Lesestoff: Russlands “graue” Angriffe auf Europa



Der folgende Beitrag der RAND Corporation handelt von Russlands “grauen” Angriffe auf Europa. Unter “grauen” Operationen versteht man Attacken unter der Kriegsschwelle – mit dem Ziel, Russlands Nachbarn, den Balkan, die NATO und West- und Zentraleuropa zu destabilisieren, um eigene Interessen durchzusetzen. Die amerikanische RAND Corporation untersuchte die Anfälligkeit vier europäischer Grossregionen auf die verdeckten Aktionen:

  • Staaten in Russlands unmittelbarem Vorfeld: Armenien, Azerbaijan, Belarus (Weissrussland), Georgien, Ukraine.
  • Den Sonderfall der baltischen Staaten: Estland, Lettland, Litauen.
  • Der Balkan mit Serbien als traditionellem panslawischem Verbündeten.
  • West- und Mitteleuropa.


Es folgt der Text der RAND Corporation:

Russia employs gray zone tactics across Europe, but its interests vary, and its ability to successfully achieve its objectives through these means largely depends on the vulnerability of the targeted country.

This insight emerged from both our games and our analysis of past his- torical cases. In one of our early games, the Red team drew a map of Europe and defined different regions in which Russia had varied levels of interest and, in the Red team’s perception, a different ability to influ- ence because of the strengths and weaknesses of the countries in each area. Gray zone tactics often work best when they exacerbate preexist- ing tensions. Vulnerabilities fall into two different but not mutually exclusive categories: state fragility and polarization, and characteristics that provide Russia with leverage over the government and society.

Fragile states provide openings because they suffer from pernicious factors, such as corruption; poverty; and political divisions, sec- tarian divisions, ethnic divisions, or some combination thereof, which can be exploited by Moscow’s gray zone tactics to create instability.

The politics in even relatively strong states might become polarized over divisive issues (e.g., immigration), opening avenues for Russian subversive actions. Countries can have cultural, economic, or historic ties to Russia that make it particularly susceptible to Russian gray zone influences. Proximity and, in particular, a shared border with Russia also ease Russian access to a country and concomitantly increase Russia’s ability to undertake violent gray zone tactics. Economic depen- dence, particularly on Russian energy, is also an avenue that Moscow has been willing to exploit.

Although there are significant intraregional differences, one can identify four broad European regions—Russia’s near abroad, the Baltics, the Balkans, and Western and Central Europe—where Russia’s interests differ. But across these regions, there are roughly similar degrees of vulnerability to gray zone actions.

Our games suggest that considering these four regions as distinct when preparing and planning to confront Russian gray zone tactics might be valuable, because of Russia’s differing interests and the variation in vulnerabilities across these areas. The Red teams in our games emphasized that their interests varied across these areas and developed strategies unique to each region, based on their different objectives. Understanding these differences in interests, objectives, and existing vulnerabilities better enables NATO and the EU to identify the tools best used to counteract Russian gray zone tactics in different regions.

The countries that were identified of greatest importance were in Russia’s near abroad: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, and Ukraine. Russia desires influence over these former Soviet states not only because of their shared history and language, but most impor- tantly because these bordering nations provide an important defensive buffer against external attack.4 Therefore, Russia views the expansion of NATO or the EU into its near abroad as a grave threat that must be stopped.

Near-abroad nations bordering Russia have relatively weak militaries and poor governance, leaving them with few defenses against a Russian conventional offensive or clandestine infiltration, including land grabs by little green men. All also contain large Russian-speaking minorities that have historical, cultural, and economic links to Russia; these populations are consumers of Russian-controlled media and are potentially sympathetic audiences for gray zone information tactics.

By contrast, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are also former members of the Soviet Union, are adjacent to Russia, and Estonia and Latvia have sizable Russian-speaking minorities. However, they appear to be less susceptible to gray zone tactics than some other regions.

This is due in part to the Baltic nations taking steps to mitigate some of their vulnerabilities. Estonia, for instance, has invested heavily in cyber defenses since the bronze soldier crisis, and all three nations are taking steps to reduce their dependence on Russian energy imports. Additionally, the Baltic nations are relatively prosperous compared with other Eastern European nations and Russia, reducing the level of economic discontent into which the Kremlin can tap. Nevertheless, the Russian minority in the Baltics is less well-off than the rest of the population, in large part because economic opportunities still largely depend on being able to speak the official state language; consequently, the Russian minority potentially could become aggrieved in the future.

Moreover, a favorite theme of the Russian media (which is popular among the Estonian and Lat- vian Russian-speaking populations) is how the Baltic states discrimi- nate against their Russian minorities. To date, however, this message does not seem to resonate, because the benefits of living within the EU members of the Baltics—as opposed to Russia—seem to outweigh the relative disparity between Russian-speakers and the larger Estonian and Latvian populations.

The Baltics’ most important defense against Russian gray zone attacks stems from the relative strength of their government institu- tions, which make them harder targets and better able to respond to covert infiltration than other former Soviet republics. For instance, the Estonian defense chief stated that, if Russian special forces or clan- destine agents entered their territory, they would “shoot the first one to appear.” All three Baltic nations have amended their laws to enable their national militaries to operate in their countries during peacetime, and Estonia and Lithuania have exercised this capability. Additionally, because the Baltics are members of NATO, and the alliance has stationed multinational battlegroups in each country, Russian covert infiltration or outright aggression is much riskier than in its near abroad.

Moreover, unlike Ukraine or Georgia, Russia does not seem to consider the Baltic states to be a critical part of its sphere of influence; instead, it aims to use the Baltics as a lever to destabilize and discredit NATO. Given these factors, it appears that, although Russia could and has sought to destabilize Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania through everyday gray zone operations, these tactics are likely to have limited effects. The Baltic states are also not particularly susceptible to clan- destine land grabs. However, despite the enhanced forward posture, they remain vulnerable to a conventional offensive cloaked in gray zone tactics, especially information operations.

There is considerable variation within the Balkans, but, in general, this region is an inviting target for Russian gray zone actions because of the weak rule of law, ethnic divisions, and relative poverty. Nevertheless, because the Balkans are not contiguous with Russia and do not have significant Russian-speaking populations, Russia’s gray zone activities would have a somewhat different character than the actions it takes in the former Soviet states, and are less likely to swing these states in a durably pro-Russian direction.

As a whole, the Balkans suffer from weak government institu- tions, resulting in autocratic leaders who can run roughshod over feeble civil society, a subservient media, pervasive corruption, and extensive transnational criminal organizations.

The Balkans are also the poorest region in Europe with high unemployment rates, which means that there is widespread dissatisfaction and resentment toward Europe as a whole, which can be exploited by Russia. Finally, the Balkans remain afflicted by ethnic tensions, currently being rekindled by a renewed focus on historic grievances and another surge of nationalist sentiment in the region.16 Ethnic violence and secessionist movements are par- ticularly a problem in the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia), where Russia has historic, religious, and linguistic ties to several groups.

Opinions about Russia vary significantly in different Balkan nations; in some, such as the Slavic language-speaking nations of Bulgaria and Serbia, a sizable part of the population views Russia positively. But unlike the near abroad, where Russian gray zone activities primarily focus on already sympathetic populations, Russia courts allies on multiple sides in many Balkan nations. This places Moscow in a good position to stoke tensions, provoke sectarian violence, or encourage separatism. Yet because the nearest Russian military forces are stationed in Crimea, this region is less at risk for a covert territorial attack or conventional Russian aggression accompanied by gray zone activities.

In terms of Russia’s interests, the Balkans are a lower priority than the near abroad, but remain an area where Moscow desires to at least maintain—if not expand—its sway and curb Western influence.

Consequently, Russia aims to prevent any further encroachment of Western multilateral organizations, but their expansion into this region is not seen as an existential threat unless it is tied to particular ini- tiatives, such as missile defense. Russia might also view the region, which includes many of the newest and most vulnerable members of NATO and the EU, as an opportunity for undermining Western consensus by exposing the weaknesses of these new members and testing the West’s ability to support them.

Finally, Western and Central European states are the least vulnerable to Russian gray zone tactics and are outside Russia’s desired sphere of influence. These states are characterized by strong government insti- tutions, relatively low corruption, general prosperity, and strong and independent media. Nevertheless, Moscow undertakes everyday gray zone actions throughout this region, because although they have the worst odds of succeeding, they also offer the highest potential payoff should they weaken a long-standing NATO or EU member’s commit- ment to European unity.

By dividing these organizations, Russia could also undermine the economic sanctions put in place against it after its invasion of Ukraine. Moreover, there are fissures in many Western and Central European states that Russia could potentially exploit— most notably, the immigration crisis, widespread dissatisfaction with the EU, and concerns about terrorism. Moscow has also curried favor with several populist and right-wing parties that promote nationalist, anti-integration agendas, such as Le Pen’s National Rally in France.