Dec 11, 2019
Russia has used gray zone tactics — ambiguous actions that target domestic or international public opinion — extensively within Europe. The RAND Corporation ran a series of war games to explore this issue, observing behavior and gaining insights from these games. The authors of this report summarize the key insights from these war games and describe the research effort that informed them.
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Recent events in Crimea and the Donbass in eastern Ukraine have upended relations between Russia and the West, specifically the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU). Although Russia's actions in Ukraine were, for the most part, acts of outright aggression, Russia has been aiming to destabilize both its "near abroad" — the former Soviet states except for the Baltics — and wider Europe through the use of ambiguous "gray zone" tactics. These tactics include everything from propaganda and disinformation to election interference and the incitement of violence.
To better understand where there are vulnerabilities to Russian gray zone tactics in Europe and how to effectively counter them, the RAND Corporation ran a series of war games. These games comprised a Russian (Red) team, which was tasked with expanding its influence and undermining NATO unity, competing against a European (Green) team and a U.S. (Blue) team, which were aiming to defend their allies from Red's gray zone activities without provoking an outright war. In these games, the authors of this report observed patterns of behavior from the three teams that are broadly consistent with what has been observed in the real world. This report presents key insights from these games and from the research effort that informed them.
The Gray Zone Is More Usefully Conceptualized as a Type of Tactic, Rather Than an Operational Environment
"Everyday" Gray Zone Actions Must Be Differentiated from More Aggressive, Focused Gray Zone Actions.
NATO and the EU Are Unlikely to Be Able to Compel Russia to Stop Using Nonviolent, Everyday Russian Gray Zone Tactics, but They Might Be Able to Deter Higher-Order Aggression
Vulnerability to Russian Gray Zone Tactics Varies Significantly Across Europe
Civilian Organizations, Rather Than the Military, Might Be Best Positioned to Counter Most Russian Gray Zone Tactics
The West Might Be Winning This Competition, but Does Not Recognize It
Wargaming the Gray Zone