US President Biden spoke of false justification and a Russian "playbook" in his recent statement (cf. CBS News video Biden gives updates on Russia-Ukraine crisis following call with allies | full video after 05:07 (my transcription)):

...Russia's state media also continues to make phony allegations of a genocide taking place in the Donbas, and push fabricated claims, warning about Ukraine's attack on Russia without any evidence; that that's what Ukraine is thinking - attacking Russia.

All these are consistent with the playbook the Russians have used before. To set up a false justification to act against Ukraine. This is also in line with the pretext scenarios that the United States and our allies have been warning about for weeks. Throughout these tense moments the Ukrainian forces have shown great judgement, and I might add, restraint. They refuse to allow the Russian to bait them into war.

Question: What are the previous uses of false justifications for invasions used by Russia as used in it's so-called "playbook" from the perspective of the US?

I have heard "Russian playbook" repeated over and over in several different US news media outlooks, and a quick googling of the phrase returns "Putin's playbook" and "Kremlin playbook". Of course there will not likely be a literal book of plays printed out on paper, but with such widespread use of the term in English from so many sources, there must be something of substance here to which there is some level of agreement, some set of previous instances of false pretexts Russia has used for invasion. What are they?

Google Ngram for "Russian playbook" 1980 to 2019 shows low levels around the turn of the 21st century and a sustained rate of increase after about 2013:

Google Ngram for "Russian playbook" 1980 to 2019

  • 4
    “Playbook” is a football analogy. It just means a common tactic. There’s no deeper meaning there. Why they say it’s a common Russian tactic is a good question, though. +1
    – divibisan
    Feb 19, 2022 at 0:55
  • That graph is interesting. I wonder if it has anything to do with the general publics awareness of Playbook once 'Silver Linings Playbook' was released in late 2012? ;-P Mar 7, 2022 at 0:59
  • @blobbymcblobby I don't know what that is; it looks roughly contemporaneous but not really correlated i.sstatic.net/q4fOQ.png
    – uhoh
    Mar 7, 2022 at 1:06
  • 1
    Bit of a joke; looked like the timing affected the popularity of using playbook in the wider media. Mar 7, 2022 at 1:13

3 Answers 3


There was the annexation of Crimea (legally still part of Ukraine), there was Georgia, there was Transnistria (legally still part of Moldova). As mentioned by Divibisan in the comment, "playbook" is merely a reference to a practiced set of tactics, with multiple options to mix and match:

  • Passportization, the practice of first issuing Russian passports to foreigners, and then claiming to come to the rescue of a persecuted Russian minority.
  • Related to that, irredentism: a claim to the "lost" territories of the Czarist empire, either by annexation or by claiming a privileged position in the Near Abroad.
    (Compare the Monroe Doctrine, which merely excluded third parties rather than dictating to the Americas, and the later Banana Republics.)
  • Hybrid warfare, the mixture of political destabilization, covert and somewhat deniable warfare, and finally overt warfare claiming to "stabilize" an instability they created themselves, under the Responsibility to Protect principle.
  • I was going to comment that Russia also used "passportization" in Moldova, but then I looked up what Transnistria was. Maybe you can modify the answer to mention that the "Transnistria" war resulted in Russian military establishing permanent presence on the territory recognized to be part of Moldova?
    – grovkin
    Feb 19, 2022 at 7:26
  • @grovkin, the same would apply to Crimea, then.
    – o.m.
    Feb 19, 2022 at 9:22
  • True. Although it didn't even occur to me.
    – grovkin
    Feb 19, 2022 at 10:11
  • Transnistria conflict was in the early 90s and had nothing comon with events in Georgia and Crimea. The conflict started because Moldova wanted to join Romania.
    – convert
    Feb 19, 2022 at 12:12
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    @convert, whatever the reason, passportization appears both there and in Ukraine. A playbook is a set of options, not a fixed script.
    – o.m.
    Feb 19, 2022 at 12:28

The normal way is to stage some incident you are responding to and you can point at the opposing country as the perpetrator. They can be waiting for Ukrainians to do something against the territory under control of the Russian puppet regimes in Luhansk and Donetsk. In the extreme case, they could just bomb some village and say that Ukrainians did it and they have to intervene. This already proved to be viable before in Mainila. After that, they created a puppet "Finnish Democratic Republic" and claimed they are just helping this new pro-Soviet state.

In 1939, when in cooperation with Germany, they annexed a large part of Poland, they were "helping the Russian and Ukrainian population that the Polish state failed to protect" (that means protect from the Germans).

In 1939, they first demanded soviet military bases in the Baltic states. They were granted, but in 1940 they accused the countries of conspiracy against the USSR and demanded creation of Soviet-approved governments. The Baltic countries, in a futile position, decided to not fight back and the Soviet army just occupied the countries without resistance.


This is a supplementary answer to demonstrate the use of "playbook" in the context of Russian pretext for invasion:

What are the previous uses of false justifications for invasions used by Russia as used in it's so-called "playbook" from the perspective of the US?

In CNN's Jake Tapper's Jake Tapper says 20 years of US appeasement paved the way for Putin's invasion he says:

In 2008 Putin, emboldened, invaded neighboring Georgia using the pretense of Russian speaking separatists, which is now his playbook.

  • 1
    Tapper's sentence seems false - the population of South Ossetia are Ossetian-speaking. I don't think Russia claimed they are Russian-speaking in 2008, though the whole region has some passable knowledge of Russian as a second language.
    – alamar
    Mar 7, 2022 at 5:47

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