Threats to the Homeland

Russia is the only state adversary in the region that possesses the capability, both with conventional and with non-conventional means, to threaten the U.S. homeland. Although there is no indication that Russia plans to use its capabilities against the United States absent a broader conflict involving America’s NATO allies, the plausible potential for such a scenario serves to sustain their strategic importance. Russia’s explicitly belligerent behavior during 2014 further adds to the necessity that the U.S. give due consideration to the ability of Russia to place the security of the U.S. at risk.

Russian Strategic Nuclear Threat. Russia possesses the largest nuclear weapons arsenal among the nuclear powers (when short-range nuclear weapons are included). It is one of the few nations with the capability to destroy many targets in the U.S. homeland and in U.S. allies and to threaten and prevent other nations from having free access to the commons. Russia has both intercontinental and short-range ballistic missiles and a varied nuclear weapons arsenal that is capable of being delivered by sea, land, and air.

Nuclear weapons continue to play a very prominent role in Russia’s military strategy. According to Aleksey Arbatov, a scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Nonproliferation Program, Russia has lost a leading role in global affairs if measured by criteria of national power with the exceptions of its nuclear arsenal, its territorial size, and the extent of its natural resources—a condition clearly appreciated by Russia’s leadership.1

Russia is currently relying on its nuclear arsenal to ensure its invincibility against any kind of enemy, to intimidate European powers, and to deter counters to its predatory behavior in its “near abroad,” primarily in Ukraine but also concerning the Baltic states.2 The arsenal provides Russia with a protective umbrella under which it can modernize its conventional forces at a deliberate pace. While its nuclear deterrent protects Russia from a large-scale attack, a modern and flexible military is necessary for Russia to be able to fight local wars such as the one in Georgia in 2008 or Ukraine in 2014. Russian military doctrine allows for the use of nuclear weapons in local and regional conventional wars.

Modernized weapons and equipment in the Russian armed forces are projected to increase to 30 percent of the total force by 2015 and ultimately to 70 percent in 2020. In June 2013, the Russian Defense Ministry signed 737 billion rubles ($22.5 billion) worth of contracts as a part of its arms procurement program for 2013.3 This ambitious work is based on the government’s armament program for 2011 to 2020. According to this plan, strategic nuclear forces are the main beneficiary of modernization.4

The Defense Ministry states that the new structure of the armed forces is being created with the goal of increased flexibility, mobility, and readiness for combat in limited-scale conflicts. Strategic Rocket Forces are the first line of defense (and offense) against Russia’s great-power counterparts.5

Russia has two strategies of nuclear deterrence. The first is based on a threat of massive launch-on-warning and retaliatory strikes to deter a nuclear attack; the second is based on a threat of limited demonstration and “de-escalation” nuclear strikes to deter and terminate a large-scale conventional war.6 Russia’s reliance on nuclear weapons is based partly on their small cost relative to conventional weapons (especially in terms of their effect) and on Russia’s inability to attract sufficient numbers of high-quality servicemembers. Thus, Russia sees its nuclear weapons as a means with which to offset the lower quantity and quality of its conventional forces.

Moscow has repeatedly threatened U.S. allies in Europe with nuclear deployments and even pre-emptive nuclear strikes.7The Russians justify their belligerent rhetoric by pointing to U.S. missile defense system deployments in Europe. U.S. missile defense systems in Europe, however, are not scaled or postured to mitigate Russia’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons advantage significantly.

In early 2014, U.S. news outlets reported alleged Russian violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which bans the testing, production, and possession of intermediate-range missiles.8 According to Keith Payne and Mark Schneider, “These Russian actions demonstrate the importance the Kremlin attaches to its new nuclear-strike capabilities. They also show how little importance the Putin regime attaches to complying with agreements that interfere with those capabilities.”9

WWTA: The WWTA does not reference the threat to the American homeland from Russian nuclear weapons.

Summary: The sizable Russian nuclear arsenal remains the only threat to the existence of the U.S. homeland emanating from Europe and Eurasia. While the potential for use of this arsenal remains extremely low, it is an important capability in Russian security calculations, and it will continue to play a central strategic role in shaping both Russia’s military and political thinking and its level of aggressive behavior beyond its borders.

Threat of Regional War

There are three areas of critical interest to the U.S. in the European region where Russia poses a direct threat: Central and Eastern Europe, the Arctic or High North, and the Southern Caucasus.

Russian Pressure on Central and Eastern Europe. Moscow poses a security challenge to members of NATO that border Russia. Although the likelihood of a conventional Russian attack against the Baltic States is low, primarily because it would trigger a NATO response, Russia has used non-conventional means to erode the political systems and legitimacy of these states. The Baltic States view Russia as a significant threat.

Due to decades of Russian domination, the Baltic States factor Russia into their military planning and foreign policy formulation in a way that is simply unimaginable in many Western European countries and North America. Estonia and Latvia have sizable ethnic Russian populations, and there is a concern that Russia might exploit the situation as a pretext for aggression. This view is not without merit, considering Moscow’s irredentist rhetoric and Russia’s use of this technique to annex Crimea.

Russia has also demonstrated a willingness to use military force to change the borders of modern Europe. When Kremlin-backed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych failed to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union (EU) in 2013, months of street demonstrations led to his ouster in early 2014. Russia responded by violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sending troops, aided by pro-Russian local militia, to occupy the Crimean Peninsula under the pretext of “protecting Russian people.” This led to Russia’s eventual annexation of Crimea. Such annexation by force is unprecedented in the 21st century.

Moscow has not stopped at Crimea. In May 2014, inspired by events in Crimea, separatist leaders in Ukraine’s east declared the Lugansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic, leading to creation of the Federal State of Novorossiya. Russia has continued to back separatist factions in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine with advanced weapons, technical and financial assistance, and the use of Russian conventional and special operations forces.

The number of Russian troops operating in Ukraine has fluctuated depending on the security situation on the ground. For example, when Ukrainian forces were making headway against the separatist factions, Moscow responded by sending an estimated 5,000 troops into Ukraine. Since September 2014, there has been a fragile cease-fire, which has resulted in de facto partition of the country. While the formal cease-fire has held, fighting has continued between Ukrainian forces and forces of pro-Russia rebels or regular Russian troops fighting alongside them. Russian convoys including howitzers, tanks, and air defense systems have continually crossed the border into Ukraine since the cease-fire took hold. Additionally, General Philip Breedlove, commander of NATO forces in Europe, confirmed that Russia moved forces “that are capable of being nuclear” into Crimea, although it remains unclear whether nuclear forces have indeed been deployed to the Crimean peninsula.10

The other countries in Central and Eastern Europe also see Russia as a threat, although to varying degrees. Most tend to be almost completely reliant on Russia for their energy resources, some have felt the sharp end of Russian aggression in the past, and all of them were once in the Warsaw Pact and fear being forced back into a similar situation.

In addition to the historical experiences that shape the aggressive image of Russia among those in Central and Eastern Europe, Moscow’s behavior in the region has been a cause for concern. Russia has deployed Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad Oblast exclave,11 and there have been reports that Russia has deployed tactical nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad.12

Russia also has dedicated resources to major training exercises involving tens of thousands of troops that many in Eastern Europe fear are directed at them. One exercise scenario in 2009 included a nuclear attack on Warsaw.13 In 2013, Russia and Belarus took part in joint exercises called Zapad 2013. According to official Russian numbers, 12,000 Russian troops and 10,40014 Belarusian troops participated; however, some Western observers believe the total number of troops was closer to 70,000.15

While there is nothing necessarily wrong with Russia conducting military exercises, there are aspects of Zapad 2013 of which the U.S. should be aware. The exercise took part in the Western Military District of Russia (including the Baltic and Barents Seas), an area that has recently seen an increase in Russian troops and military activity. The exercise was intended to test the efficacy of Russia’s military modernization efforts in its Western Military District16 and its ability to reinforce the Western Military District rapidly from less vital military districts. For example, Zapad 2013 included the mobilization of 20,000 troops from internal Russian districts to support the Western Military District.17

The Zapad exercises also highlighted the growing military and political partnership between Russia and Belarus, a particular concern for U.S. allies in the Baltics and Poland. According to the Russians, the Zapad 2013 scenario envisioned the “deterioration of relations between states due to inter-ethnic, and ethno-religious controversies, and territorial claims.”18 The thin veneer of this scenario barely masked that NATO was the unstated adversary in the Zapad 2013 exercise.19

WWTA: The WWTA notes that Russia continues to place significance on ties with Western economic and political interests that have been pursued by nations in Eastern and Central Europe, including Ukraine. The WWTA highlights the EU (as well as China) as a challenge to Russia’s pursuit of Eurasian integration.

Summary: NATO allied countries in Eastern and Central Europe view Russia as a threat, a fear that is not unfounded considering Russian aggression against Ukraine and Georgia. The threat of conventional attack against a NATO member state by Russia remains low, but Russia’s grasp and use of unconventional warfare against neighboring countries should remain a top issue for U.S. and NATO planners.

Militarization of the High North. The Arctic region is home to some of the roughest terrain and harshest weather found anywhere in the world. Increasingly, Arctic ice is melting during the summer months, causing new challenges for the U.S. in terms of Arctic security. Many of the shipping lanes currently used in the Arctic are a considerable distance from search and rescue (SAR) facilities, and natural resource exploration that would be considered routine in other locations in the world is complex, costly, and dangerous in the Arctic.


The U.S. is one of five littoral Arctic powers and one of only eight countries that have territory located above the Arctic Circle, the area just north of 66o north latitude and that includes portions of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, and the United States

Arctic actors take different approaches to military activity in the Arctic. Although the security challenges currently faced in the Arctic are not yet military in nature, there is still a requirement for military capability in the region that can support civilian authorities. For example, civilian SAR and natural disaster response in such an unforgiving environment can be augmented by the military.

Even so, Russia has taken steps to militarize its presence in the region. Russia’s Northern Fleet, which is based in the Arctic, counts for two-thirds of the Russian Navy. A new Arctic command will be established by 2015 to coordinate all Russian military activities in the Arctic region.20 Over the next few years, two new so-called Arctic brigades will be permanently based in the Arctic, and Russian Special Forces have been training in the region. Old Soviet-era facilities have been reopened, for example, putting the airfield on the Kotelny Island into use for the first time in almost 30 years,21 and an expedition was launched in early September 2014 this year to establish support capabilities on the New Siberian Islands.22 The ultimate goal is for Russia to deploy a combined arms force in the Arctic by 2020, and it appears they are on track to accomplish this.23

The NATO Alliance continues to debate what, if any, role it should have in the Arctic. Although NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept was praised for acknowledging new security challenges for the alliance, such as cyber and energy security, Arctic security was not included. In fact, the word Arctic cannot be found in either the 2010 Strategic Concept or the 2012 Chicago NATO summit declaration.

Inside NATO, different U.S. allies view the Arctic differently. Norway is a leader in promoting NATO’s role in the Arctic. Although Norway has contributed troops to Iraq and Afghanistan and was one of only seven NATO members to carry out air strikes during the Libya campaign, the primary force driver for its armed forces is still Arctic security. The Norwegians have invested extensively in Arctic defense capabilities, and Norwegian officials, both military and civilian, want to see NATO playing a larger role in the Arctic.

The Norwegian position regarding NATO’s role in this area is in contrast to Canada’s. Like Norway, Canada has invested heavily in its Arctic defense and security capabilities. Unlike Norway, the Canadians have made it clear that they do not want NATO involved. Generally speaking, there is a concern inside Canada that non-Arctic NATO countries favor an alliance role in the Arctic because it would afford them influence in an area where they otherwise would have none.

WWTA: The WWTA notes that, in the view of some states, countries can gain a potential advantage by positioning military forces in the Arctic region. Separately, the WWTA notes that Russia’s military has gained increasing prominence with operations in the Arctic, although the WWTA stops short of making any judgments about Russian intentions or the potential for competing interests in the Arctic to lead to conflict.

Summary: While NATO has been slow to turn its attention toward the Arctic, Russia continues to develop and increase its military capabilities in the region. The likelihood of armed conflict remains low, but physical changes in the region mean that the posture of players in the Arctic will continue to evolve. It is clear that Russia intends to exert a dominant influence.

Threat from Russian Propaganda. Russia has used propaganda stealthily and consistently to garner support for its foreign policies. In the 2013 Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation, the Russian government is explicit about its aims to utilize mass media to further its foreign policy aims.

In its public diplomacy, Russia will seek to ensure its objective perception in the world, develop its own effective means of information influence on public opinion abroad, strengthen the role of Russian mass media in the international information environment providing them with essential state support, as well as actively participate in international information cooperation, and take necessary measures to counteract information threats to its sovereignty and security.24

Russian media are hardly independent. In 2013, Russia ranked 148th out of 179 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index.25 The state utilizes every tool in its arsenal, from regulatory and legal changes and enforcement to intimidation and murder of independent-minded reporters.

While much of its propaganda is meant for a domestic Russian audience, Russia is actively working to influence audiences abroad as well. Russia spends around €100 million ($136 million) a year to support Russian media abroad.26 One such vehicle for propaganda is Russia Today (RT) a TV channel launched in 2005. RT currently broadcasts in English, Spanish, and Arabic, intending to influence audiences in regions key to its interests through 22 bureaus in 19 countries. Ruptly, RT’s news service, was launched to compete with the Associated Press and Reuters.

Russia’s plans have met with some success abroad; currently, RT clips receive more views on YouTube than CNN, although still less than the BBC.27 Also, while Russian state propaganda instruments have proliferated in Western capitals, the number of Western journalists inside Russia has decreased. According to Der Spiegel, in regard to European media inside Russia, “many newspapers and broadcasters have scaled back their bureaus in Moscow or closed them altogether in recent years.”28

Russian propaganda was in full force during the country’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent annexation of Crimea and continued stealth invasion of eastern Ukraine. Russian media have worked to push the false claim that Russia is simply defending ethnic Russians in Ukraine from far-right-wing thugs. Russian media also have claimed that the government in Kiev is to blame for the violence that has enveloped parts of the country or that the U.S. has instigated unrest in Ukraine.29

Russian propaganda efforts are not limited to TV channels; there are widespread reports30 of the Russian government’s paying people to post comments on Internet articles that parrot the government propaganda. Twitter has also been utilized in Ukraine as a means to disseminate false or exaggerated claims from the Russian government.

Russian propaganda poses the greatest threat to NATO allies that have a significant ethnic Russian population: the Baltic States. Many ethnic Russians in these countries get their news through Russian-language media (especially TV channels) that give the official Russian state line. While some countries like Lithuania and Latvia have temporarily banned certain Russian TV stations such as RTR Rossiya in light of Russian aggression in Ukraine,31 many American allies recognize that a gap exists for reaching ethnic Russians in their vernacular. In an effort to provide an independent alternative Russian-language media outlet, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are planning a joint Russian-language TV channel to counter Russian propaganda efforts in their region.32

WWTA: The WWTA does not reference the threat to American interests and allies from Russian propaganda employed to foment regional instability.

Summary: Russia has used propaganda consistently and aggressively to advance its foreign policy aims. This is unlikely to change and will remain an essential element of Russian aggression and planning. The potential use of propaganda to stir up agitation in the Baltic States makes this a continued threat to regional stability and a potential threat to the NATO alliance.

Russian Destabilization in the Southern Caucasus. The Southern Caucasus sits at a crucial geographical and cultural crossroads and has proven to be strategically important both militarily and economically for centuries. Although the countries in the region (Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan) are not formally part of NATO and therefore do not receive a security guarantee from the U.S., they have participated to varying degrees in NATO and U.S.-led operations—especially Georgia, which has aspirations to join NATO.

The Southern Caucasus region has played a major role in NATO’s Northern Distribution Network (NDN). As U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Matthew Bryza said in 2011, “virtually every U.S. Soldier deployed to Afghanistan has flown over Azerbaijan.”33 The Georgian port of Poti has been responsible for as much as 30 percent of the cargo transported through the NDN.34 In order to operate in the region, the U.S. needs access to South Caucasian air, land, and maritime space.

Russia views the Southern Caucasus as being in its natural sphere of influence and stands ready to exert its influence in the region by force if necessary. In August 2008, Russia invaded Georgia, coming as close as 15 miles to the capital city of Tbilisi. Six years later, several thousand Russian troops occupied the two Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Today, Moscow continues to take advantage of ethnic divisions and tensions in the Southern Caucasus to advance pro-Russian policies that are often at odds with America’s or NATO’s goals in the region. However, Russia’s influence is not restricted to soft power. In the Southern Caucasus, the coin of the realm is military might. It is a rough neighborhood surrounded by instability and insecurity reflected in terrorism, religious fanaticism, centuries-old sectarian divides, and competition for natural resources.

Russia maintains a sizable military presence in Armenia based on an agreement giving Moscow access to bases in that country for 49 years.35 The bulk of this force, consisting of approximately 5,000 soldiers and dozens of fighter planes and attack helicopters, is based around the 102nd Military Base.36 Russia has long had difficulty supplying these forces, especially since a transit right through Georgian airspace has been closed and Turkey refuses transit. This has left a reliance on Iran, which for obvious reasons is not ideal for Russia.

Consequently, there is a concern that Russia is exploiting ethnic tensions in the ethnic Armenian-populated Georgian province of Samtskhe–Javakheti in order to create a sphere of influence linking Russia with Armenia through South Ossetia and Samtskhe–Javakheti. It has been reported that Russia is issuing Russian passports to ethnic Armenians living in the region. There is a fear that, similar to what happened in Crimea, a serious separatist movement backed by Moscow could attempt to secede from Georgia.37 More important for Russia, it would help to establish a land corridor between Russia and Armenia through South Ossetia and Samtskhe–Javakheti. It is clear that Russian designs on Samtskhe–Javakheti would include an attempt to dismember the territorial integrity of Georgia by dividing the country along sectarian lines.


Samtskhe–Javakheti is strategically important for a number of reasons. The Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline and the South Caucasus Pipeline, carrying oil and gas, respectively, from the Caspian to the Mediterranean, pass through the province.38 As the possibility of increased Central Asian gas transiting to Europe becomes more likely, the South Caucasus Pipeline could become vital for Europe. This is especially true at a time when many European countries are dependent on Russia for their energy resourses. The Kars–Tbilisi–Baku railway, which is expected to open in 2015, also runs through Samtskhe–Javakheti with the goal of eventually transporting 3 million passengers and over 15 million tons of freight each year.39

The Nagorno–Karabakh conflict is another area of instability in the region. The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan started in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims to Azerbaijan’s Nagorno–Karabakh Autonomous Oblast.40 By 1992, Armenian forces and Armenian-backed militias occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan, including the Nagorno–Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts. A cease-fire agreement was signed in 1994, and the conflict has been described as “frozen” since then.

There are concerns that the Nagorno–Karabakh conflict offers another opportunity to exert malign influence and consolidate Russian power in the region. As Dr. Alexandros Petersen, a highly respected expert on Eurasian security, has noted:

It is of course an open secret to all in the region as well as to Eurasianists in the EU that the Nagorno–Karabakh dispute is a Russian proxy conflict, maintained in simmering stasis by Russian arms sales to both sides so that Moscow can sustain leverage over Armenia, Azerbaijan and by its geographic proximity Georgia.41

Senior Russian leaders have made their views quite open regarding whose side Moscow would support in the event of a conflict. In an interview in 2013, Colonel Andrey Ruzinsky, the commander of Russian forces in Armenia, affirmed Russia’s preparedness and intention to “join the armed conflict” against Azerbaijan if it “decides to restore jurisdiction over Nagorno–Karabakh by force.”42

After Russia’s actions in Crimea and the weak response from the West, Moscow could be emboldened to seek greater but riskier dividends from turning the frozen Nagorno–Karabakh conflict into a hot war, thereby attaining even greater leverage and latitude for follow-on actions.43The Southern Caucasus might seem distant to many American policymakers, but the spillover effect of ongoing conflict in the region can have a direct impact on both U.S. interests and the security of America’s partners, as well as on Turkey and other countries that are dependent on oil and gas transiting the region.

WWTA: The WWTA simply notes that while tensions between Georgia and Russia have eased, political progress is regarded as unlikely.

Summary: Russia views the Southern Caucasus as a vital theater and uses a multitude of tools that include military aggression, economic pressure, and stoking of ethnic tensions to exert influence and control, usually to promote outcomes that are at odds with U.S. interests.

Threats to the Commons

Other than cyberspace, and to some extent airspace, the commons are relatively secure in the European region. This is especially true when it comes to the security of and free passage through shipping lanes in the region. The maritime domain is heavily patrolled by the navies and coast guards of NATO and NATO partner countries. Except in remote areas in the Arctic Sea, search and rescue capabilities are readily available. Maritime-launched terrorism is not a significant problem, and piracy is virtually nonexistent in the European region.

Airspace. There has been an increasing number of aggressive Russian air force activities near the airspace of other European countries, both NATO and non-NATO. The provocative and hazardous behavior of the Russian armed forces or groups sponsored by Russia pose a threat to civilian aircraft in Europe as demonstrated with the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board over the skies of southeastern Ukraine. In addition, there have been several incidents of Russian military aircraft flying in Europe without using their transponders—for example, when an SAS plane almost collided with a Russian SIGINT plane on March 3, 2014.44

Incidents of Russian military aircraft flying near the airspace of American allies in Europe have increased in recent years. NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission, begun in 2004, has helped defend the airspace above Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania from incursions by Russian fighters, bombers, and surveillance aircraft. In 2004, NATO planes were scrambled only once in the Baltic region to confront Russian planes flying close to Baltic airspace;45 in 2012, jets were scrambled 46 times.46

Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the number of air incursions has been on the rise. In June 2014, three British Royal Air Force (RAF) fighters that were part of the NATO Baltic air policing mission intercepted seven Russian planes, including one Tu22 Backfire bomber, that were flying near Baltic airspace. This was the highest number of such interceptions for a single day since the beginning of the Baltic Air Policing mission.47

The RAF also responds regularly to Russian aircraft closer to home off the coast of Great Britain. In 2013, there were 17 incidents of the RAF scrambling to respond to Russian planes approaching British airspace.48 The Norwegian air force has also seen an uptick in the number of identified Russian planes flying close to Norway’s airspace. In 2011, Norway scrambled fighter jets 34 times and identified 48 Russian planes; in 2012, the number of scramblings rose to 41 with 71 planes identified.49

Non-NATO members have also been the target of aggressive Russian aerial activity. In March 2013, two Russian bombers and four fighter jets took off from St. Petersburg and carried out a mock strike on targets in the Stockholm region. Swedish experts have assessed that this mock attack in fact simulated a nuclear strike against two targets in Sweden.50 The Swedish air force did not react, as it was on low alert during the Easter break. Instead, NATO scrambled two Danish jets from a base in Lithuania to intercept the Russian planes.51

However irritating (in the case of countries like the United Kingdom) and threatening (as in the case of the Baltic States), Russian aerial activity is nowhere near the levels seen during the Cold War, when it was common to see 500–600 identifications of Russian planes near NATO airspace annually.52 Nevertheless, the U.S. and its NATO allies must be prepared to respond to Russia when it tests the airspace of the alliance.

The shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 in July 2014 by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine showed that a threat to the commons is growing as a result of the continued instability in Ukraine and the arming of separatist forces with advanced surface-to-air missiles by Russia.

WWTA: The WWTA does not reference any threats to the global commons in Europe or Eurasia.

Summary: Despite ongoing Russian aerial activity and the shooting down of Flight MH17, the airspace commons in the region remain relatively secure.

Space. Russia’s space capabilities are robust, but Moscow “has not recently demonstrated intent to direct malicious and destabilizing actions toward U.S. space assets.”53

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee in February 2014 that “[t]hreats to U.S. space services will increase during 2014 and beyond as potential adversaries pursue disruptive and destructive counter-space capabilities” and that “Chinese and Russian military leaders understand the unique information advantages afforded by space systems and are developing capabilities to disrupt U.S. use of space in conflict.”54 In May 2014, General William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, warned of the dangers of U.S. reliance on Russian-made rocket boosters to send half of the nation’s military and intelligence payloads into space, especially in light of tensions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.55

WWTA: According to the WWTA, “Russia’s 2010 military doctrine emphasizes space defense as a vital component of its national defense,” and “Russian leaders openly maintain that the Russian armed forces have antisatellite weapons and conduct antisatellite research. Russia has satellite jammers and is also pursuing antisatellite systems.”56

Summary: Despite some interruption of cooperation in space as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, cooperation on the International Space Station and commercial transactions on space-related technology continued unabated. However, the Ukraine crisis has fueled U.S. efforts to develop alternate sources for rockets and space shuttles. Additionally, Russia has sought to deepen its space cooperation with China as a result.57

Cyber. Perhaps the most contested domain in Europe is the cyber domain. Russian cyber capabilities are often considered to be among the most advanced in the world. In his 2010 book, Cyberwar, former White House cyber coordinator, David Smith, quoted a U.S. official as saying that “The Russians are definitely better, almost as good as we are.”58 Such an assessment is not an outlier, as multiple other organizations and reports have noted, from the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community to the cybersecurity firm FireEye, which described Russian cyber attacks as “technically advanced and highly effective at evading detection.”59

The two most obvious examples of Russian cyber aggression are the 2007 attack against Estonia and the 2008 attack against Georgia.

  • In April 2007, Estonian officials moved the Bronze Soldier, a war memorial to the Soviet liberation of Estonia during World War II, from its public location in central Tallinn to a military cemetery, prompting Russian outrage. Soon thereafter, distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks flooded Estonia, taking down banking and government websites for prolonged periods of time over the course of several weeks.60
  • In August 2008, Russia sent its forces into Georgia’s disputed region of South Ossetia. At the same time, at least 54 government, finance, and communication websites were disrupted by hackers, making it difficult for Georgia to communicate with its citizens or with the outside world.61

Furthermore, it is unlikely that the world has seen the full extent of Russian capabilities. Though the cyber attacks on Georgia and Estonia were among the most public such attacks yet seen, they were not conducted by Russian military or intelligence organizations. Rather, both were conducted by Russian “patriotic hackers” who were likely coordinated or sponsored by Russian security forces.

The power and ability of non-governmental cyber forces in Russia points to a unique element of Russian cyber capability: the “unique nexus of government, business, and crime.”62 Vast networks of cyber criminals—most notably the “Russian Business Network” before it went underground—create, sell, and use advanced cyber weapons for profit. The Russian government allows such activities because it uses these shadowy hacker collectives for its own purposes, as seen in the cases of Georgia and Estonia.63 Furthermore, these criminals are often training and developing new, advanced skills and weapons that increase Russia’s cyber capabilities.64

Worryingly, these are not even Russia’s best military cyber capabilities or organizations, about which little is publicly known. While attacks on Estonia and Georgia were limited to communications, government, and financial systems, that was largely a matter of choice, likely avoiding more serious targets attacks on which could have triggered NATO treaty obligations or other nations’ involvement in these limited conflicts.65 Given Russia’s history and known capabilities, Russian cyber weapons to target critical infrastructure and military targets are likely sufficiently robust for a larger, more significant conflict if Russia should need them.

WWTA: The U.S. intelligence community notes that Russia’s cyber capabilities, including the establishment of a cyber command by the Russian Ministry of Defense, and continued targeting of the interests of the U.S. and its allies present a host of challenges to the U.S.

Summary: Russia’s cyber capabilities are advanced. Russia has shown a willingness in the past to utilize cyber warfare, including against Estonia in 2007 and Georgia in 2008. Russia’s use of cyber capabilities, coupled with the likelihood that the nation possesses more advanced cyber capabilities not yet used, presents a challenge for the U.S. and its interests abroad.

  1. Aleksey Arbatov, “Ugrozy realnyye i mnimyye: Voennaya sila v mirovoy politike nachala XXI veka” [Real and imaginary challenges: Military power in the world politics of the beginning of the 21st century], Carnegie Moscow Center, March 3, 2013, (accessed November 1, 2013). []
  2. Damien Sharkov, “Russia Has Threatened Nuclear Attack, Says Ukraine Defence Minister,” Newsweek, updated September 2, 2014, (accessed September 17, 2014). []
  3., “Russian Military Budget,” 2013,  (accessed September 17, 2014). []
  4. Walter Hickey, “A Full Rundown of Russia’s Immense Military Acquisitions,” Business Insider, July 23, 2012, (accessed July 5, 2013). []
  5. Mikhail Barabanov, Konstantin Makienko, and Ruslan Pukhov, “Military Reform: Toward the New Look of the Russian Army,” Valdai Discussion Club, July 2012, p. 14, (accessed September 17, 2014). []
  6. Barry D. Watts, Nuclear-Conventional Firebreaks and the Nuclear Taboo, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2013, (accessed September 17, 2014). []
  7. Shaun Waterman, “Russia Threatens to Strike NATO Missile Defense Sites,” The Washington Times, May 3, 2012, (accessed September 17, 2014). []
  8. Michael R. Gordonijan, “U.S. Says Russia Tested Missile, Despite Treaty,” The New York Times, January 29, 2014, (accessed September 17, 2014). []
  9. Keith B. Payne and Mark B. Schneider, “The Nuclear Treaty Russia Won’t Stop Violating,” The Wall Street Journal, February 11, 2014, (accessed September 17, 2014). []
  10. CBS News, “Russian Forces ‘Capable of Being Nuclear’ Moving to Crimea, NATO Chief Says,” November 11, 2014, (accessed November 13, 2014). []
  11. Jeremy Bender, “Russia Will No Longer Tell Lithuania About Its Weapons in the Russian Enclave Next Door,” Business Insider, May 7, 2014, (accessed July 16, 2014). []
  12. David Kashi, “Is Kaliningrad, Between NATO Allies Poland and Lithuania, The Next US–Russia Flashpoint?” International Business Times, March 25, 2014, (accessed July 16,2014). []
  13. Matthew Day, “Russia ‘Simulates’ Nuclear Attack on Poland,” The Telegraph, November 1, 2009,
    (accessed October 15, 2013). []
  14. RIA Novosti, “Russia Puts Some 20,000 Internal Troops on Training Alert,” September 17, 2013, (accessed October 15, 2013). []
  15. Norway Today, “Russian Exercise Near Sweden Was Surprisingly Large,” October 3, 2013, (accessed October 15, 2013). []
  16. Jim Nichol, “Russian Military Reform and Defense Policy,” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, August 24, 2011, (accessed October 15, 2013). []
  17. RIA Novosti, “Russia Puts Some 20,000 Internal Troops on Training Alert,” September 17, 2013, (accessed October 15, 2013). []
  18. Stephen Blank, Jamestown Foundation, “Moscow Pulls Back the Curtain on Zapad 2013,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, Vol. 10, No. 118 (June 21, 2013), (accessed October 9, 2013). []
  19. Baltics Concerned Over War Games,” The Baltic Times, October 2, 2013,
    (accessed October 15, 2013). []
  20. Dave Majumdar, “Russia to Standup New Arctic Command,” USNI News, February 18, 2014, (accessed July 16, 2014). []
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  27. Ibid 28. []
  28. Ibid 28. []
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  32. Ibid. []
  33. Ambassador Matthew Bryza, “Speech to Plenary Session for Caspian Oil and Gas Show 2011,” June 8, 2011, Embassy of the United States of America, Office of Public Affairs, Baku, Azerbaijan, (accessed October 8, 2014). []
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  40. In 1991, the Parliament of the Azerbaijan SSR dissolved the Nagorno–Karabakh Autonomous Oblast and divided the area among five rayons (administrative regions) in Azerbaijan. []
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  50.  Hans M. Kristensen, “Nuclear Exercises Amidst Ukrainian Crisis: Time for Cooler Heads,” Federation of American Scientists, May 16, 2014, (accessed September 17, 2014). []
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  60. Stephen Herzog, “Revisiting the Estonian Cyber Attacks: Digital Threats and Multinational Responses,” Journal of Strategic Security, Vol. 4,
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Assessing America's Ability to Provide for the Common Defense