Real estate’s expensive these days. It doesn’t matter where you are. But if you happen to be in one of the thirty-eight countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, home prices surged nearly 7 percent from 2019 to 2020. It was the fastest year-over-year growth in the past two decades.
So why pay these prices when you can steal the land instead? Just bypass all the bankers and their credit-default swaps and bad mortgages and take with your tanks what you can while you can. And while you’re at it, don’t just stop at one old house or a single charming neighborhood or even a city. Dream bigger than Zillow—break off your own little piece of another country.
It turns out Russian President Vladimir Putin has provided enterprising up-and-comers with a road map to doing just that. In 2014 and 2015, Putin’s Russia snapped up some beachfront property in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, as well as Ukraine’s resource-rich Donbas region. Not bad for a few months’ work.
Here are ten tips for executing such a takeover, ripped right from the Russian playbook that nabbed 7 percent of sovereign Ukrainian territory. Tongue in cheek? Sure. But useful in understanding how a piece of European territory was seized by a foreign aggressor for the first time since World War II? Absolutely.
1. Make friends with some enemies (sabotage). Whenever possible, wherever possible, find a few disgruntled government employees with access, authority, and flexible loyalty. There’s always someone ready to join the winning team. They’ll be the newest kind of patriot.
When you’ve turned a handful of ex-enemies into fast (and well-compensated) friends, ask them to leave a few backdoors open, share some insider information, and do some stalling and backsliding that looks like standard government gridlock but also leaves the current government entirely naked to some serious threats.
2. Location, location, location (geography). Pick a spot that you can quickly isolate, you have border access to, and has just enough potential supporters you can lean on for a local welcoming committee. Look for that perfect point between value and price. Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze, the blood’s worth the treasure. Peninsulas in particular are “easy to seal” off, according to RAND.
3. Do ‘em dirty (corruption). Weaponized corruption is a strong tool nowadays, with so many ways to make it hard for a government to respond in a crisis. Make ‘em sweat at every shadow, so they can’t even look around a room without wondering who the mole is. Aim to get inside the target’s security services, but don’t stop there. Find ways to use their own resources to pay your bills.
4. Find a door or make one (access). If possible, and this one’s tough, have some way in ahead of time. Extra points if you can have military infrastructure in place, like, say, a naval base or a long land border. Logistics are such a headache, and if you can avoid that problem, that’s half the battle.
5. Be ambiguous enough (deniability). Be quick and ambiguous enough. It doesn’t have to be perfect, because everyone’s on camera these days, so they’re going to figure out who you are. You just want to have a time cushion to seize your objective before the cavalry comes.
Intermission: Now you’re in! Congratulations! Everyone’s going to know it’s you, and unfortunately they won’t throw you a party, so now you’ve got to preserve your new possessions. It’s time to pivot from getting what’s yours to holding what’s yours.
6. Aggressors love a vacuum (create a power vacuum). Turn everything off. Like, everything. The sooner you can cut off and shut off the Old Boss—government services and functions—the sooner you can tell everyone to Meet the New Boss. Make it a choice: go back to the anarchy and chaos left by the old rulers, or join up with the conquering heroes that’re full of vigor and strength. Make a power vacuum and then Hoover up everything that’s there.
7. Information is division (divide and conquer). Split your adversary every which way you can. Cut off as many fingers as possible until no one can form a fist in response. Use every edge and every wedge: language, religion, history, anything you can to fractionalize the target.
8. Mind the thresholds (avoid meaningful intervention). Don’t escalate or cross tripwires that might trigger an intervention. As a wise man (maybe) once said, “Don’t try to fix a favorable power imbalance that ain’t broken.” There can be plenty of pearl clutching, loads of hemming and hawing, but as long as the “international community” doesn’t send the big bullets inbound, you’re good. Keep it that way.
9. The best weapons don’t go boom (nonlethal, first and most). Sure, there may be fighting, there may even be some old-timey trenches, but lead with the nonlethal stuff. You don’t want all the muss and fuss and sound and fury that comes with too much killing. Maintain a light touch—if “baby steps” was good enough for Bill Murray in What About Bob?, it’s good enough to get you your next beachfront property.
10. Take their essentials (critical infrastructure). Water and food is a good start, but don’t overlook the modern essentials of life, like television and cell service. You’ve got to quickly get ahold of the “airwaves, the phone lines, and the computers.” Critical infrastructure is for chokeholding: that’s your new motto.
That’s it. Follow these instructions closely, and Putin won’t be the only one celebrating the triumphant return of the age-old tradition of taking what you want—international organizations, agreements, and norms be damned. But burn after reading. In the wrong hands, these tips could help prepare homeland defenders to thwart your covetous designs.
Lt. Col. ML Cavanaugh (@MLCavanaugh) directs the Homeland Defense Institute at the US Air Force Academy, is a senior fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point, and was recently a part of a Homeland Defense Institute research team in Ukraine.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.
Image credit: Andrew Butko (adapted by MWI)
"Be ambiguous enough (deniability)." Can't be more traditional Soviet than it.
The "playbook" (think the "containment" and "roll back" playbook) that Russia seems to be following — this, as relates to their efforts against the "expansionist" U.S./the West in the New/Reverse Cold War of today — this seems to be much the same "playbook" (again, think "containment" and "roll back") that the U.S./the West established and followed — this, in our efforts against the "expansionist" Soviets/the communist in the Old Cold War of yesterday. Here are two examples — which may tend to support this such thesis:
a. Example No. One: In the Both the New/Reverse and Old Original "Cold War," Using Hybrid Warfare to Defend One's Sphere of Influence/One's Near Abroad:
"As true as this rings, there is enough rhyme in recent history to remind us that it was not always so. The last time Russia and the United States grappled indirectly as adversaries in “the gray areas” during the final phase of the Cold War, it was the United States that put a hybrid 'blend of military, economic, diplomatic, criminal, and informational means' to effective use, notably in Central America. Of course, there were important differences between the character of that confrontation and today, but much about the goals and the means were comparable, only it was the United States that seemed to 'have it down.'
Employed as part of a broader strategy, what hybrid warfare did was allow the United States to carry out open-ended competition and signal certain confidence that the value of protecting the U.S. sphere of interest was greater than any opponent’s interest in upsetting it. After all, it would have served little purpose to test the escalation dominance the United States enjoyed in the hemisphere, say by threatening direct action against Cuba or rattling nuclear sabers. Instead, the method was a low-fear, low-cost, economy-of-force way to manage superpower confrontation that remained well below the threshold that might have provoked a more energetic response.
That the United States and NATO, a conventional defensive alliance, should be confounded by similar maneuvers on the part of Russia and left groping to ‘connect the dots’ from Crimea to the Baltic is not a surprise. What should not be a matter for confusion is that hybrid warfare is not the exclusive province of a nefarious Putin, but rather a method available to any power with the motivation to employ it. This takes us only half way toward a solution. But, in paraphrase of Clausewitz, the first essential act of judgment is to establish the kind of war in which we are embroiled.”
(See the April 7, 2015 “War on the Rocks” article “America Did Hybrid Warfare Too” by Todd Greentree.)
b. Example No. Two: In the Both the New/Reverse and Old Original "Cold War," Using Conservative/Traditional Values; This, to Defend Oneself Against Unwanted Political, Economic, Social and/or Value "Change:"
"During the Cold War, the USSR was perceived by American conservatives as an 'evil empire,' as a source of destructive cultural influences, while the United States was perceived as a force that was preventing the world from the triumph of godless communism and anarchy. The USSR, by contrast, positioned itself as a vanguard of emancipation, as a fighter for the progressive transformation of humanity (away from religion and toward atheism), and against the reactionary forces of the West. Today positions have changed dramatically; it is the United States or the ruling liberal establishment that in the conservative narrative has become the new or neo-USSR, spreading subversive ideas about family or the nature of authority around the world, while Russia has become almost a beacon of hope, 'the last bastion of Christian values' that helps keep the world from sliding into a liberal dystopia. Russia’s self-identity has changed accordingly; now it is Russia who actively resists destructive, revolutionary experiments with fundamental human institutions, experiments inspired by new revolutionary neo-communists from the United States. Hence the cautious hopes that the U.S. Christian right have for contemporary Russia: They are projecting on Russia their fantasies of another West that has not been infected by the virus of cultural liberalism."
(See the December 18, 2019, Georgetown University, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs article "Global Culture Wars from the Perspective of Russian and American Actors: Some Preliminary Conclusions," by Dmitry Uzlaner. Look to the paragraph beginning with "Russia and the United States as screens for each other’s projections.")
Bottom Line Thought — Based on the Above:
The inherent weakness and vulnerability, in the U.S./the West's "expanding market-democracy" goal and position in the New/Reverse Cold War of today, this is much the same inherent weakness and vulnerability that the Soviets/the communists faced re: their "expanding communism" goal and position in the Old Cold War of yesterday.
The "containment" and "roll back" "playbook" — as to how to exploit this such weakness and vulnerability — was:
a. Written and followed by the U.S./the West in the Old Cold War of yesterday and:
b. Has been updated and is being followed by such nations as Russia; this, in the New/Reverse Cold War of today.
Not that different from what George Washington did.
In 1964 during my New Cadet Barracks and 1 semester at the Academy, we first heard the recent Air Force Academy’s cadets had declared West Point to be 162 years of tradition unmarred by progress. Then, a few months later, USAFA had its first huge football player cheating scandal – they still couldn’t beat us, then, on the gridiron.
LTC Cavanaugh’s representation of the events in Russia’s buffer states in 2014 and since is omissively/untruthfully and dangerously omissive, and if we start using reasoning like this to try to justify adding Ukraine or any of the others to NATO it will indeed start World War 3, as the huge Russian Army buildup – even with its Siberian Reserve with which the Russians barely defeated the Nazis in their last-ditch 1941 Battle of Moscow victory – clearly warned us. Of course, air force officers don’t have to deal with the mess … and tragedy … of war on the ground, and ours
Vicky and Lloyd
Indeed, Cavanaugh’s narrative runs like our own for our Western-backed 2014 Kiev coup which has brought us back to our even more terminally dangerous game of nuclear Russian Roulette today – and the war … with China as well, thanks to our “neoconservatives” – they’re not conservative – they’re revolution-, coup-, and war-/holocaust-spreading utopians quite like the Trotskyists their older members once openly were – will be nuclear from the get-go: the Russians do not have the manpower to fight a conventional war.
Here are the 4 obvious, objective reasons Kiev 2014 was a coup, no spontaneous revolution as advertised in Western media:
First is French neocon guru Bernard-Henri Levy who at least led the street agitation. In an article accompanied by photo about his collaboration with “me too” guy Harvey Weinstein for the film The Oath of Tobruk – trying to depict our attack on Libya and bloody aftermath as a success – Levy was correctly identified as the “architect” of our Libya holocaust and is right behind Cameron and Sarkozy in the photos of them triumphantly promenading in Libya.
Next is the fact that the snipers who murdered the Heavenly Hundred in the streets of Kiev were not Yanukovich government – they were opposition neo-Nazi Right Sector, to escalate the demonstrations into revolution with the very homicidal violence Cavanaugh crocodillianly decries in his article.
Ukraine pilot-heroine and member of parliament Nadezhda Savchenko openly accused another parliament member of being involved, a couple years ago.
Canadian professor Ivan Katchanovski has issued one ballistic analysis after another proving the killing shots came from an opposition-controlled building, not a government one.
And the leftwing Polish journal Nie – its chief editor Polish Jewish Jerzy Urban had the raw courage while he was press secretary for Poland’s last communist government to openly confirm it was Stalin and the Soviets who murdered the 25,000 Polish officers and intelligentsia at Katyn and elsewhere in 1940, not the Germans in 1941 – even found and confirmed where the Right Sector snipers were trained: Poland’s Legionovo Police Training Center.
Next, our coup was timed to the Sochi Winter Olympics, knowing that the Russians would hesitate the critical moment to directly intervene in Kiev, for fear of disrupting those.
And finally, we had arch-neoconservative Victoria Nuland coordinating the consolidation of the coup – “F the EU!” she was famously quoted in a conversation with our ambassador there – and bragging about the $5 billion we had profligately spent setting it up.
Joe Biden put Vicky back in power, and she just went over to Russia to throw her weight around, except the Russians would have none of that and sent her packing. More dangerously, SecDef Lloyd Austin – whom I have thought has better sense – started talking up Ukraine joining NATO in his recent visit there.
27 million people died in the 1941-45 Nazi Barbarossa invasion of the Soviet Union – 18 million of them Russians. Just as Jewish people viscerally fear another Holocaust, the Russians fear another attack from the West for whatever pretext. We are indeed … in no small part thanks to the oblique thinking of those like Cavanaugh … teetering on the brink of Armageddon.
Donald Trump could be stampeded by photos of dead Mideast children, even if most were victims of Gulf- and Western-backed terrorists. (Note the suicide – bitterly contested by his family – of NATO Chief Auditor and Terrorism Financing Investigator Yves Chandelon in Andenne Belgium on 23Dec16.)
Joe Biden is an emotional President currently under fire from many directions, including from our neocon media in no small part because he has not been doing exactly what the neocons want, and he could be similarly misled into a nuclear superpower confrontation from which there would be no return, and our past neoconservative foreign policies have now pitted us at terminal 1:2 odds against the other two nuclear superpowers which those policies have militarily allied.
Expecting Hillary Clinton to win in 2016 and World War 3 then, the Russians put 40 million of their people through nuclear war drills, and you don’t do that unless you are indeed expecting a nuclear war. By contrast, what condition are our civil defenses in for the American people – not just our elites – for the nuclear world war we are right now suicidally provoking?
Furthermore, I support us defending Taiwan militarily – as long there is an every-4-years referendum there, like the permanent one the Russians held in the Crimea, to show the Taiwanese want continue to remain independent for now – and if China does attack and we go to war with it, why are we right now so foolishly prompting the Russians to join it?
Lou Coatney, usma x1968, AUS (volunteer) 1967-69 ConUS and USArEur
And in the 1990s Russian Army historians helped the Poles find the killing sites and verify Stalin&Beria’s guilt.
A better edited edition of this comment of mine debunking Cavanaugh I have just posted on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/reply-usaf-ltc-cavanaughs-distorted-view-russian-his-west-lou-coatney/?published=t
Looks like MLC's post was precient…
The strategies listed here were textbook considering how Russia progressed with its invasion…
1- point scored
2- also scored
3- gosh he's anticipated this too!
4- a hit!
5- okay, can we call him oracle now?
6- again spot on
7- language lol, religion too, and history!
8- a little off but I'd say hit
9- also hit
10- blimey… 100%
Disturbingly good prediction/anticipation all before Feb 2022…
Upon finding his CV I discover that ML is not a doolie after all. He graduated from West Point in the Class of 2002.
Embarrassing, if not for me.
Even Business Insider is worried: "NATO's flirtation with adding 2 more members runs the risk of starting a war the US can't afford to fight," 24 October 2021, by Sascha Glaeser.
Again, if this is to distract Russia from its alliance with China and supporting China's attempt to take Taiwan, the effect is the absolute opposite, and Europeans – albeit not the Russia-baiting English – are getting understandably nervous about getting dragged into a European – world -war because of the Pacific.
Again, what is instead needed is an internationally supervised every-4-years referendum on Taiwan, to see if/when they are ready for unification. After theirs on the Crimea, the Russians would have an impossible time challenging its veracity and relevance, and it gives Taiwan, our Asian allies, and the West the moral/legal advantage.
And meanwhile, the Russians have made it clear that any English or other NATO ship that violates its Crimean waters *will* be sunk.
Just sanctions against the other 2 nuclear superpowers obviously do not work. We instead need to reopen ourselves and them, economically and socially. The alternative – doing what we are now, foolishly – will only alienate and militarize them further, and indeed trigger a very nuclear world war which will leave Western civilization in radioactive rubble and ashes.
As well, John Kerry's acute worry about the environment is entirely justified – we have run out of time on that too – and there can be no superpower cooperation as long as our neocon – Neanderthal – confrontation policy continues.
The situation is now *dangerous*, and we need to respond to it dynamically and positively.