The Russian state “cannot afford to run operations itself, and therefore have to rely on structures” built on private individuals, said Mark Galeotti from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) during the ninth Sakharov conference in Vilnius on Tuesday.
“In Donbass, most is done by local militias, which are really not very good, and are very hard to control,” and crucially, “are involved in all [elements of] criminal activity”.
Galeotti told LRT English that “it’s clear the [Russian] presidential administration plays a crucial role as the liaison” between the state and private enterprises and initiatives.
Yet, “a lot of this is informal – they operate in the same circle, kids are married to each other, which is of course from a researcher’s point of view, terrible to track down”.
Initiatives “which are initiated by non-state actors or on a local level” often “get in touch with the government only when they’ve been successful and are looking for a reward; it’s a very mixed pattern, sometimes top down, sometimes informal, and sometimes bottom up”.
However, Galeotti stresses the Russian military is not the only actor looking to use “so-called hybrid means”.
“British, Lithuanian, [and other] militaries are also looking at using” similar tactics, which “Russia has [always] seen as a Western technique,” he said.
Russia is aiming to shift the battlefield to “where [the NATO] is weakest – it is a constellation of democracies”.
There is “an incredibly fluid system” in Russia, “where people are constantly competing with one another,” particularly in the intelligence field.
“This notion of Putin as this grandmaster of geopolitics, [simply] does not work,” he added, as “institutions scramble to – basically – please the boss”.
However, Putin “has weaponized the imaginations and ambitions of every Russian who wants to get involved in the whole state-racket,” and is “very powerful in that respect”.
Mark Galeotti is Senior Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), and has analysed the intersection between Russian crime and the security apparatus.