Cover: Russia's Hostile Measures in Europe

Russia's Hostile Measures in Europe

Understanding the Threat

Published Jan 28, 2019

by Raphael S. Cohen, Andrew Radin


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Research Questions

  1. What are hostile measures?
  2. How might Russia threaten Europe using these measures over the next few years?
  3. What are the range and limits of Russian tools of influence, European countries' abilities to resist or respond, and these states' vulnerabilities to hostile measures?
  4. How can the U.S. government and the U.S. Army counter hostile measures?

This report examines current Russian hostile measures in Europe and forecasts how Russia might threaten Europe using these measures over the next few years. It starts by providing a framework for how to think about and categorize hostile measures. Drawing upon a range of written sources and in-depth interviews, it assesses the range and limits of Russian tools of influence, European countries' abilities to resist or respond, and, ultimately, these states' vulnerabilities to hostile measures. Russia has the most strategic interest in influencing the larger, wealthier, more powerful countries of western Europe, but it has the most leverage over smaller, less wealthy countries of eastern Europe, particularly those countries outside of the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance. This report concludes with a range of recommendations for the U.S. government and for the U.S. Army on how to counter hostile measures — from strengthening democratic institutions and providing an open media forum to forward-stationing of troops and investing in certain key enablers such as counterintelligence, civil affairs, and public affairs that are critical to combatting Russian hostile measures.

Key Findings

Hostile measures are measures short of war

  • The term hostile measures encompasses a wide range of political, economic, diplomatic, intelligence, and military activities that could be perceived as harmful or hostile.

Different regions of Europe pose different problems in terms of Russian threats and approaches

  • The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are often cited as being among the members of the EU and NATO that are most vulnerable to Russian influence. Possible motivations for Russian activities in the region include undermining and addressing the potential threat from the EU and NATO. There are distinctions between Russian foreign policy interests in the Baltics and those in the other former Soviet states, however. For example, Russian analysts and some U.S. analysts of Russia note lower Russian interests and objectives for influence in the Baltics. Therefore, although Russia's intentions to use hostile measures in the Baltics remain real, the measures available and willingness to commit significant resources appear to be greater for other former Soviet republics, including Ukraine, Belarus, and the Central Asian states.
  • Southeastern Europe is a significant target of Russian influence, especially countries where a majority of the population speaks a Slavic language. Russian interest in Southeastern Europe is likely to arise in part from concern about growing NATO military capabilities, including ballistic missile defense capabilities in Romania; the goal of undermining EU and NATO enlargement in the Western Balkans and Moldova; a view that Russia should have influence over the region; and, perhaps most fundamentally, a desire to maintain Russian economic ties in the region.
  • Turning to the rest of Europe, major U.S. allies in Western Europe present the largest strategic prize to Russia outside of the United States. Western Europe is home to Europe's largest economies, most-powerful militaries, and key U.S. military bases. Still, this region seems comparatively less vulnerable to Russian influence, although Russia might attempt to use a variety of hostile measures against it.


  • In deploying forces to Europe to counter Russian aggression, the U.S. Army should also prepare to defend against and counter Russian hostile measures. The Joint Force and the Army must also consider how Russia might respond aggressively to any forward-deployed forces.
  • The U.S. Army should develop counterintelligence, public affairs, civil affairs, and other key enablers to better counter Russian hostile measures.
  • Responding to Russian hostile measures places a new premium on political awareness, as well as on crisis management. U.S. military personnel need to be aware of Russian hostile measures — particularly when deployed in countries with frozen conflicts or where there is a large pro-Russian population — to help avoid accidentally sparking a crisis.
  • Whatever the U.S. response, preparation for involvement in a wide range of conflicts can help reduce the risk of mismanagement, miscalculation, and escalation.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7, U.S. Army and conducted by the Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program within the RAND Arroyo Center.

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