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Lecture on Russian military concepts and the war in Ukraine

Friday 28 April 2023
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

On 24 February 2022, Russia resumed its invasion of Ukraine. In doing so, it not only returned military force to the center of attention in international relations but also has increased interest in and concern for how the Russians in particular think about military strategy. Western scholarship on this matter since 2014 has been comparatively poor. Western scholars make up concepts and then assume the Russians use them or think in similar ways. This has been the case with the “Gerasimov doctrine”, hybrid warfare, and so on. This lecture therefore addresses the following question: what are the actual Russian military concepts and ways of thinking underpinning Russia’s invasion of, and military operations in, Ukraine since the end of February last year.

Premised on recently completed doctoral research, Engin Yüksel will first survey the history of fundamental Russian military concepts from 1853 to the present day. Some of these concepts sound substantially foreign to Western minds, such as the initial period of war, the correlation of means and forces, and reflexive control. Others are more readily understandable, such as combat readiness and forecasting. Over the course of Russian military history, these concepts emerged, evolved, and formed a coherent system of military analysis which remains in use to the present day. This system in turn combines with other systems of Russian strategic concepts, such as that of new-generation warfare, to inform analysis and war planning.

This is the intellectual toolkit which underpins Russian military operations in and against Ukraine. Therefore Yüksel will also examine how Russia’s conduct of operations in Ukraine has reflected the continuing relevance and direct applicability of their fundamental military concepts, including within the context of their more modern strategic theories of new-generation warfare.


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Engin Yüksel

Engin Yüksel served in the Turkish armed forces from 2002-2016, including a posting at NATO’s Operational Level Command in the Netherlands, at which he worked as an intelligence analyst between 2013 and 2016. During his duty he analyzed Russian military activities in Ukraine and along NATO’s Eastern borders. He completed a BA in System Engineering at National Defence University in 2002 and a MSc International Relations at the Middle East Technical University in 2007.  He completed a PhD at Leiden University from 2018-2023 under the supervision of Professors Isabelle Duyvesteyn and Andre Gerrits, and Dr Lukas Milevski. His doctoral research focused on the continuity and discontinuity of Russian military concepts between 1853 and 2010. He has published on proxy wars, Russian military strategy, and Turkish neighborhood policy in peer reviewed journals, including Security & Defence Quarterly and Orient, and with the Clingendael Institute. Currently, Engin works as a project manager at WML and continues to contribute to the academic and policy debate on the side.

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