Engelstein’s book serves as a useful reminder that the hybrid warfare playbook is not new, especially not within the context of Eastern Europe. Almost every tactic Western analysts have attributed to Russia since the 2014 invasion of Crimea can be found in the book. Invading and calling a snap referendum to validate it is how the Poles took Vilnius from Lithuania. When an election in the Ukrainian Rada resulted in unfavorable political leadership, the Ukrainian Bolsheviks decamped to Eastern Ukraine (Kharkov) to create their own competing institutions, primarily to justify Soviet intervention. Propaganda using the latest technologies of the day, provocations, assassinations (at home and abroad), front-organizations, a nexus between organized crime and state power, and the political use of diasporas were all used extensively by the belligerents of the Russian Civil War. Many of the hot-spots are even the same: Crimea, Donetsk, Kharkov, Abkhazia, Adjara, Transnistria, and others.
By 1974 a combination of the Watergate scandal, the Vietnam War, inflation, and slow economic growth cast serious doubts on American power. The United States faced a constitutional crisis not seen since the Civil War, and the 895 days that followed were wracked with fears of decline. As David Rothkopf noted, “While few in the street would consider or articulate questions about American decline as academics might, people knew in their gut that something was deeply wrong, that this was not the America they had been raised believing in.”
The Winter War highlights the importance of situating campaign assessment within appropriate historical context to ensure the right conclusions are drawn. It also demonstrates that tactical setbacks, rather than successes, provide the obvious and crude necessity for strategic and operational review and adjustment. The current Western predisposition to analyse ‘successful’ tactical actions to inform the development of strategy is a frustrating example of our failure to understand this. It is all too easy to focus on what has been done well at the tactical level–as in the case of the ‘gallant’ Finns. However, the more difficult intellectual experiment is to review a campaign in its totality–to examine whether tactical actions were linked to a strategy that achieves the political objective and overall victory.