Kimberly Marten (Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science, Barnard College) analyzes the range of actors Russia uses to advance its interests and the often-tenuous relationship they have with the Russian state in her essay "Semi-State Security Actors and Russian Agression," published on Lawfare (8 July 2018). Lawfare is a well-regarded blog that brings together the legal and the national security academic and policy communities.
From Marten's introduction:
Russian aggression is a central concern of the foreign and security policy community, with debate focusing on what Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions are and how best to deter him. But missing from much of the discussion is the fact that a variety of semi-state security groups, with a hazy relationship to Moscow’s central authorities, are playing an increasing role in Russian actions both at home and abroad. The United States and other Western states must develop a better understanding of the complex motives and economic interests held by these opaque and informally commanded security forces to ensure the best possible attribution of and response to any hostile acts they commit. This will require recognizing that they are likely not always following Putin’s direct orders.
While many scholars
now have a sophisticated understanding of the roles played by private military and security firms
around the world
, the array of semi-state security actors mobilized by Russia is unique—and noteworthy. Putin’s Russia is replacing the traditional notion, held by most Western countries as well as the Soviet Union, that states should have ultimate command and control over how armed force is used on their territories or in their name abroad. Instead, the new Russian model is centered on ambiguity, and the Kremlin even seems comfortable with the fact that these semi-state actors often have distinct commercial interests, separate from the Russian state. When a well-armed state with a growing international presence chooses to redefine the relationship between sovereignty and force, the magnitude and variety of threats that it might produce is being redefined as well.