The problem with the 'Gerasimov Doctrine' is that it doesn’t exist

Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist based in Russia. He has written for RT since 2014. Before moving to Russia, Bryan worked for The Irish Independent, the Evening Herald, Ireland on Sunday, and The Irish Daily Mail.

19 Sep, 2017 15:14 / Updated 6 years ago

Just when you thought Western media coverage of Russia couldn't get much worse, it did. The Financial Times, once relatively competent on this beat, delivered breathless coverage of a non-existent army tenet. They might as well have published a feature on "Crop Circles" or the "Priory of Sion.”

The hoax concerned is the “Gerasimov Doctrine” - based on a 2013 essay where the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, Valery Gerasimov, mentioned different types of modern warfare, which could be loosely termed as “hybrid war.” He was actually ruminating on how the West conducts operations, not Russia. Specifically in Libya and Syria and the “regime change” efforts connected to the “Arab Spring” of that year.

In the screed, Gerasimov never mentions “hybrid war,” and the closest phrase to it is “asymmetric” conflict, which is referenced three times. Plus, it’s worth remembering also how the catchphrase was first hyped after the Georgian assault on South Ossetia in 2008, and the Kremlin’s reaction to Mikhail Saakashvili's gambit. Also, back then, Nikolai Makarov was army chief, not Gerasimov. So if it actually existed, a more appropriate title would contain the latter's name.

Military training events can have strange effects on people. For instance, the joint Russia-Belarus Zapad-2017 ("West-2017") venture, which is currently taking place, has spooked the Baltic states into handing over their airspace to US control. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s President has suggested the whole thing is a smokescreen for an invasion of his country, and Poland’s Deputy Defense Minister has warned that it could be an excuse for permanently stationing soldiers in Belarus. 

We’ve also learned how Moscow holds “war games” but NATO stages “exercises” and discovered that a lot of American and European officials think Vladimir Putin has engaged exactly 100,000 troops in the enterprise. Presumably, because he likes perfectly round numbers which are big and scary. But, for its part, the Kremlin insists only 13,000 men are committed to the endeavor. 

Menace of unreality

Like the World Cup, Zapad is held every four years, meaning the current trials have been well-flagged and are hardly a surprise. But its very existence is big business for the “Russia scare” industry, and it’s notable how CEPA, a lobby group for US military manufacturers, even set up a website with a countdown clock to help rustle up a bit of business for their sponsors.

Another terror doing the rounds recently is this “Gerasimov Doctrine” rubbish. Which has been heavily promoted by Molly McKew, a lobbyist who has quickly risen without trace as a “Russia expert.” Presumably, because her ravings suit the current narrative in the United States. However, the problem with the grand strategy is that it simply doesn’t exist. We know this because nobody in Russia ever mentions it and nobody remotely credible speaks of its authenticity.

 Sure, some Western “Russia watchers” and “Kremlinologists” have speculated on it, but these chancers aren’t to be taken seriously. Because if it were raining soup in Moscow, they’d be standing on the streets with forks. Far from the Russian capital, naturally.

Let’s get something straight now: the “Gerasimov Doctrine” isn’t real. Which means it’s in the same category as the Loch Ness Monster or the Mummy's Curse. Yet, grown adults, often hiding behind fancy faux-academic titles, are talking about it.

Musical chairs

Now, a few years ago, The Financial Times was perhaps the only Western newspaper which got Russia at least half-right. But then its correspondent Charles Clover was re-assigned, and his successors have lacked his experience, gravitas, and ability. This decline has led to the paper falling for the “Gerasimov Doctrine” swindle last weekend and merging it with Zapad puffery to create some phenomenally hyperbolic aggrandizement.

Indeed, as Mark Galeotti, a pundit on US government broadcaster RFE/RL, puts it: “this essentially is Molly McKew meets Gerasimov’s Wikipedia bio entry, presumably knocked out in an hour.” And, to be fair, he’s actually being restrained.

Because the FT’s Moscow team have delivered something so appallingly constructed that it runs the full gamut of proficiency from y to z. A faux pas which presents a quiet Russian general as a contemporary Zhuge Liang or Lord Nelson, capable of constructing a radical martial dogma from nowhere. And in the process makes him ten feet tall.


The FT attempts to backup its argument with mentions of Crimea, allegations of US election hacking and information war. Using these as examples of a sudden Russian discovery of non-linear methods. Yet, the author is not self-aware enough to realize that the US has been using composite techniques like sanctions and revolutions, whether color or otherwise, to achieve strategic goals for decades.

Economic penalties or the removal of legitimate governments are clearly forms of “hybrid war” which pre-date Gerasimov, Makarov, and Putin himself. Also not forgetting that James Mattis, the current US Secretary of Defense, jointly penned a 2005 essay on “Future Warfare: the rise of hybrid wars,” eight years before Gerasimov took up his cudgel.

Let’s be clear: the “Gerasimov Doctrine” is a complete load of nonsense. And it seems to have emerged from the general’s 2013 article being circulated on social media by Western Russia watchers, making it a foreign construct with no basis in the Russian reality. Thus, it amounts to a contemporary version of the Cold War’s “Missile Gap.” But the fact the FT fell for this rubbish only serves to, once again, highlight the desperate state of American and British reportage from Moscow.