How Ukraine is using the US-led war of resistance to fight Russia

Russia’s almost bloodless seizure and annexation of the occupied territory surprised Ukraine and the West, intensifying a study on how to build a plan for a total defense that included not only the military, but also the civilian population.

But Putin’s broader war against Ukraine launched in February has been his testing ground.

The doctrine, also known as the ROC, provides an innovative and unconventional approach to total warfare and defense that has guided not only Ukraine’s armed forces, but also engaged the country’s civilian population as part concerted resistance against the Russian army.

“Everything is on the line in terms of the overall defense of the government of Ukraine,” 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 some very unconventional means to disrupt the military of the Russian federation.”

Planning a national resistance

Yet Ukraine, outnumbered, outgunned and outmanned, has struggled against a Russian army that thought it would conquer the vast majority of the country in a matter of weeks, if not days.

“This is a way to turn around a leading world power,” Schwartz said. “It’s just amazing to see that despite the incredible loss of life and sacrifice, what the will and determination to resist can do.”

In a series of recent attacks and explosions on Russian positions in Crimea, Kevin D. Stringer, a retired Army colonel who led the resistance concept development team, sees signs of their use.

“Since you can’t do it conventionally, you would use special operations forces, and those [forces] would need resistance support (intelligence, resources, logistics) to access these regions.”

A Ukrainian flag flies in a damaged residential area in the city of Borodianka, northwest of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

A Ukrainian government report shared with CNN acknowledged that Ukraine was behind the attacks on Russian bases and an ammunition depot. The strikes, far behind enemy lines, were beyond the range of weapons the United States and others have publicly sent to Ukraine, and videos of the explosions do not appear to show any approaching missiles or drones. Russia blamed sabotage or detonation of munitions for the explosions.

“High probability would say that it is highly plausible that [the ROC] principles are developing in real warfare right now,” Stringer said.

In early April, Gen. Richard Clarke, commander of the US Special Operations Command, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that the US had helped train resistance companies in Ukraine integrated with armed forces. specials for the last 18 months. When asked if he was seeing any of the success of that training in the current conflict, Clarke was direct in his answer.

“Yes, Senator, we are.”

Resistance in Ukraine

At the beginning 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 pro-Russian authorities’ ability to govern while reminding the population of Ukraine’s legitimate sovereignty. The resistance doctrine also suggests violent actions, including the use of Molotov cocktails, deliberately starting fires, and putting chemicals in gasoline tanks to sabotage enemy vehicles.

Civilians take part in a military training course conducted by a Christian Territorial Defense Unit on February 19, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine.

The doctrine also calls for a broad messaging campaign to control the narrative of the conflict, prevent an occupier’s message from taking root, and keep the population united. Videos of Ukrainian attacks on Russian tanks, often set to a pop or heavy metal soundtrack, have gone viral, as have clips of Ukrainian soldiers rescuing stray animals. Whether intentional or not, he becomes part of the resistance, allowing Ukraine to frame Western media headlines in its favor and often humanize Ukrainian service members in ways the Russian military has abjectly failed. in doing

Leading 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 headlines around the world, while Russian President Vladimir Putin is rarely seen outside the Kremlin or the tourist hub of Sochi.

The ongoing barrage of messages has sparked a groundswell of support abroad and successfully spurred Western governments to supply more arms and ammunition to Ukraine.

Resilience and Resistance

In general, the concept of resistance provides a framework for increasing a country’s resilience, which is its ability to withstand external pressures, and resistance planning, defined as a country-wide effort to restore sovereignty in occupied territories.

“Resilience is the strength of society in times of peace that turns into resistance in times of war against the aggressor,” explained Dalia Bankauskaite, a fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis who has studied resistance planning in Lithuania. .

Rather than provide each country with the same set of plans, the doctrine is designed to fit each country’s population, capabilities, and terrain. It is not intended to create or support an insurgency; its goal is to establish a government-sanctioned force that will carry out activities against a foreign occupier with the goal of restoring sovereignty.

At first, only Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland expressed real enthusiasm for the new doctrine. But after Russia’s almost bloodless seizure and annexation of Crimea shocked Ukraine and the West in 2014, interest in the method of resistance grew rapidly.

Latvian Zemessardze, or National Guard, soldiers prepare to attack during a June 2020 small unit tactics exercise during the Resilience Operating Concept implementation with NATO allies and partners near Iecava, Latvia.

Since its inception, at least 15 countries have participated in some form of training on this resistance doctrine, according to Nicole Kirschmann, a spokeswoman for Special Operations Command Europe, where it was developed.

In mid-November, as the Biden administration issued its first public warnings about the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Hungary hosted a conference on the operational concept of the resistance. The commander of the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces was at the conference, Kirschmann told CNN, as well as nearly a dozen other countries.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has only increased interest in the concept.

“The Baltic states, in particular, are actively speaking in their parliaments about ROC implementation at the national level,” according to a US official.

Resistance in the Baltic

In May, almost three months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Lithuanian parliament adopted a new strategy for civil resistance that is much broader than strict resistance against the occupation.

Martynas Bendikas, a spokesman for the country’s Ministry of National Defense, said preparing for resistance includes developing the will to defend the country, improving citizens’ military and non-military knowledge and skills, and more as part of a national defense.

The existence of the resistance doctrine and parts of the planning around the resistance are intentionally public, Stringer explained, intended to act as a deterrent against a possible attack, one more aimed at Russia’s favorite hybrid warfare rather than of traditional military and nuclear deterrence. But the details of the plans and the organization within a country are very strict.

For Estonia, a country with a population of about 1.3 million people that borders northwest Russia, civil resistance has always been part of the defense plan.

“There is no other option for all Estonians,” said Rene Toomse, spokesman for the volunteer Estonian Defense League. “Either you fight for independence if someone attacks you, if Russia attacks you, or you just die.”

Estonia regularly updates and develops its defense plans, integrating its standing army with its general population and its volunteer forces, which Toomse says have seen an increase in requests since the start of Russia’s invasion.

Estonian officials have studied the war in Ukraine to learn lessons about what has worked well against Russia and where Ukraine’s resilience could improve. Toomse says that Estonians remember Soviet rule well, and those too young to remember are taught it in school.

Ukraine has stood out for winning the information campaign, Toomse notes, using media posts on multiple platforms, a president who has become a vocal international figure, and a constant stream of information about how well Ukraine’s forces are fighting. , “even if they are not emphasizing their own losses.”

But Toomse insists that Estonia, if faced with 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 has done,” Toomse said. “All logistics, all convoys, are going to be constantly under attack.”

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