Small Wars Journal

Responding to Gray Zone Conflict: Countering Russia in the Donbas and Beyond

Mon, 06/07/2021 - 1:38pm

Responding to Gray Zone Conflict: Countering Russia in the Donbas and Beyond[i]

                                                       By Barnett S. Koven, Ph.D.

Gray Zone conflict offers revisionist states the opportunity to expand their territorial control and/or influence through approaches that are ambiguous in nature and that do not rise to the level of war. As a result, the risk of retaliation by the U.S.-led international community is substantially reduced. This is the case given the tendency of U.S. defense planning to view conflict as dichotomous – instead of continuous – either peace or war. While this thinking may be appropriate enough for planning conventional campaigns, it handicaps defense planners when responding to unconventional challenges, such as Gray Zone conflict. Given the difficulty of constructing appropriate responses and the absence of a clear casus belli necessitating an immediate response, it is tempting to ignore Gray Zone threats. However, doing so merely emboldens challengers who utilize these strategies. Consequently, this article leverages the Russian Federation’s intervention in the Donbas in order to explore potential responses. Nevertheless, the types of approaches advocated herein are likely to be more broadly applicable as the U.S. government continues to engage in great power competition with both Russia and China in numerous regions of the world.

This article proceeds in four sections. Given that various competing conceptions of Gray Zone conflict exist; the first section is devoted to defining Gray Zone conflict. The second section provides an overview of the crisis in the Donbas. In doing so, it also offers a brief history of the crisis in Crimea, given that this history is instructive for understanding the Donbas. The penultimate section is devoted to countering this threat. The final section concludes.

Defining the Gray Zone

            While myriad conceptualizations of Gray Zones exist, this article adopts the working definition from the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Gray Zone project, a Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) initiative. This definition is preferable for two reasons. First, it is already in use by practitioners involved in responding to Gray Zone challenges. Second, it is the product of extensive discussion within the SMA Gray Zone community of interest and was informed by a detailed review of eight pre-existing definitions from both defense policy-makers and academic sources.[ii] Specifically, Gray Zones are defined as:

a conceptual space between peace and war, occurring when actors purposefully use single or multiple instruments of power to achieve political-security objectives with activities that are typically ambiguous or cloud attribution and exceed the threshold of ordinary competition, yet intentionally fall below the level of large-scale direct military conflict, and threaten US and allied interests by challenging, undermining, or violating international customs, norms, or laws.[iii]


            From this definition, it is clear that conventional and Gray Zone conflicts do not diverge with respect to their ends. To paraphrase Clausewitz, in both cases the aim is to achieve political objectives by compelling an opponent to fulfill ones will.[iv] Even though both Gray Zone conflicts and conventional wars share similar ends, the ways and means through which they are achieved diverge. Specifically, Gray Zone conflicts tend to use multiple instruments of power. While this is often true of conventional conflicts as well, the relative weight of the military instrument of power versus diplomatic, information, economic, financial, intelligence, and law enforcement is reversed, with these latter instruments being utilized far more extensively than the military one in Gray Zone conflicts. Beyond favoring different instruments of power, Gray Zone conflicts seek to stay below the threshold of large-scale direct military conflict. This often involves efforts to increase ambiguity and obscure attribution.

            Two additional clarifications warrant brief discussion. First, scholars have correctly recognized that the utility of the concept is severely diminished if Gray Zone conflict becomes a catchall for irregular warfare writ large.[v] To this end, Michael J. Mazarr has attempted to bound the scope of Gray Zone conflict to clashes with limited aims that are moderately revisionist of the international order.[vi] For example, this would include both Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Chinese island building in the South China Sea. Both are certainly substantial challenges, but neither actor is trying to upend the prevailing international order. Second, belligerents adopting Gray Zone approaches do not do so because they are incapable of conventional conflict, but because they perceive Gray Zone operations as a less costly way of achieving their desired ends. For example, in the Donbas, a conventional Russian invasion would have been no match for Ukraine’s military, which in early 2014 was able to field just 6,000 combat ready troops.[vii] However, a conventional invasion would have entailed much greater backlash from the international community, as well as the casualty-weary Russian public.

Ukraine’s Gray Zone Conflicts

The Russian interventions in Crimea and the Donbas are ideal cases for exploring potential responses to Gray Zone challenges. This is the case for two reasons. First, Russia has mastered Gray Zone conflict. While the notion of Gray Zone conflict is evident in Soviet-era military thinking, the concept received extensive attention following a February 2013 article written by General Valery Vasilyevich Gerasimov, the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces.[viii] In this often cited (and even more frequently misinterpreted article), Gerasimov clearly indicated his belief in the efficacy of non-military instruments of power for achieving strategic objectives. Gerasimov doctrine, as it has been inappropriately labeled, notes that, “the role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness.”[ix] He further indicated that the appropriate weight of non-military to military instruments of power in future conflicts is 4:1.[x] Indeed, analysis of event-level data for the conflicts in Ukraine, which broke out just a year after Gerasimov’s article was published, show that merely 17.2 percent of conflict related events were kinetic in nature.[xi]

Second, Ukraine illustrates that inaction in the face of Gray Zone challenges serves to embolden those utilizing this type of approach. Specifically, the international community’s limited response – in the form of economic sanctions – to Russian annexation of Crimea, likely contributed to the Russian decision to intervene in the Donbas. Beyond simply becoming involved in another region of Ukraine, the nature of Russian involvement has expanded. Whereas special operations forces (SOF) and intelligence personnel relied on covert action in Crimea, in the Donbas, they are also involved in direct action missions, military assistance, and special reconnaissance tasks.[xii] Consequently, the rest of this section is devoted to providing a brief history of the two conflicts.

The ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych laid the foundations for both conflicts. In November 2013, Yanukovych yielded to Russian pressure and his party blocked the implementation of a trade agreement with the European Union (EU), just one week before it was scheduled to be signed. Instead, the government opted to pursue deeper economic integration with Russia.[xiii] Sustained protests ensued. In February 2014, almost 100 protestors were killed by state security services while attempting to occupy the Ukrainian Parliament building. Following the incident, many of Yanukovych’s supporters, including security officials, defected to the opposition. As a result, Yanukovych fled the capital and was impeached in absentia and replaced by a transitional government.[xiv]

            While Yanukovych had renewed Russia’s lease on naval facilities at Sevastopol – on the western side of the Crimean peninsula – in exchange for heavily subsidized natural gas, the ouster of Yanukovych and calls for renewed integration with the West could have jeopardized Russian access to the base. Sevastopol is Russia’s only warm water port in the region. Consequently, it is critically important for Russian power projection into Eastern Europe. Moreover, even if Russia maintained access, the terms of the 2010 Kharkov Agreement governing its use required Ukrainian consent for any buildup or modernization of the fleet. This could have proven problematic given that Russia’s State Armaments Procurement Program for 2011-2020 singled out the Black Sea Fleet, which is primarily comprised of Soviet era vessels nearing the end of their useful lives, for major overhaul and expansion.[xv]

            This reality, coupled with the widespread belief that Crimea – which was only transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954, when both countries were part of the Soviet Union – with its majority ethnic Russian population is or should be part of Russia, led President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin’s government to take advantage of political turmoil in Kiev to annex Crimea. Specifically, on 23 February 2014, pro-Russian demonstrations broke out and just four days later, on 27 February 2014, Russian SOF occupied key installations, including government buildings and transportation hubs. While the Russian personnel have been referred to as “little green men”, since their uniforms were devoid of unit insignia or other identifying markers, many were easily identifiable as Russian personnel based on the unique camouflage patterns of their uniform equipment.[xvi] A U.S. Department of State report similarly noted that the vehicles being driven by these soldiers had Russian military license plates.[xvii] These Russian forces remained in Crimea to oversee the 16 March 2014 referendum to return Crimea to Russia, which the EU characterized as “illegal and illegitimate,” further noting that “its outcome will not be recognized.”[xviii]

            Immediately following the referendum, the U.S. and the EU announced economic sanctions. They also imposed travel bans on 21 Russian and Crimean officials. However, divisions within the EU precluded travel bans being considered for 99 other individuals. One accounting of the sanctions regime, for example, notes its widespread characterization as “toothless.”[xix] Additional sanctions were announced in April, as well.[xx] However, some U.S. legislatures have argued that the U.S. sanctions regime remains too weak. Moreover, U.S. officials privately acknowledged that the EU sanctions are “very limited and symbolic.”[xxi]

The anemic international response likely encouraged Russian involvement in the Donbas after Ukraine announced a cessation of military sales to and defense cooperation with Russia in March 2014. Immediately following the suspension, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Olegovich Rogozin acknowledged the deleterious implications, noting Russia’s need to become more independent. The Donbas, in particular was home to high-strength steal production for Russian tanks.[xxii]

The crisis in Donbas emerged from March 2014 protests. Pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian groups violently clashed during demonstrations. The following month, April 2014, pro-Russian forces seized government buildings and on 7 April 2014, the Donetsk People’s Republic was declared. Twenty days later, on 27 April 2014, the Luhansk People’s Republic was announced. Collectively, the Donetsk and Luhansk regions (oblasts) comprise the Donbas. Unlike in Crimea, the Ukrainian government choose to deploy the military in an attempt to return the area to Ukrainian state control. However, the Ukrainian armed forces was hampered by “more than two decades of corruption, decay, and neglect.”[xxiii] Consequently, pro-Ukrainian militias funded by oligarchs and civil society groups emerged to fill the gap. Nevertheless, by the summer, the Ukrainian army had been reorganized and now incorporated many of the formerly independent militia forces. It began to advance against the pro-Russian militias and the Russian army personnel – formally on leave – assisting them. This prompted direct Russian intervention in order to forestall defeat of the pro-Russian forces. Ukrainian advances were halted and in September 2014, the Minsk I accords established a ceasefire. By late October 2014, the ceasefire had collapsed. A new agreement, Minsk II, was reached in February 2015. However, it has not been fully implemented and fighting has continued.[xxiv]

Responding to the Threat

            As already noted, U.S. defense planning is hampered by a binary conception of peace and war. An effective response will require a more nuanced approach. Specifically, it will require the U.S. and its allies and partners to better equip Ukrainian forces for both kinetic and non-kinetic operations. The latter must focus on denying the opposition force, in this case Russia, the ability to remain in the Gray Zone.

            Heavy fighting has all but destroyed the economy of the Donbas. The Avdiyivka Coke Plant, which is the largest European coke plant and critical to the production of high-strength steel, was operating at just 50 percent capacity as of March 2017 and was on the brink of shutting down before being repaired in 2019.[xxv] Other plants producing critical export and defense materials are in even worse shape and many have shut down completely.[xxvi] Despite the diminished economic and military incentives to remain in the Donbas, Russian justifications concerning the protection of ethnic Russians will ensure that Russian forces remain committed to the Donbas. This reality is especially well suited to a strategy aimed at imposing increasing costs on Russian forces in the Donbas.

            In particular, Russian armor has proved critical to pro-Russian forces’ advances. As of February 2015, U.S. Air Force General (ret) Philip Breedlove, then the Commander of U.S. European Command, as well as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO Allied Command Operations, indicated that Russia had sent over 1,000 pieces of heavy equipment, including tanks, to the Donbas. The number has likely increased since then.[xxvii] Moreover, pro-Russian militia leaders have noted that Russian tanks and their armored forces have been “decisive” in key battles in the Donbas.[xxviii] Unfortunately, a combination of reactive armor and the fact that approximately 70 percent of Ukrainian anti-tank missiles are out dated and expired, has hobbled Ukrainian efforts to counter this threat. Ukraine has repeatedly requested Javelin anti-tank missiles and counter-battery radars to target Russian heavy equipment. However, the U.S. initially declined to provide both over fears of escalating the conflict with Russia.[xxix] Nevertheless, U.S. legislators such as Senator John McCain, continued to lobby for both Javelin’s and counter-battery radars for Ukraine.[xxx] It took years for them to prevail.

            Providing these weapon systems enabled Ukrainian forces to destroy expensive Russian heavy equipment – at a time when the Russian economy is already suffering to keep pace with the cost of the conflict and the resultant sanctions – and possibly turn the tides of the conflict. While, critics are correct that doing so risked Russian escalation, this was not necessarily a bad thing. Specifically, while Russia has built a cadre of highly capable SOF, it still relies on a largely conscript army that is at best marginally combat effective. Jason Lyall’s analysis of Russian forces in Chechnya is worth quoting at length as it illustrates this point:

At Khankala, Russia’s main base in Chechnya, the remaining shelling (29 percent) [71 percent of artillery fires were harassment and interdiction fires] was principally because of solider inebriation and/or accidents. Russia’s military forces in Chechnya are notorious for indiscipline, with drunk (or high) soldiers often participating in combat operations. Khankala itself is distinguished by its possession of Chechnya’s worst traffic safety record due to soldiers driving their armored vehicles while inebriated.[xxxi]


Escalation would force Russia to rely less on its limited cadre of special operators and more on the type of regular forces described by Lyall.

            Despite ramped Russian indiscipline, Ukrainian military forces and allied militias needed to be strengthened to ensure they can withstand escalation. U.S. SOF are engaged in the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine (JMTG-U), which was established to provide training for up to five Ukrainian battalions a year through 2020.[xxxii] Ukrainian SOF are also being trained as part of JMTG-U.[xxxiii] These efforts could be further expanded to more quickly enhance Ukrainian army modernization. Given that the Ukrainian army is partly comprised of different militia units with varying degrees of martial capabilities and professionalism, this is especially warranted.

            While equipping Ukrainian forces to impose costs and mount kinetic operations is important, recall that so-called Gerasimov doctrine calls for the exercise of mostly non-military instruments of power. The provisioning of Javelins alone is therefore insufficient. In this vein Russia has proven especially adept at information operations. The U.S. and its allies and partners must work to counter this threat. Technological solutions are already being developed, which utilize machine-learning algorithms to detect jihadist propaganda and recruitment, bots (applications that preform an automated task, such as reposting and disseminating misinformation) and comment trolls (individuals involved in disseminating false and pernicious information).[xxxiv] Google has also devised the “Trusted Flagger” program, which allows a group of vetted independent experts to tag these types of posts.[xxxv] The same approaches could easily be adapted to Russian information operations, which not only leverage state controlled media, but also an army of bots and trolls.[xxxvi] Unfortunately, it is likely the case that the advent of these technological solutions will precipitate more creative techniques for internet-based propaganda. In addition to engaging in what may amount to the internet propaganda equivalent of a gun-armor race, long-term efforts aimed at educating civilian populations to ensure that they become more perceptive consumers of internet-based news will prove especially important.[xxxvii]

            Beyond inoculating civilian populations against Russian information operations, the U.S. should work with allies and partners to develop information campaigns aimed at attriting Russian popular support for the conflict. Specifically, the Russian population has proven to be highly sensitive to Russian casualties. Analysis conducted during the Second Chechnya War (1999-2006) shows a staggering decline in popular support for the conflict – which was initially very popular – as Russian casualties mounted. By July 2004, 21 percent of those surveyed were in favor of negotiations, while an additional 28 percent of respondents favored withdrawing Russian forces even absent a negotiated settlement.[xxxviii] While, the Chechen crisis was a declared war, the conflict in Donbas is not.

In fact, the Russian government has taken great pains to clarify that Russian forces in the Donbas are not serving in any type of official capacity. In Putin’s 16 April 2015 annual broadcast, he declared, “I can tell you outright and unequivocally that there are no Russian troops in Ukraine.”[xxxix] To the extent that these statements are credible, this ensures that Russian casualties are viewed as brave volunteers who chose to fight on behalf of Ukrainian co-ethnics. Whereas the reality is that the Russian troops in Ukraine technically signed “separation documents” prior to crossing into the Donbas. Despite this paperwork, these soldiers often remained within their same units, retained all of their military equipment (including heavy armored vehicles, artillery, mobile air defenses, etc.), and continued to draw military pay and were eligible for casualty benefits in the event of injury or death.[xl] Even despite this hair-splitting distinction, Putin’s government remains sensitive to casualties. Putin ordered so-called “peacetime casualty” information classified as a state secret and civil society organizations, such as the Union of the Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia (formed by the mothers of fallen soldiers to advocate for their families during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan), have been branded as “foreign agents” for collecting data on Russian casualties.[xli]

Given the Russian domestic public’s sensitivity to casualties, an ideal information campaign would deny the Russian government the ability to obfuscate the role of Russian forces in the Donbas and how many casualties they are taking. Fortunately, clear evidence of both is available. As regards the presence of Russian forces in the Donbas, NATO, as well as private organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have released satellite imagery of Russian heavy equipment operating in the Donbas.[xlii] While Russian and Ukrainian forces share many Soviet era weapon systems, local groups tracking the conflict have also posted geo-referenced images of modern T-90 and T-72B3 tanks. Neither platform was ever exported to Ukraine.[xliii] Similarly, social media posts of Russian soldiers’ sequentially numbered medals for bravery in combat – at a time when no declared wars are being fought – provide a rough estimate of the number of Russian forces in the Donbas.[xliv]

With respect to Russian casualties, various groups, such as Cargo 200 (named for the Soviet military designation for the remains of deceased soldiers), track casualties using information from morgues, the aforementioned civil society organizations representing the families of deceased soldiers and vKontakte profiles (the Russian rough equivalent of Facebook), which stopped being updated after showing Russian service members in the Donbas. Cargo 200 has been able to conclusively document a few hundred Russian personnel that were killed or remain missing in action. However, estimates suggest that Russian forces may have sustained as many 3,500 combat-related fatalities as of September 2016.[xlv]

Relatively reliable, if inexact, open source data exists, which documents both Russian military involvement and casualties in the Donbas. The challenge is disseminating this information to the Russian public. NATO press releases are unlikely to be viewed as credible. However, civil society organizations representing the families of Russian soldiers have more traction. Enabling these entities to more effectively spread their message would be far more productive. However, if either the U.S. government or its NATO allies are seen to be supporting these groups, this will damage their credibility. As such, non-Russian civil society organizations and other partners should be encouraged to help Russian civil society groups improve communications strategy.

            Importantly, this approach entails synergies with training and equipping Ukrainian forces. As more capable Ukrainian units impose higher costs on Russian forces, an information campaign of this sort will highlight the increasing (human) cost of the conflict for Russia. This type of synergy is very similar to those exploited by Russian forces. Specifically, as part of the USSOCOM Gray Zone project, the author led a team that developed a Bayesian Belief Network model, which predicts the probability of White, Gray and Black Zone events, based on the presence or absence of certain variables. The analysis from Ukraine suggests that kinetic military actions have the most influence in shaping non-kinetic events across non-military instruments of power. Consequently, tethering an information campaign to kinetic activities is likely to enhance the effect of the former.[xlvi] (This approach is also consistent with Joint Publication 3-13, which suggests information operations be integrated.[xlvii]) Figure 1, below, depicts the density of predicted Gray events. Of particular interest is the fact that the highest density of Gray observations is predicted in Kiev – in the form of information operations, diplomatic statements, etc. targeting the government – which result from military actions in the Donbas, which are occasionally Black, as well as Gray.[xlviii]

Figure 1: Kernel Density Plot of Predicted Gray Events[xlix]



            In short, responding to Russian Gray Zone aggression in the Donbas, likely requires integrating kinetic and non-kinetic approaches that will simultaneously attrite Russian martial capabilities, while increasing domestic political costs by denying Russian forces the ability to continue to operate in obscurity. At the same time, efforts to ensure Ukrainian forces can withstand Russian escalation and that friendly populations are better insulated from Russian information operations are also necessary. That said, three caveats are in order. First, while Russia might be credited with the advent of Gray Zone conflict, the People’s Republic of China has employed even more gradual approaches in the South China Sea. Salami slicing tactics that are executed subtly and over extended time horizons will further complicate responses. Relatedly, ambiguity can provide politicians inclined to ignore Gray Zone challenges a relatively easy out, despite the long-term consequences. This may be especially problematic for Western leaders whose electorates are beleaguered by two decades of seemingly endless irregular conflict in the Middle East, South Asia, and elsewhere. Finally, even though some of the analysis referenced herein implies an outsized role for the military instrument of power – in terms of shaping the use of non-military instruments – a whole of government approach is still required given the relatively greater prevalence of non-military instruments. Unfortunately, democracies are at an inherent disadvantage relative to centralized regimes in this regard.


[i] This article builds off of a 30 March 2017 lecture delivered as part of the Contemporary Irregular Warfare Course 17B at the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School in Hurlburt Field, FL, as well as a year-long research effort into the role of violent non-state actors in Gray Zone conflict, undertaken as a Strategic Multilayer Assessment initiative for U.S. Special Operations Command. Nevertheless, the views expressed in this article are my own.

[ii] Belinda Bragg, “Specifying &systematizing how we think about the Gray Zone,” (report prepared for U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Strategic Multilayer Assessment), June 27, 2016.

[iii] U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Strategic Multilayer Assessment, “2017 Gray Zone Definition.” 

[iv] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), 90.

[v] See for example, Christopher Paul, “Confessions of a Hybrid Warfare Skeptic,” Small Wars Journal, March 3, 2016.

[vi] Michael Mazarr, “Mastering the Gray Zone: Understanding a Changing Era of Conflict,” Army War College: Strategic Studies Institute, 55.

[vii] Dmitry Gorenburg, “Ukrainian Military Capabilities,” Russian Military Reform, December 22, 2014.

[viii] Charles K. Bartles, “Getting Gerasimov Right,” U.S. Army, Combined Arms Center: Military Review January-February (2016): 30.

[ix] U.S. Army, Combined Arms Center, “The Value of Science Is in the Foresight: New Challenges Demand Rethinking the Forms and Methods of Carrying Out Combat Operations,” Military Review January-February (2016): 24.

[x] Bartles, “Getting Gerasimov Right,” 34-5.

[xi] Kinetic is used as a proxy for the military instrument of power in this analysis, which was developed for the USSOCOM Gray Zone project. Barnett S. Koven, Varun Piplani, Steve Sin, and Marcus Boyd, “Quantifying Gray Zone Conflict: (De-)escalatory Trends on Gray Zone Conflicts in Colombia, Libya and Ukraine,” report to DHS S&T Office of University Programs and DoD Strategic Multilayer Assessment Branch (College Park, MD: START, 2017). A copy of the report is available at

[xii] There is unconfirmed evidence from pro-Ukrainian sources that Russian forces were also involved in special reconnaissance in Crimea. Tor Bukkvoll, “Russian Military Power: Russian Special Operations Forces in Crimea and Donbas,” Parameters 46 (2) (2016): 20.

[xiii] BBC, “Ukraine suspends preparations for EU trade agreement,” November 21, 2013.

[xiv] Evgeny Finkel, “The Conflict in the Donbas between Gray and Black: The Importance of Perspective,” report to DHS S&T Office of University Programs and DoD Strategic Multilayer Assessment Branch (College Park, MD: START, 2016), 3.

[xv] Alex Schneider, “Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Buildup and Modernization,” Center for International Maritime Security, March 28, 2017.

[xvi] Anna Nemtsova, “Russia Won’t Admit Its Soldiers Are in Ukraine, Even the Captured Ones,” The Daily Beast, May 27, 2015.

[xvii] American Association for the Advancement of Science, “Satellite Imagery Assessment of the Crisis in Crimea, Ukraine – Part One: Sevastopol,” Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project, April 2014.

[xviii] Qtd. in BBC, “Crimea referendum: Voters ‘back Russia union,’” March 16, 2014.

[xix] Ewen MacAskill, Shaun Walker and Dan Roberts, “US rejects criticism of ‘toothless’ sanctions following Crimea referendum,” The Guardian, March 18, 2014.

[xx] Ibid. 

[xxi] Karen DeYoung and Michael Birnbaum, “U.S. imposes new sanctions on Russia,” The Washington Post, April 28, 2014; Gavin Hewitt, “Ukraine crisis: The weakness of Europe,” BBC News, March 24, 2014.

[xxii] Jeanette Seiffert,The significance of the Donbas,” DW, April 15, 2014.

[xxiii] Finkel, “The Conflict in the Donbas,” 4.

[xxiv] Ibid., 4-5.

[xxv] Andriy Dubchak, Anastasia Magazova, Kateryna Oliynyk, and Stuart Greer, “Ukraine’s Avdiyivka Coke Plant Roars Past Preware Production,” RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty, January 16, 2019; Will Ponomarenko and Volodymyr Petrov, “Ukraine’s economy hinges on Avdiyivka plant,” Kyiv Post, March 2, 2017.

[xxvi] Euromaidan Press, “Oligarch Akmetov’s plants in occupied Donbas stop production amid trade blockade,” February 22, 2017.

[xxvii] Joseph Trevithick, “The T-72B3: The Lethal Russian Tank That Ukraine Fears Most,” The National Interest, June 7, 2016; Jonathan Marcus, “Russia and Ukraine’s mystery tanks,” BBC news, June 14, 2014.

[xxviii] Tom Parfitt, “Separatist fighter admits Russian tanks, troops ‘decisive in eastern Ukraine battles,” The Telegraph, March 31, 2015.

[xxix] Laurence Peter, “Ukraine ‘Can’t Stop Russian Armour,’” BBC News, February 6, 2015.

[xxx] Sputnik News, “Senator McCain Says US Should Send Javelin Anti-Tank Missiles to Ukraine,” March 2, 2017.

[xxxi] Jason Lyall, “Does Indiscriminate Violence Incite Insurgent Attacks?: Evidence from Chechnya,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 53, no. 331 (2009): 345.

[xxxii] “Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine,” The Official Homepage of the United States Army Europe,

[xxxiii] William Patterson, “Ukrainian and U.S. SOF Commanders discuss the future of Special Ops in Ukraine,” U.S. Army, April 29, 2016; Army-Technology, “Ukrainian soldiers conclude first rotation of JMTG-U’s Fearless Guardian II,” February 19, 2016,

[xxxiv] Sara Ashley O’Brien, “Alphabet’s Jigsaw Sets its Sights on Countering Fake News,” CNN Tech, June 7, 2017.

[xxxv] Kent Walker, “Four ways Google will help to tackle extremism,” Financial Times, June 18, 2017.

[xxxvi] Rachel Roberts, “Russia Hired 1,000 People to Create Anti-Clinton ‘fake news’ in Key U.S. States During Election, Trump-Russia Hearings Leader Reveals,” The Independent, March 30, 2017.

[xxxvii] SMA is currently running a telecom speakers series exploring responses to fake news.

[xxxviii] Theodore P. Gerber and Sarah E. Mendelson, “Casualty Sensitivity in a Post-Soviet Context: Russian Views of the Second Chechen War, 2001-2003,” Political Science Quarterly 123 (Spring 2008): 52.

[xxxix] Paul Roderick Gregory, “Russian Combat Medals Put Lie to Putin’s Claim of No Russian Troops in Ukraine,” Forbes, September 6, 2016.

[xl] Ibid.

[xli] Paul Roderick Gregory, “Russia May Have Inadvertently Posted Its Casualties In Ukraine: 2,000 Deaths, 3,200 Disabled,” Forbes, August 25, 2015.

[xlii] American Association for the Advancement of Science, “Satellite Imagery Assessment of the Crisis in Crimea, Ukraine – Part Two: Sevastopol,” Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project, April 2014; Dan Lamothe, “NATO: These New Satellite Images Show Russian Troops in and Around Ukraine,” The Washington Post, August 28, 2014; NATO, SHAPE “NATO Releases Satellite Imagery Showing Russian Combat Troops Inside Ukraine,” November 26, 2014,;

[xliii] Trevithick, “The T-72B3: The Lethal Russian Tank That Ukraine Fears Most”; “Bellingcat: Russia's Tanks in Donbas Represent "peak" of its Warfare Capability,” Unian, April 20, 2017,

[xliv] Gregory, “Russian Combat Medals Put Lie to Putin’s Claim.”

[xlv] Ibid.

[xlvi] Koven, Piplani, Sin, and Boyd, “Quantifying Gray Zone Conflict.”

[xlvii] U.S. Department of the Army, “Information Operations,” Joint Publication 3-13 (2012, updated 2014).

[xlviii] Koven, Piplani, Sin, and Boyd, “Quantifying Gray Zone Conflict.”

[xlix] Reproduced with permission from ibid., 3.

About the Author(s)

Barnett S. Koven is the Training Director, a Senior Researcher, and the Political Instability, Counterterrorism and Gray Zone Portfolios Lead at the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). He received his Ph.D., M.Phil. and M.A. in Political Science, as well as a B.A. in International Affairs and Latin American and Hemispheric Studies from the George Washington University. Koven is an expert in irregular warfare and has conducted extensive fieldwork in conflict and post-conflict zones.



Wed, 09/22/2021 - 8:36am

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