In February and March 2014, Russian troops – with their rank badge and unit insignia removed – began to seize control of Crimea, blockading Ukrainian personnel in the peninsula inside their bases. At first, the Kremlin denied its military was involved. When journalists phoned up government spokesmen in Moscow or the Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Sevastopol to ask if the troops were Russian, they were met with point blank denials.
“They are more likely to be little green men from outer space than Russian soldiers” was one of more flippant the responses. Few people believed the Kremlin spin but the ironic reference to “little green men” entered media folklore and took on a life of its own.
The phrase “Little Green Men” became forever linked to the idea that Russia waged a sneaky, devious and underhand campaign to capture Crimea. Subsequently, whenever Russian troops were involved in foreign military operations they were referred to by the world’s media as “Little Green Men”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin eventually owned up to the fact that his troops had carried out the operation, not local self-defence volunteers, as his government had initially claimed. In Russia, the troops and their commanders became heroes for pulling off a daring and successful operation by outwitting their opponents to win a great victory, without firing a shot. They were soon dubbed “the polite men” by the Russian media.
Russia’s operation to seize the Crimea in 2014 caught the world by surprise. Since then, Russian troops have fought wars in the Eastern Ukraine and Syria – and a new Russia operation is now underway in Libya.
In Little Green Men – Putin’s Wars Since 2014: The Inside Story of Russia’s New Military Power, Tim Ripley looks at how these Russian military operations unfolded, and examines their implications.
Drawing on a wide array of sources – including hundreds of satellite images of Russian bases in Russia, Syria, Ukraine and Libya – Little Green Men gives an unprecedented insight into the most important Russian military campaigns since the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Tim Ripley has reported on the Russian interventions in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine and Syria for The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, Jane’s Defence Weekly and Jane’s Intelligence Review since 2014, and has reported extensively on the Russian military for more than 25 years.
Table of Contents
Sources and Methods – Hiding in Plain Sight
1 Operation Crimea Spring
2 Putin and His Generals
3 Hybrid Warfare – Dial Moscow for Subversion
4 The Russian Army Rolls
5 Frozen War – Battle of Debaltsevo
6 War Against Ukraine Assessed
7 The Syria Express
8 Air War Russian Style
9 Finding a Winning Strategy?
10 Mediterranean Squadron
11 A2AD and Douma Crisis
12 America’s Great Escape
13 Battle of Idlib – Drone Wars with Turkey
14 Russia in Libya
15 Russia’s War in Syria Assessed
16 Understanding Putin’s Military
17 Russia’s Warriors
18 Russia’s Land Power
19 Russia’s Surface Fleet
20 Submarines of the Northern Fleet
21 Russia’s Air Power
22 Russia’s Defence Industrial Complex
23 Putin’s Wonder Weapons
Conclusion – What has Putin Got for His Money?