Russia’s near-bloody seizure and annexation of the occupied territories stunned Ukraine and the West, which intensified the study of how to build a plan for a complete defense that would include not only the army, but also the civilian population.
But Putin’s broader war with Ukraine in February served as a test ground.
The doctrine, also known as the ROC, provides an innovative and unconventional approach to warfare and total defense that has directed not only the Ukrainian army, but also the country’s civilian population as part of a coordinated resistance against the Russian army.
“Everything is on the ground in terms of the overall defense of the Government of Ukraine,” said retired Lieutenant General Mark Schwartz, who was the commander of Special Operations Command Europe during the development of the doctrine. “They are using all the resources and also using some highly unconventional means to disrupt the army of the Russian Federation.”
Planning a national resistance
Outnumbered and outnumbered, however, Ukraine fought against a Russian army that believed would overrun the vast majority of the country in a matter of weeks, if not days.
“This is a way to turn the tables on a first world power,” Schwartz said. “It is incredible to witness that despite the unreasonable loss of life and sacrifice, what the will to resist and the determination to resist can do.”
In a series of recent attacks and bombings on Russian positions in Crimea, Kevin de Stringer, a retired Army colonel who led the Resistance Concept development team, saw evidence of its use.
“Since you can’t do it conventionally, you can use special operations forces, and those [forces] He will need the support of the resistance – intelligence, resources, logistics – in order to gain access to these areas.”
A Ukrainian government report shared with CNN acknowledged that Ukraine was behind the attacks on Russian bases and ammunition depots. The attacks, far from enemy lines, were beyond the range of weapons that the United States and others have publicly sent into Ukraine, and videos of the explosions do not appear to show any missile or drone incoming. Russia blamed the bombings on sabotage or the detonation of munitions.
“A high probability will say that it is very reasonable to do so [the ROC] Principles are playing a role in actual warfare right now, Stringer said.
In early April, General Richard Clarke, the commander of US Special Operations Command, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that the United States had helped train resistance companies in Ukraine with special forces over the past 18 months. When asked if he sees some success of that training in the current conflict, Clarke was direct in his answer.
“Yes, senator, we are.”
Resistance in Ukraine
Early in the conflict, the Ukrainian government created a website explaining different methods of resistance. The site describes the ways nonviolent action is used, including boycotts of public events, labor strikes, and even how humor and satire are used. The goal is to disrupt the ability of pro-Russian authorities to govern while reminding the population of Ukraine’s legitimate sovereignty. The doctrine of the resistance suggests violence as well, including the use of Molotov cocktails, deliberate arson and the placing of chemicals in gas tanks to sabotage enemy vehicles.
The doctrine also calls for a broad message campaign to control the narrative of the conflict, prevent the occupier’s message from taking hold, and keep the population united. Videos of Ukrainian strikes against Russian tanks, often accompanied by pop or heavy metal music, as well as videos of Ukrainian soldiers rescuing stray animals, went viral. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, it becomes part of the resistance, allowing Ukraine to frame the headlines in the Western media in their favour and often humanizing Ukrainian service personnel in ways the Russian military has failed miserably.
At the forefront of the resistance is Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has not let the conflict fade from view with nightly speeches and frequent international appearances. His visits near the front lines are making news around the world, while Russian President Vladimir Putin is rarely seen outside the Kremlin or the resort town of Sochi.
The constant barrage of messages spurred a large wave of outside support and successfully increased Western governments to supply Ukraine with more arms and ammunition.
Flexibility and resistance
In general, the concept of resistance provides a framework for increasing a state’s resilience, which is its ability to withstand external pressures, and to plan for resistance, defined as a whole-state effort to re-establish sovereignty in occupied territories.
“Resilience is the strength of a community in peacetime that becomes resistance in wartime against the aggressor,” explained Dalia Bankuskite, a fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis who has studied resistance planning in Lithuania.
Rather than providing each country with the same set of plans, the doctrine was designed to suit each country’s population, capabilities, and terrain. It is not intended to create or support an insurgency. Its objective is to create a force with the consent of the government to carry out activities against a foreign occupier with the aim of restoring sovereignty.
At first, only Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland expressed genuine enthusiasm about the new faith. But after Russia’s near-bloody seizure of Crimea and its annexation by surprise Ukraine and the West in 2014, interest in the method of resistance grew rapidly.
Since its inception, at least 15 countries have participated in some form of training in this doctrine of resistance, according to Nicole Kirchman, a spokeswoman for Special Operations Command Europe, where it was developed.
In mid-November, as the Biden administration was issuing its first public warnings about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, Hungary hosted a conference on the concept of resistance operations. Kirchman told CNN, along with nearly a dozen other countries, that the commander of Ukraine’s special operations forces was present at the conference.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine increased interest in this concept.
According to a US official, “the Baltic states, in particular, are actively speaking in their parliaments about implementing the Republic of China at the national level.”
Resistance in the Baltics
In May, nearly three months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Lithuanian parliament adopted a new strategy of civil resistance much broader than hard resistance to the occupation.
Martinas Bendecas, a spokesperson for the country’s Ministry of National Defense, said that readiness for resistance includes developing the will to defend the country, improving citizens’ military and non-military knowledge and skills, and more as part of national defence.
Stringer explained that having resistance doctrine and parts of the planning around the resistance is intentionally overt, and is meant to act as a deterrent against a potential attack, another goal aimed at Russia’s favorite hybrid warfare rather than traditional military and nuclear deterrence. But the details of plans and organization within the state are severely restricted.
For Estonia, a country of about 1.3 million people on Russia’s northwest frontier, civil resistance has always been part of the defense plan.
“There is no other option for every Estonian,” said Rene Toms, a spokesperson for the Estonian Volunteer Defense League. “Either you fight for independence if someone attacks you – if Russia attacks you – or you just die.”
Estonia regularly updates and develops its defense plans, integrating its standing army with its general population and volunteer forces, which Tomsey said has seen an increase in demands since the beginning of the Russian invasion.
Estonian officials studied the war in Ukraine to learn lessons about what worked well against Russia, and where the Ukrainian resistance could improve. Thomsey says Estonians remember Soviet rule well, and those very young who don’t are taught in school.
Ukraine has excelled at winning the media campaign, Thoms notes, using media publications across multiple platforms, a president who has become a prominent international figure, and a steady stream of information about how well Ukrainian forces are in the fight, “even if they’re not confirming their own losses.”
But Thoms insists that Estonia, if faced with an invasion, would be most active in any occupied territory, using small, well-armed and well-trained units. “I imagine we can do much more damage behind enemy lines than Ukraine did,” Thomsey said. “All logistics, all convoys, will be constantly attacked.”