenaries cross the Russian-Ukrainian border under the cover of this intense artillery shelling,” stated Andriy Lysenko, RNDO press office.

Russia has not ceased firing at Ukrainian positions from the Russian side of the border and supplying military hardware, the Defense Ministry notes.

This tactics was used when Russian terrorists tried to cross from Russia to Ukraine with a column of heavy Russian machinery in Izvarino, Luhansk Oblast on July 20.  According to Andriy Lysenko, Ukrainian ATO forces tried to stop the column, a battle started, but several tanks and trucks managed to cross the border.

According to Kyiv-based military expert Dmitry Tymchuk, Ukrainian forces positioned in the Donetsk oblast near the border with Russia were targeted four times by Russian troops with mortars and mobile artillery on July 20, 2014.  The attacks reportedly came from the territory of Russia’s Rostov Oblast.  A day earlier, on July 19, 2014 Ukrainian airborne troops were fired on from the Rostov Oblast in Russia three times according to the Defense Ministry:  with artillery fire at 1:45 p.m., grenade launchers at 4:30 p.m. and Grad multiple-rocket launchers at 4:45 p.m.

Russian forces don’t restrict their activities to the shelling of Ukrainian territory.  A Ukrainian military transport AN-26 aircraft was shot down over the Luhansk Oblast from the Russian side, which was reported by the deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, Valeriy Chaly.  The Ukrinform new agency reported that a Russian military plane shot down a Su-25 aircraft of the Ukrainian Armed Forces on Wednesday, July 16, 2014.

Due to the successes of the Ukrainian army it appears that Russia has decided to help by supporting the terrorists on the Ukrainian side by firing missiles from Russian territory (see picture below:  the situation in the eastern regions of Ukraine as of July 22, 2014)


Around midnight, mortar shelling from Russia of the area of the village of Kumachevo, Donetsk Oblast took place.  The border crossing near the town of Chervonopartyzansk, Luhansk Oblast  and the town of Panchenkovo, Luhansk Oblast near border with Russia, as well as an area near the village of Novoazovsk were shelled around midnight on July 22, 2014, UNIAN reports.

Another shelling of the border point Dolzhanskyi was conducted from the Russian Federation on July 22nd, 2014 at approx. 2 a.m.  The shelling of the border point near Sontsevo, Donetsk Oblast was done with the use of the BM-21 Grad self-propelled artillery, while a mortar attack too place on the crossing near the village of Dmytrivka, Donetsk Oblast.

For the first time, a security forces’ checkpoint was shelled from the sea:  a mortar mounted on a boat was fired at a checkpoint near Novoazovsk, Donetsk Oblast, Dmitriy Tymchuk of Informational Resistance reports.

These are not new strategies and tactics for Russia.  The strategy of a hybrid or irregular war followed by real war was developed in USSR.  The same scenario was used by USSR during the ‘liberation’ of Poland, Bessarabia, Bukovyna, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the attempt to ‘liberate’ Finland in 1939-1940.  This liberation is now being justified as a Soviet attempt to secure its borders against Hitler, which is the same justification Russia uses now, 75 years later:  “to secure its borders against NATO”.


The communist doctrine and its implications were described in a ‘Icebreaker’ a book by by Viktor Suvorov, published in English in Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton Ltd 1990.  The USSR since its formation in 1922 following Communist Doctrine made accusations against every country in the world with the deliberate intention of concealing its own role as instigator.

Vladimir Lenin, the first leader of the USSR established the Comintern to be, in the definition of its own name, the world communist party, and gave it the objective of setting up a world Soviet socialist republic.  The declaration that accompanied the formation of the USSR in 1922 included four republics;  the plan was to increase this number until the whole world formed part of it.  The declaration behind the formation of the USSR is an official document with the principal objective of this vast state being the destruction and subjugation of all other states in the world.  Europe was the first target.  This ideology was inherited by second leader of USSR, Joseph Stalin, who needed crises, wars, destruction and hunger in Europe.  The worse for Europe the better.  It would create opportunities for Stalin and provide reason justification for him to send the Red Army into Europe as its liberator.


Russia has not changed much mentally from its predecessor USRR with its communist ideology.  The mistakes and misconceptions of the West were explored in the article “A need to contain Russia” by Anne Applebaum in The Washington Post on March 29, 2014:  “Openly or subconsciously, since 1991, Western leaders have acted on the assumption that Russia is a flawed Western country.  Perhaps during the Soviet years it had become different, even deformed.  But sooner or later, the land of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, the home of classical ballet, would join what Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, so movingly called “our common European home.” “For the first time, many are beginning to understand that the narrative is wrong: Russia is not a flawed Western power. Russia is an anti-Western power with a different, darker vision of global politics”, concluded Anne Applebaum.

In the 1990s, many people thought Russian progress toward that home simply required new policies:  with the right economic reforms, Russians would sooner or later become like West.  As it turned out Russia is not a flawed Western power. Russia is an anti-Western power with a different, darker vision of global politics.

Let us have a brief look at the Eurasian ideology and Russian Doctrine.  There is practically no difference with its precursor Communist ideology, which promoted a continuous expansion and world dominance.  The terminology is slightly different, but the final goal of world dominance in the communist doctrine and the Russian doctrine is virtually identical.  It was too early to assume that Russia changed and could potentially become part of the West.  The Russian Doctrine was discussed earlier at Euromaidan Press, but it’s important to briefly revisit the issue in a new context.


The Russian Doctrine and Eurasian ideology are unofficial documents, they have not been approved by the Russian Parliament.  Elements of the doctines are present in political programs or in theories of the “Russian national idea.”  It seems that the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church perceive both Russian Doctrine and Eurasian ideology as an essential worldview, the spiritual foundation for the entire Russian nation.

The doctrine’s major goal is to carve out Russian civilization as a separate world phenomenon and to lay out the Russian Global Project.  There isn’t much difference with the communist ideology where communism was considered to be a separate world phenomenon, a Red Global Project in essence.

The Russian Doctrine is a collection of different scenarios, each of which not only describes one variant of the future and warns against possible threats, but at the same time lays out strategies outlining the vision of the desired Russia, the Russia that should be.  It is a voluminous document, which is why I will highlight some points relevant to the current situation.

In the introduction to the Russian Doctrine, we find quotes from different speeches by Vladimir Putin:  “The Russian Federation is doomed in today’s world.”  “The collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”

The Russian Doctrine sees the “final and irreversible overcoming of the US and Western hegemony by ousting them from the geopolitical arena” as Russia’s only chance for survival in the 21st century. “Only those countries will be successful in the first 20 years of the 21st century which are hard, severe, persistent, and consistent.”

“The Russian empire has revived several times. Based on the values of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium), even after the long-lived Tatar-Mongol yoke, the renewed mighty empire successor of Kyivan Rus of King Sviatoslav has arisen in Eastern Europe.”  Moscow is described as the Third Rome, the sole successor of Rome.

The Russian Doctrine presupposes that the crisis of Western civilization will inevitably lead to an urgent search for a new world leader.  The international potential of Russian civilization is again on the agenda of history.

The Russian Doctrine defines three major principles of foreign policy:

  • Concentration: The return and re-unification of all territories of historical Russia, first of all Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, followed by reunification with the rest of the Russian world
  • Fight ‘terror-globalism:’  Russia shall declare openly that Russia does not recognize the civilizing missions of the USA and the West;
  • ‘Big Clench,’ ‘Alternative globalization’:  Strategic cooperation with China, India, and Iran, resulting in a military union between Russia, China, India, North Korea, and Syria.
  • Possible further extension to other Arab countries and countries from other regions, such as Africa and South America.

Alternative globalization, ousting the US and the West from the geopolitical arena, will start from ‘the near abroad,’ from countries like Ukraine.  The initial territories initially would include Ukraine’s Tavria region (Crimea, Mykolaiv Oblast, and Kherson Oblast) and the Donbas (Donetsk Oblast). Please note that the Russian Doctrine was published in 2005, not in 2014.

The Soviet Union started actively pursuing the reconquest of the provinces of Tsarist Russia lost during the chaos of the October Revolution and the Russian Civil War in 1939, after the agreement with Nazi Germany in August 1939.  The same rhetoric is used by Putin to back up his claim that in returning Crimea to Russia he is correcting not just a historical injustice, but an outrage.


History is being repeated and it seems that a similar strategy to the one described in US NSC (National Security Council) Report 68 “United States Objectives and Programs for National Security” (April 14, 1950), a Report to the President Pursuant to the President’s Directive of January 31, 1950 should be reconsidered in respect of Russia.  The President, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense undertook a reexamination of US objectives in peace and war and the effect of these objectives on US strategic plans, in the light of nuclear bomb capability of the Soviet Union.  The challenge which faced the USA and the West at that time involved not only the fulfillment or destruction not only of this US but of civilization itself.

“The fundamental design of those who control the Soviet Union and the international communist movement is to retain and solidify their absolute power, first in the Soviet Union and second in the areas under the Soviet sphere of influence”.  “The means employed by the Kremlin in pursuit of this policy were limited only by considerations of expediency. Doctrine is not a limiting factor; rather it dictates the employment of violence, subversion, and deceit, and rejects moral considerations.  The only apparent restraints on resort to war are, therefore, calculations of practicality”, stated the report.

As can be seen not much difference with current Russian Doctrine.  Nothing has changed in the Russian mentality since that time.

Let us have a quick look how USSR tried to ‘liberate’ Europe, the strategy and tactics used during the Winter War with Finland 75 years ago.  Astounding parallels with the current undeclared war against Ukraine are evident even in small details.


The Winter War  was a military conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland in 1939–1940.  It began with the Soviet invasion of Finland on November 30, 1939 (three months after the outbreak of World War II), and ended with the Moscow Peace Treaty on March 13, 1940.

The minimal goal was to annex parts of Finnish territory along Lake Ladoga, providing a buffer for Leningrad, and territory in northern Finland.  Some experts assumed that the Soviet Union had intended to conquer all of Finland, and to establish a Finnish Communist puppet government.

The same pattern is happening undeclared war with Ukraine – security reasons, primarily the protection of Leningrad (Saint-Petersburg), which was only 18 miles from the Finnish border. The same pretext for annexation of Crimea and undeclared war against Ukraine – security, and protection from NATO.

In 1932 the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Finland, which was reaffirmed for a ten-year period in 1934.  Similarly with Ukraine, Russia signed signed the Budapest memorandum guaranteeing the territorial integrity of Ukraine in 1994 and Russia signed a friendship, partnership and co-operation agreement with Ukraine in 1997.

Soviet propaganda painted Finland’s leadership as a “vicious and reactionary Fascist clique”. Marshal C.G.E. Mannerheim and Väinö Tanner, the leader of the Finnish Social Democratic Party, were targeted for particular scorn.  Russian propaganda now dscribes the Ukrainian President and government as a fascist junta, and prior to the Presidential election targeted the interim President and the government as illegitimate and fascist.

In April 1938, an NKVD (USSR police) agent, Boris Yartsev contacted the Finnish foreign minister, Rudolf Holsti, and Prime Minister, Aimo Cajander, stating that the Soviet Union did not trust Germany and that war was considered possible between the two countries.  The Red Army would not wait passively behind the border but would rather “advance to meet the enemy”.  The same logic is used by Russia now:  to annex Crimea and attempt to establish a puppet government in the eastern Ukrainian regions to prevent NATO from entering Ukraine or to prevent Ukraine from becoming a NATO member.

molotov - ribentrop.jpg

The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in August 1939.  The pact was nominally a non-aggression treaty, but it included a secret protocol in which the Eastern European countries were divided into spheres of interest.  Finland fell into the Soviet sphere.  Putin is attempting to do the same now by creating a division between the US and the EU and trying to persuade the EU first of all that Ukraine is within the sphere of Russian interests and that EU should accept Russian advice even on how to implement EU-Ukraine association agreement.

On October 5, 1939, the Soviet Union invited a Finnish delegation to Moscow for negotiations.  J.K. Paasikivi, the Finnish ambassador to Sweden, was sent to Moscow to represent the Finnish government.  The Soviets demanded that the border between the USSR and Finland on the Karelian Isthmus be moved westward to a point only 30 km (19 mi) east of Viipuri and that the Finns destroy all existing fortifications on the Karelian Isthmus.  They also demanded the cession of islands in the Gulf of Finland as well as the Kalastajansaarento peninsula.  Furthermore, the Finns would have to lease the Hanko Peninsula for 30 years and permit the Soviets to establish a military base there. On October 31, during a meeting of the Supreme Soviet, Molotov publicly announced Soviet demands.  The Finnish government rejected the Soviet proposal.

On November 26, 1939, a border incident was reported near the village of Mainila.  A Soviet border guard post had been shelled by an unknown party resulting, according to Soviet reports, in the deaths of four and injuries of nine border guards.  Research conducted by several Finnish and Russian historians later concluded that the shelling was carried out from the Soviet side of the border by an NKVD (USSR police) unit with the purpose of providing the Soviet Union with a casus belli and a pretext to withdraw from the non-aggression pact and invade Finland.  On November 30, 1939, Soviet forces invaded Finland with 21 divisions, totaling some 450,000 men, and bombed Helsinki.

As detailed in ‘Icebreaker’, a book by by Viktor Suvorov published in English in Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton Ltd 1990, the Sovietization of Finland was prepared in great detail.  At the very moment when ‘the Finnish militarists began their armed provocations’, Stalin already had up his sleeve a Finnish communist president’, a ‘prime minister’ and an entire ‘government’, including a leading Chekist, for a ‘free democratic Finland’.

‘People’s representatives’ also turned up in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bessarabia and in Bukovyna, all demanding that these countries be annexed to the ‘fraternal family of nations’.  The chairmen of revolutionary committees, people’s jurors, deputies and many more were all found with surprising speed.

On December 1, 1939, the Soviet Union formed a puppet government intended to rule Finland after the Red Army conquered it . Called the Finnish Democratic Republic, it was headed by O. W. Kuusinen.  The government was also called “The Terijoki Government”, named after the village of Terijoki, the first place captured by the advancing Soviet army.  The same pattern with puppet “governors” and “leaders” of People’s Republic of Donetsk and the People’s Republic of Luhansk, and with Oleg Tasrev as “leader” of so-called Novorosiya (Eastern and Southern Ukraine).

At the start of the Winter War, Finland brought up the matter of the Soviet invasion before the League of Nations.  The League expelled the Soviet Union on December 14 and exhorted its members to aid Finland.  The only difference is that UN won’t expel Russia from UN for conducting an undeclared war against Ukraine.

At a meeting with military historians on March 14, 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Stalin launched the war to “correct mistakes” made in drawing the border with Finland after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.  The same argumentation was provided as justification to annex Crimea:  “a correct mistakes” by communist leader Nikita Khruschev who transferred Crimea to Ukraine in 1954.

During the ‘liberation’ of Poland, Bessarabia, Bukovyna, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland in 1939-1940, the OSNAZ (USSR special troops) battalions were the first to cross the border.  Their task was first to knock out enemy frontier posts by surprise attack, and then, by operating ahead of the advancing troops, to capture bridges, cut communications, wipe out small groups of the enemy and terrorize the population.  Once the Red Army units had caught up with the OSNAZ battalions, these then turned to the tasks of purging the territory and of exterminating undesirable elements.  This is the same pattern in Donetsk and Luhansk starting in April 2014.

USSR did not manage to conquer Finland and to seize all of its territory.  The Moscow Peace Treaty was signed on March 12, 1940 and went into effect the following day.  Finland ceded a portion of Karelia – the entire Karelian Isthmus, as well as a large swath of land north of Lake Ladoga.  The area included Finland’s second largest city of Viipuri, much of Finland’s industrialized territory, and significant parts still held by Finland’s army – 11% of the territory and 30% of the economic assets of pre-war Finland, which is the same as Putin is trying to do with Ukraine in attempting to annex the industrial regions of eastern and southern Ukraine.  Because of international pressure Putin is attempting to force the federalization of Ukraine to put in power elites controlled by Russia in these regions which would formally remain Ukrainian territory.

If we were to revisit Russian war against Georgia in Augsut 2008 you can find the same pattern as during the ‘liberation’ of Poland, Bessarabia, Bukovyna, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland in 1939-1940.  In 2008 Russia succeded in its information war and the US and EU issued a minor reprimand to Russia for that campaign.  Nothing serious followed resulting in Russia’s perception that Russia can do the same with Ukraine.

The Russian security council intends to discuss issues dealing with the territorial integrity of the country.  Russia did not go into detail as to what they intend to discuss yet on July 22, 2014. Detailed publications on Russian Federation Security Council meeting will follow.

Written by: Dr. Vitalii Usenko, MD, MBA, expert of the Center of Military-Political Studies in the sphere of psychology of communications, and by Dmytro Usenko, student at Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

Edited by Myron Spolsky

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