"We need to learn more about Russia"
Although Russia has been high on the news agenda since the invasion of Ukraine on the 24th of February 2022, Oscar Jonsson is convinced that we need more knowledge to understand and evaluate the threat from Russia.
– That conviction has only been reinforced since I started immersing myself in Russia about ten years ago, he says.
As a researcher in war studies with a focus on Russia and Russian military strategic thinking, Oscar Jonsson has been busy this past year. He has often appeared in the media to comment on Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the development of the war, and, in addition, he is currently working on a new book describing the threat from Russia to Sweden.
– I have just submitted the final version of the script and if all goes well, the book will be released at the end of February.
He started work on the book last summer, and the writing itself has gone quickly.
– One reason I've been able to write this book is because it's a synthesis of issues I've been researching, lecturing on and thinking about for a long time. I was already clear about the points I wanted to get across. But I've definitely slept less and worked more over the past year.
Russia's actions in the war against Ukraine
He has been following Russia's actions since the invasion of Ukraine last February, trying to put other things aside to focus on what is happening and analyse what is going on.
– The war in Ukraine says so much about the key elements of Russian strategy, about decision-making, tactics, the art of operations and economic capability.
Russia's importance for Swedish security
His interest in Russia was seriously piqued during an internship at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) delegation at the State Department in 2011. After spending six months witnessing diplomatic negotiations with Russia on security issues in Europe and conflict management in former Soviet states, it became clear that Russia was still a decisive actor in questions of Swedish security.
– At the time, international attention was focused on the Arab Spring, Iraq and Afghanistan, and there was not much talk about Russia. But when I saw the Foreign Ministry from the inside, I understood Russia's importance.
From master studies to thesis on Russian military strategic thinking
When he went on to study for a Master's in War Studies at King's College London in 2012, he chose to largely focus on Russia.
– I immediately felt it was extremely interesting, but also that I didn't know the subject well enough to work on it. I enjoyed academia and had just come from a job at a think tank in Paris, and started preparing the application for the PhD programme during my Masters.
A year and a half into his dissertation work, he started working at the Swedish Armed Forces Headquarters in Stockholm.
– I really enjoyed working at the headquarters, but my thesis suffered. That's when I got in touch with the Swedish Defence University, where I started in 2017.
Research on non-military threats and warfare
After defending the thesis in 2018, Jonsson has been working on a project on non-military threats together with colleagues at the Swedish Defence University. The project, which is funded by MSB (the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency), analyses non-military warfare and what consequences it has for the organisation and rebuilding of Swedish total defence.
– The part I am looking at, together with Ilmari Käihkö, builds to some extent on insights from my work on the doctoral thesis. It is about how non-military means are becoming an increasingly important part of modern warfare and security policy. We try to capture the implications of this trend, and how war is changing.
Among other things, the project will answer questions about what constitutes gain and loss in non-military warfare, who the participants in non-military warfare are, and the implications that this has for how international law can be applied.
– After all, it is more difficult to see the same clear results from, for example, informational warfare than from military warfare. And in order to respond to the threats of, for example, a propagandist or a hacker, it is necessary to clarify whether they can be regarded as combatants from the point of view of international law.
The role of the Russian General Staff
Jonsson is also working on a parallel project that will result in a book on the Russian General Staff.
– Although this is the most important military institution in Russia, the subject is still very under-researched. So I'm looking at how the institution works from different perspectives; how the Russian General Staff thinks about modern warfare, how it conducts military operations, and how it influences policy. There are many interesting conclusions to be drawn from the war in Ukraine.
His primary incentive is to gain more knowledge about how Russia works.
– Ever since 2012, when I started to immerse myself in Russian security-related issues, I have been convinced that Russia is the primary actor in questions of Swedish security. Since then, that conviction has been reinforced, but it feels like we are lacking understanding of how Russia actually works. This is something we urgently need to remedy in order to deal with the threat that Russia poses.
In a nutshell
At the Swedish Defence University since: 2017
Current project: The book Hotet från Ryssland will be released on February 24, 2023.
Hobbies: Climbing, chopping wood and reading books
Last book read: Praktika för Blivande föräldrar by Agnes Wold and Cecilia Chrapowska and Active Measures by Thomas Rid
Hidden talent: Climbing
Likes to discuss: Anything that isn't Russia for a change, for example new technologies and society
My drive as a researcher: to produce academically sound work that is relevant for practitioners working on the issues.