Game of Proxies – Towards a new model of warfare: Experiences from the CAR, Libya, Mali, Syria, and Ukraine
More details
Hide details
Institute of Strategic Studies, Faculty of National Security, War Studies University, gen. Chruściela “Montera” 103, 00-910 Warsaw, Poland
Faculty of Aviation Safety, Military University of Aviation, ul. Dywizjonu 303 no. 35, 08-521 Dęblin, Poland
Transnational Security Studies, George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, Gernackerstraße 2, 82467 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
Polish Africanist Society - Polskie Towarzystwo Afrykanistyczne, Poland
Independent researcher, Turkey
Cyprian Aleksander Kozera   

Institute of Strategic Studies, War Studies University, Chruściela, 00-910, Warszawa, Poland
Submission date: 2020-12-17
Final revision date: 2020-12-17
Acceptance date: 2020-12-17
Online publication date: 2020-12-30
Publication date: 2020-12-30
Security and Defence Quarterly 2020;31(4):77–97
The objective of the study is to carry out a meaningful comparison that demonstrates the similarities and differences of various conflict theatres where proxy forces were employed. The analyses of the discussed cases focused on different aspects of the conflict and nature of the proxy use. The analyses presented on the following pages were conducted on the basis of the literature on the subject, governmental research and reports, and supporting sources reporting recent developments that complemented academic sources. Various non-state actors such as ethnic militias, paramilitary units, and private military companies have become more and more visible on contemporary battlegrounds. Modern states employ those actors to further their objectives, as this limits their own political and financial costs. This increasingly visible phenomenon points to an emerging new model of warfare where state actors are relying ever more on proxies of various character and nature. It is highly likely that any future conflict will be characterised by a proxy-based model of warfare, which will consist of a limited footprint made by regular forces (or none at all) and, consequently, the extended use of proxies supported by special forces. Because such an approach is less costly, proxies will be more often employed by low-budget states, previously reluctant to carry out such costly military endeavours. Denying the actions and affiliations of these proxies will inevitably follow and, in turn, a lack of political accountability and responsibility for the conflict’s outcome.
Ahram, A. I. (2011) Proxy Warriors. The Rise and Fall of State-Sponsored Militias. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Akhtar, N. and Nageen H. (2019) ‘The Syrian Conflict: An Inside-Out and Outside-In Approach’, International Journal on World Peace, 36(3).
d’Alema, F. (2017) The Evolution of Turkey’s Syria Policy. Istituto Affari Internazionali.
Allemandou, S. (2013) ‘Le MNLA, un nouvel allié pour l’armée française ?’, France 24, 23 January. Available at: (Accessed: 22 August 2020).
Assemblée Nationale (2013) Rapport d’information déposé en application de l’article 145 du Règlement par la Commission de la Défense Nationale et des Forces Armées en conclusion des travaux d’une mission d’information sur l’opération Serval au Mali, 18 July.
Balzer, H. (2015) ‘The Ukraine Invasion and Public Opinion’, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 16(1), pp. 79–93.
Bowen, A. S. (2014) ‘Russia has 15,000 crack troops on the Ukrainian border’, Foreign Policy, 20 July. Available at: (Accessed: 27 November 2020).
Bugayova, N. and Regio, D. (2019) The Kremlin’s Campaign in Africa: Assessment Update. Washington: Institute for the Study of War.
Carter, P. M. (2020) Understanding Russia’s Interest in Conflict Zones. Washington: United States Institute of Peace.
Cigar, N. (2014) Tribal Militias: An Effective Tool to Counter al-Qaeda and its Affiliates? Carlisle Barracks: U.S. Army War College Press.
Comolli, V. (2015) Boko Haram. Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency. London: Hurst & Company.
Cookman, L. (2020) ‘Syrians Make Up Turkey’s Proxy Army in Nagorno-Karabakh’, Foreign Policy, 10 May. Available at: (Accessed: 27 November 2020).
van Creveld M. (1999) The Rise and Decline of the State. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Debos, M. (2016) Living by the Gun in Chad: Combatants, Impunity and State. London: Zed Books.
Enikolopov, R., Korovkin, V., Petrova, M., Sonin, K., and Zakharov, A. (2013) ‘Field experiment estimate of electoral fraud in Russian parliamentary elections’, PNAS, 110(2), pp. 448-452. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1206770110.
Fetouri, M. (2019) ‘Who’s fighting their proxy wars in Libya?’, Middle East Monitor, 5 September, Available at: https://www.middleeastmonitor.... (Accessed: 2 October 2020).
France 24 (2011) ‘Election fraud in Russia caught on video: ballot-stuffing, erasable ink and more’, France 24, 7 December. Available at: (Accessed: 25 November 2020).
Fulvio, B. (2020) ‘Libya: multiple conflict, proxy wars’, Lindro, 27 July, Available at: (Accessed: 15 September 2020).
Gelvin, J. L. (2018) The New Middle East. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Goya, M. (2013) ‘Mali : «Le risque, c’est que l’on s’engage dans un combat extrêmement long»’, interviewed by Christine Muratet, Radio France Internationale, 20 February. Available at: (Accessed: 22 August 2020).
Grémont, Ch. (2010) Le Maghreb dans son environnement régional et international: Touaregs et Arabes dans les forces armées coloniales et maliennes. Une histoire en trompe-l’oeil. Note de l’Ifri, Institut Français des Relations Internationales. Available at: (Accessed: 22 August 2020).
Groh, T. L. (2019) Proxy War. The Least Bad Option. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Grossman, S., Bush, D., and DiResta, R. (2019) Evidence of Russia-Linked Influence Operations in Africa. Stanford: Stanford Internet Observatory.
Guibert, B. (2018) ‘Au Sahel, «je n’ai pas besoin de canons supplémentaires, mais il nous faut gagner en mobilité »’, Libération, 9 July. Available at: (Accessed: 22 August 2020).
Goodison, K. (2019) ‘Russia in the Central African Republic: Exploitation Under the Guise of Intervention’, Philologia, 1(11), pp. 34–42. doi: 10.21061/ph.177.
Harris, W. (2018) Quicksilver war: Syria, Iraq and the spiral of conflict. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hudson, J. (2012) ‘How Putin Tipped the Scales of the Russian Election’, The Atlantic, 6 March. Available at: (Accessed: 27 November 2020).
Hughes, G. A. (2014) ‘Syria and the perils of proxy warfare’, Small Wars & Insurgencies, 25(3), pp. 522–538. doi: 10.1080/09592318.2014.913542.
ICG (2019) ‘Rebels without a Cause: Russia’s Proxies in Eastern Ukraine’, International Crisis Group, 16 July. Available at: (Accessed: 26 November 2020).
Jamestown Foundation (2013) ‘French Cooperation with Tuareg Rebels Risks Arab Rising in Northern Mali’, Terrorism Monitor, 11(5), 8 March. Available at: (Accessed: 22 August 2020).
Kaldor, M. (2012) New and Old Wars: Organised Violence in a Global Era. 3rd edn. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Kozera, C. A. (2018) ‘The Use of Local Non-State Armed Groups in Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorism – Examining the Case of Mali’, in Besenyő J. and Marsai V. (eds.) The Dynamics of Conflicts in Africa in the Early 21st Century. Budapest: Dialog Campus, pp. 9–22.
Kim, L. (2019) ‘How U.S. military aid has helped Ukraine since 2014’, NPR, 18 December. Available at: (Accessed: 26 November 2020).
King, I. (2019) ‘Not contributing enough? A summary of European military and development assistance to Ukraine since 2014’, Center for Strategic & International Studies, 26 September. Available at: (Accessed: 26 November 2020).
Klotz, M. (2017) ‘Russia and the Ukrainian crisis: A multiperspective analysis of Russian behaviour, by taking into account NATO’s and the EU’s enlargement’, Croatian International Relations Review, XXIII(80), pp. 259–287. doi: 10.1515/cirr-2017-0028.
Konyukhovskiy, P. V., Grigoriadis, T. (2018) ‘Proxy wars’, Freie Universität Berlin Diskussionsbeiträge, 2018/4. Available at: (Accessed: 25 November 2020).
Kraus, J. (2018) ‘Proxy Wars and the Role of Intelligence Services in the Current Middle-East’. Vojenské rozhledy, 27(3), pp. 37–46. doi: 10.3849/2336-2995.27.2018.03.037-046.
Kuczyński, G. (2019) Russia in Africa: Weapons, Mercenaries, Spin Doctors. Warsaw: Warsaw Institute.
Lacher, W. (2012) ‘Organized Crime and Conflict in the Sahel-Saharan Region’. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 13 September. Available at: (Accessed: 22 August 2020).
Levada (2020) ‘Putin’s approval rating’. Levada-Center. Available at: (Accessed: 26 November 2020).
Levanoni, M. (2020) ‘Proxy Wars in Syria: Exploitation of the Palestinian Issue in the Syrian Crisis’, in Khen, H. M. E., Boms, N. T., Ashraph S. (eds.) The Syrian War: Between Justice and Political Reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 165–179. doi: 10.1017/9781108768016.008.
Macleod, H.(2011) ‘Syria: How It All Began’, The World, 23 April. Available at: (Accessed: 27 November 2020).
Maślanka, Ł. (2020) ‘France and the Russian Presence in Africa’, Bulletin of the Polish National Institute of the International Relations, 47(1477), pp. 1–2.
Marten, K. (2020) The GRU, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and Russia’s Wagner Group: Malign Russian Actors and Possible U.S. Responses. Testimony before the Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment United States House of Representatives Hearing on Exposing and Demanding Accountability for Kremlin Crimes Abroad Prepared for presentation on July 7, 2020. Available at: (Accessed: 17 October 2020).
Ministry of Defence of Ukraine (2017) The White Book Of The Anti-Terrorist Operation in the East Of Ukraine in 2014-2016. Kiev.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine (2019) ‘10 facts you should know about Russian military aggression against Ukraine’, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, 19 December. Available at: (Accessed: 27 November 2020).
Mueller, J. (2004) The Remnants of War. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.
Mumford, A. (2013a) ‘Proxy warfare and the future conflict’, The RUSI Journal, 158(2), pp. 40–46. doi: 10.1080/03071847.2013.787733.
Mumford, A. (2013b) Proxy Warfare. War and Conflict in the Modern World. Cambridge: Polity Press.
OSCE(2015) ‘Latest from OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine based on information received as of 27 September 2015’, OSCE, 28 September. Available at: (Accessed: 25 November 2020).
OSW (2015) The economic and financial crisis in Russia: background, symptoms and prospects for the future. Available at: (Accessed: 27 November 2020).
Østensen, Å.G. and Bukkvoll, T. (2018) Russian Use of Private Military and Security Companies – the implications for European and Norwegian Security. Kjeller: Norwegian Defence Research Establishment.
Panayiotides, N. (2020) ‘The Great Syrian Civil War: A Realist Approach to the Syrian Conflict’. IUP Journal of International Relations, 14(1).
Pavlushko, A. (2015) ‘How ‘Ukrainian Berkut Officer’ from Russian Ulyanovsk Assaulted Crimean Parliament Back in 2014’, Inform Napalm, 7 September. Available at: (Accessed: 25 November 2020).
Pezard, S. and Shurkin, M. (2013) Toward a Secure and Stable Northern Mali. Approaches to Engaging Local Actors. RAND Corporation. Available at: (Accessed: 22 August 2020).
Powelton, F. (2014) ‘Mali : Discrétion de l’armée française sur sa collaboration avec les Touaregs’, Sahel Intelligence, 1 October. Available at: (Accessed: 22 August 2020).
Putin, V. (2014) Direct Line with Vladimir Putin, The Russian President’s official website, 17 April. Available at: (Accessed: 26 November 2020).
Reeve, R. (2014) ‘Libya’s Proxy battlefield’, Oxford Research Group Briefing. Available at: https://www.oxfordresearchgrou... (Accessed: 15 September 2020).
RFI (2013) ‘Mali: ce que l’on sait des affrontements entre Touaregs et groupes armés à Il Khalil’, Radio France Internationale, 23 February. Available at: (Accessed: 22 August 2020).
Le Roux (2013) ‘Les Touareg du MNLA prêts à aider l’armée française à lutter contre les djihadistes’, France 24, 14 January. Available at: (Accessed: 22 August 2020).
Sénat (2013) Rapport d´information fait au nom de la commission des affaires étrangères, de la défense et des forces armées (1) par le groupe de travail « Sahel », en vue du débat et du vote sur l’autorisation de prolongation de l’intervention des forces armées au Mali, 16 April.
Skovoroda, R. and Lankina, T. (2017) ‘Fabricating votes for Putin: new tests of fraud and electoral manipulations from Russia’, Post-Soviet Affairs, 33(2), pp. 100–123. doi: 10.1080/1060586X.2016.1207988.
Stronski, P. (2019) Late to the Party: Russia’s Return to Africa. Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Sukhankin, S. (2020) ‘The ‘Hybrid’ Role of Russian Mercenaries, PMCs and Irregulars in Moscow’s Scramble for Africa’, Jamestown Foundation. Available at: (Accessed: 17 October 2020).
United Nations Security Council (2019) Final report of the panel of experts on Libya submitted in accordance with resolution 2441 (2018), 9 December. Available at: (Accessed: 15 September 2020).
Waldhauser, T. (2019) ‘Gen. Joseph Votel, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, and Acting ASD for International Security Affairs Kathryn Wheelbarger at HASC Hearing on U.S. Military Activities in Middle East and Africa, U.S. Africa Command, full transcript of posture testimony to House Armed Service Committee, March 7, 2019’. U.S. Africa Command Web Site. Available at: (Accessed: 17 October 2020).
Wehrey, F. (2020) ‘This war is out of our hands: The internationalization of Libya’s post-2011 conflicts from proxies to boots on the ground’, Center of the New Future of War, 11 September. Available at: (Accessed: 15 September 2020).
Yüksel, E. (2019) ‘Turkish proxy warfare in northern Syria’, Clingendael. Available at: (Accessed: 27 November 2020).
Zaman, A. (2020) ‘UN points finger at Turkey over rights abuses in Syria’, al-Monitor, 15 September. Available at: (Accessed: 27 November 2020).
Introduction to the Special Issue ‘Proxy forces in modern warfare’
Cyprian Kozera, Cüneyt Gürer
Security and Defence Quarterly