Russia’s almost bloodless takeover and annexation of occupied territory stunned Ukraine and the West, intensifying a study of how to build a total defense plan that included not just the military, but also the civilian population.
But Putin’s broader war on Ukraine launched in February has been his testing ground.
The doctrine, also known as ROC, offers an innovative and unconventional approach to warfare and total defense that has guided not only the Ukrainian military, but has also involved the country’s civilian population as part of concerted resistance against the Russian army.
“Everyone is on deck in terms of overall defense for the Ukrainian government,” said retired Lt. Gen. Mark Schwartz, who was commander of Special Operations Command Europe during the development of the doctrine. “They are using all resources and they are also using very unconventional means to disrupt the military of the Russian Federation.”
Plan a national resistance
Outnumbered, outgunned and outnumbered, Ukraine nonetheless retaliated against a Russian army that thought it could sweep over the vast majority of the country in weeks, if not days.
“It’s a way to turn the tide on a world-leading power,” Schwartz said. “It’s just amazing to see that despite the incredible loss of life and sacrifice, what the will to resist and the resolve to resist can do.”
In a series of recent attacks and explosions on Russian positions in Crimea, Kevin D. Stringer, a retired colonel who led the resistance concept development team, sees signs of its use.
“Since you can’t do it conventionally, you would use special operations forces, and those [forces] would require resistance support – intelligence, resources, logistics – to gain access to these areas.”
A Ukrainian government report shared with CNN acknowledged that Ukraine was behind the attacks on Russian bases and an ammunition dump. The attacks, far behind enemy lines, were beyond the reach of the weapons the United States and others have publicly sent to Ukraine, and videos of the explosions appeared to show no incoming missiles or drones. Russia blamed sabotage or ammunition detonation for the explosions.
“A high probability would say that it is very plausible that [the ROC] principles are being played out in real warfare right now,” Stringer said.
In early April, General Richard Clarke, commander of the United States Special Operations Command, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that the United States had helped form resistance companies in Ukraine integrated with special forces over the past 18 months. When asked if he sees any part of this formation’s success in the current dispute, Clarke was blunt in his response.
“Yes, Senator, we are.”
Resistance in Ukraine
At the start of the conflict, the Ukrainian government created a website that explains different ways to resist. The site describes ways to use nonviolent action, including boycotting public events, labor strikes, and even how to use humor and satire. The goal is to disrupt the ability of pro-Russian authorities to govern while reminding the public of Ukraine’s legitimate sovereignty. Resistance doctrine also suggests violent actions, including the use of Molotov cocktails, the deliberate setting of fires, and the introduction of chemicals into gas tanks to sabotage enemy vehicles.
The doctrine also calls for an extensive messaging campaign to control the narrative of the conflict, prevent an occupier’s message from taking hold, and maintain the unity of the population. Videos of Ukrainian strikes against Russian tanks, often set to a pop music or heavy metal soundtrack, have gone viral, as have clips of Ukrainian soldiers rescuing stray animals. Whether it’s intentional or not, it’s part of the resistance, allowing Ukraine to grab Western media headlines in its favor and often humanizing the Ukrainian military in ways that the Russian military has failed miserably to do. .
At the forefront of the resistance is Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky, who has not let the conflict fade with late-night speeches and frequent international appearances. His visits near the front lines make news around the world, while Russian President Vladimir Putin is rarely seen outside the Kremlin or the resort town of Sochi.
The ongoing messaging barrage has spurred an outpouring of support abroad and has been successful in influencing Western governments to supply more arms and ammunition to Ukraine.
Resilience and resistance
Overall, the concept of resilience provides a framework for increasing a country’s resilience, i.e. its ability to resist external pressures, and planning for resistance, defined as a whole-of-country effort. countries to restore sovereignty in the occupied territories.
“Resilience is the strength of society in peacetime that becomes resistance in wartime against the aggressor,” explained Dalia Bankauskaite, a member of the Center for European Policy Analysis who has studied resistance planning in Lithuania. .
Instead of providing each nation with the same set of plans, the doctrine is designed to be tailored to each nation’s population, capabilities, and terrain. It is not intended to create or support an insurgency; its objective is to establish a government-sanctioned force that will carry out activities against a foreign occupier with the aim of restoring sovereignty.
At first, only Estonia, Lithuania and Poland expressed real enthusiasm for the new doctrine. But after Russia’s nearly bloodless takeover and annexation of Crimea stunned Ukraine and the West in 2014, interest in the method of resistance grew rapidly.
Since its inception, at least 15 countries have participated in some form of training on this resistance doctrine, according to Nicole Kirschmann, spokeswoman for Special Operations Command Europe, where it was developed.
In mid-November, as the Biden administration issued the first public warnings of the potential for a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Hungary hosted a conference on the concept of how the resistance works. The commander of Ukraine’s special operations forces was present at the conference, Kirschmann told CNN, along with nearly a dozen other countries.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine only increased interest in the concept.
“The Baltic States, in particular, are actively discussing in their parliaments the implementation of the ROC at the national level,” according to a US official.
Resistance in the Baltic countries
In May, nearly three months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Lithuanian parliament adopted a new civil resistance strategy that goes far beyond strict resistance against occupation.
Martynas Bendikas, spokesman for the country’s Ministry of National Defence, said preparation for resistance includes developing the will to defend the country, improving citizens’ military and non-military knowledge and skills, and even more in the context of national defence.
The existence of the Resistance Doctrine and parts of the planning around the Resistance is intentionally public, Stringer explained, intended to act as a deterrent against a potential attack, another aimed at the preferred hybrid warfare of the Russia instead of traditional military and nuclear deterrence. But the details of plans and organization within a country are closely held.
For Estonia, a country of about 1.3 million people bordering northwest Russia, civil resistance has always been part of the defense plan.
“There is no other choice for every Estonian,” said Rene Toomse, spokesman for the Estonian Volunteer Defense League. “Either you fight for independence if someone attacks you – if Russia attacks you – or you die.”
Estonia regularly updates and expands its defense plans, integrating its standing army with its general population and volunteer forces, which Toomse says have seen increased demands since the start of the Russian invasion.
Estonian officials have studied the war in Ukraine to learn lessons about what worked well against Russia and where Ukraine’s resistance could improve. Toomse says that Estonians remember the Soviet regime well, and those who are too young to remember go to school.
Ukraine has excelled in the information campaign, Toomse points out, using media posts on multiple platforms, a president who has become a vocal international figure, and a constant flow of information on how Ukrainian forces are fight, “even if they are not focusing on their own losses.”
But Toomse insists that Estonia, if faced with an invasion, would be more active in any occupied territory, using small, well-armed and well-trained units. “I imagine we can do a lot more damage behind enemy lines than Ukraine did,” Toomse said. “All logistics, all convoys are going to be under constant attack.”