Russia-Watcher Keir Giles on The Other War
For many, the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine represented a sudden act of aggression. But for longtime Russia watchers like Chatham House’s Keir Giles, it was not as surprising.
Keir Giles’ book, “Russia’s War on Everybody: And What it Means for You” was published in November of 2022, but the senior consulting fellow shared that its first iteration had already been written by October 2021.
The book’s title may seem like an eerie foretelling of the full-scale war, yet the war on everybody that Giles is referring to is not solely the recent invasion, nor does it only describe on-the-ground combat in Ukraine. In his book talk, presented at the Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies (CERES) on February 1, 2023, the author explained how he considers war not merely in terms of armed conflict and violence, but also through what he calls the “other war” that is far-ranging in its definition and includes hostile actions that are often concealed from ordinary citizens. Giles invited individuals to broaden their definition of “acts of war” and Russia’s power to include tactics such as espionage, cyberwarfare, the development of chemical weapons, and targeted assassinations of dissidents. By Giles’ estimation, these have been elements of Russia’s broader and lengthier war on everybody, with the aggression of February 2022 transforming his book on these subjects from “they will do this” into “they are doing this.”
For Giles, the difference between this iteration of his book, as opposed to its October 2021 iteration, is that the concept of “Russia’s War on Everybody” is now more believable and tangible as the full-scale conflict plays out in real time before our eyes.
Giles described the frustration of Russia-watchers who felt that the indicators were there and recognizes they no longer need to “argue uphill about the country, its regime and its aims.” He advised the world’s decisionmakers to not be blinded by optimism by emphasizing the significant and damaging security implications that can result from this war.
Giles stated that “Russia’s War on Everybody” examines the scope of how Russia attacks and can be viewed to complement his 2019 publication, “Moscow Rules,” which focuses on why Russia attacks. To that end, Giles noted that sometimes when searching for motivations behind the Kremlin’s ongoing actions–such as cyberwarfare–they may turn out to be trivial or nonexistent, but this should not affect the seriousness we accord them. He also urged that countries be more transparent about the kind of attacks they face from Russia. In his eyes, a population that is not informed about threats cannot adequately defend itself against them, therefore transparency—especially in the case of cyber-warfare—is important when developing defenses against these attacks.
Following his presentation, Keir Giles engaged with questions from the in-person audience as well as online viewers on topics ranging from sanctions to his opinions on Putin’s timing of the war and how the international community should engage with this conflict.