Translation of a segment of the report of a round table held beginning of June 2013 titled “War in Syria – Lessons for Russia”
Statement by Igor Strelkov, colonel in the reserves:
The key to success in the new type of war is to carry out preventive special operations rather than large-scale military ones. With the timely elimination of selected leaders, be it by methods that are not always outwardly legal, such operations can save thousands and thousands of lives and even entire regions. This is precisely how Israel’s armed forces and special services operate, and the results are clear: notwithstanding a hostile environment, the security of Israeli citizens is of an order of magnitude greater than that of any other country of the Middle East. But there is one major problem with this approach, namely the willingness to strike outside the borders of one’s own territory, including against states which support terrorists. We believe that victory over terrorists is impossible unless their bases are destroyed.
At the same time, strict control over one’s own borders is essential. Syria’s problem, as I see it, is that its borders are not in fact closed, and with the exception of a few areas, channels providing replenishment and equipment to fighters operate with little or no opposition from the government.
We must be realistic. Strikes are carried out against countries in which the situation is ripe for it. The crucial question arising for us in this context is whether the situation in Russia has reached a point where a repeat of Syria is likely here. It should be recognized that Syria was vulnerable from the start. 80% of the population are Sunni , while power is in the hands of the Alawites, representing 10%. The remaining 10% are composed of other ethnic and religious groups.
What happened in Libya ? Power was in the hands of a group of tribes representing about 10 % of the population . Under these conditions, the so-called revolution was in fact supported by the majority of the population. I see similarities with the situation in Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s. Political and demographic changes largely determined that in 1999, Yugoslavia was ripe for invasion, and this aggression did indeed take place.
We are now observing a situation in Russia which is similar to what we witnessed in Yugoslavia and what we are seeing in Syria today. This must be our basic assumption. When we speak of the actions of the armed forces, the special services, or the law enforcement bodies, we must not forget that if we do not pull out the root, we will not achieve victory over the enemy. The enemy attacks when he believes us to be at our weakest. We are currently seeing a highly alarming demographic situation throughout Russia, and this is primarily the case for ethnic Russians. The demographic composition of our society is changing more quickly than has ever been the case anywhere. We are seeing a powerful process of displacement of ethnic Russians from the Caucasus, the Volga region and Tuva. In some areas this process has already been completed. In Tuva, for example, the proportion of the Russian-speaking population has dropped from 33% to 8%.
In addition, there is mass migration into Russia, estimated at between 15-20 million people. Some are people quite alien to our society, who can not be “digested” within one or even two generations. Finding a solution to the problems of migration is very difficult. Today, any employer, company or state organisation needing workers is interested in attracting foreign manpower, as that is always more advantageous. Even when the wages paid to Russian citizens and to migrant workers are identical, it is always more advantageous for employers to hire foreigners. Frequently, no taxes, insurance or benefits are paid on their behalf. This is why large corporations have lobbied for the mass importation of migrants, and will continue to do so. According to statistics, a migrant in Russia works on average for three years. Afterwards (if he hasn’t been there from the start) he enters the shadow economy or trade. So a new worker needs to be found to replace him. And nobody ever goes back. This is why these flows are only increasing, and that is a trend that will continue. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, every second resident works in Russia.
The danger is that these people are often objectively disenfranchised and vulnerable, and so are fertile ground for radical Islam. Islamic centers, like the one recently closed in St. Petersburg , exist in other cities too. Moreover, they are no longer mono-ethnic, but bring together different ethnic groups professing Islam.
It is therefore essential to decisively fight the spread of radical Islam. This fight should be lawful but tough. It might perhaps even go beyond the framework of human rights. We must be aware that the enemy in such a war shows no restraint. The migration process can not be stopped or banned. We can detain hundreds or thousands of illegal migrants, but we will not succeed in stopping this process unless we take decisive measures at the level of the state.
In other words, the situation is continuing to move towards a tipping point. And once it is reached, it will all happen. If there are no radical changes in the development of the political situation in the country, if the authorities fail to understand the root cause of the problem, if there is corruption, then the danger of explosion within the country seems very high. We would then find ourselves in a losing position, would be attacked, blown up from within, and crushed. Today we face a situation when war could start any moment, at the click of a finger. As soon as the economic crisis breaks out, war will immediately begin. If we fail to draw the appropriate conclusions, we will meet the same fate as Assad, Qaddafi and Milošević. It must be understood that a potential enemy will inevitably attack us as soon as the authorities activate their efforts to consolidate the state. At that point, the Syrian experience might prove very useful to us.
Moreover, I do not quite agree with those who say that we are facing a new type of war today. The new is just the well-forgotten old. In that sense, there is nothing new to the new type of war. In 1917 we experienced exactly the same situation. A portion of the political elite conceived of the idea of an overthrow. It began implementing this idea, notably with the help of thoroughly propagandized street crowds as well as troops who did not want to go to the front. As a result, since it had failed to take timely measures to neutralize this elite, the powers in Russia were unable to crush the street, and under the pressure of this elite, the power itself in the end collapsed. Remember that in 1917, the activities of dissatisfied political elites were guided and supported by foreign embassies as well as other covert and secret international structures. So it is only in quite relative terms that we can speak of a new type of war.
The main problem facing all security services is to prevent the fraying of the “fabric” of the state. If the situation deteriorates, it is necessary to proceed to the next phase of security operations, and at that point, targeted special operations alone will no longer be sufficient.