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Responding to Gray Zone Conflict: Countering Russia in the Donbas and Beyond


Gray Zone conflict offers revisionist states the opportunity to expand their territorial control and/or influence through approaches that are ambiguous in nature and that do not rise to the level of war. As a result, the risk of retaliation by the U.S.-led international community is substantially reduced. This is the case given the tendency of U.S. defense planning to view conflict as dichotomous – instead of continuous – either peace or war. While this thinking may be appropriate enough for planning conventional campaigns, it handicaps defense planners when responding to unconventional challenges, such as Gray Zone conflict. Given the difficulty of constructing appropriate responses and the absence of a clear casus belli necessitating an immediate response, it is tempting to ignore Gray Zone threats. However, doing so merely emboldens challengers who utilize these strategies. Consequently, this article leverages the Russian Federation’s intervention in the Donbas in order to explore potential responses. Nevertheless, the types of approaches advocated herein are likely to be more broadly applicable as the U.S. government continues to engage in great power competition with both Russia and China in numerous regions of the world.

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Koven, Barnett S. 2021. "Responding to Gray Zone Conflict: Countering Russia in the Donbas and Beyond." Small Wars Journal (June). https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/responding-gray-zone-conflict-countering-russia-donbas-and-beyond

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