For Russia War Is Now a Grim Reality. West a Bitter Rival

New Russia military doctrine spells out which countries are Russia's allies, partners and sources of military threats

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The text below is a brief overview of new Russia military doctrine, signed into law by the Russian president on December 26th, 2014.

This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared at Moscow Carnegie Center

Essentially, for Commander-in-Chief Putin and for his generals, admirals, and security officials, war in 2014 ceased to be a risk and turned into grim reality.

Russia has had to use its military forces in Ukraine, arguably the most important neighbor it has in Europe.

The conflict over Ukraine, in Moscow’s view, reflects the fundamental reality of an “intensification of global competition” and the “rivalry of value orientations and models of development.” Against the background of economic and political instability—crises and popular movements—the global balance is changing in favor of emerging power centers.

In this new environment, the doctrine highlights information warfare and outside interference in Russia’s domestic politics as risks of increased importance.

The list of main external risks has not changed much, but the nuances are important.

As in the past, top of the table is NATO-related issues: its enhanced capabilities, global reach and enlargement, which brings alliance infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders.

After the risk of NATO comes the risk of destabilization of countries and regions, which can be taken to mean Libya, Syria and Ukraine, and foreign force deployments close to Russia, which presumably refers to additional NATO aircraft in the Baltic States, BMD assets in Romania, and naval ships in the Black Sea.

The top portion of the list of risks contains references to U.S. strategic ballistic missile defense, its Global Strike concept, and strategic non-nuclear systems.  

The doctrine elaborates on Russia’s relationships with its allies, partners and other countries.

It singles out Belarus as Moscow’s closest ally, whose armed forces are practically integrated with Russia’s.

This situation explains the Kremlin’s tolerance for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s undisguised blackmail of Russia.

The next category is the members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan, which have agreed to coordinate their policies and have formed rapid reaction forces for various contingencies—mainly in Central Asia, with a view toward countering risks coming out of Afghanistan (a cause of rising common concern).

In December, Putin welcomed CSTO leaders to the new National Defense Control Center in Moscow and invited their countries to join the center.

In the Caucasus, the Russian republic of Chechnya has emerged as Moscow’s security stronghold and a paramilitary resource. Also, under a treaty concluded in November, Abkhazia has merged its forces with Russia’s. South Ossetia is de facto a Russian military protectorate. This completes Russia’s defense perimeter as of late 2014.

Even though President Putin continues to make tongue in cheek reference to the United States and its NATO allies as “partners,” the military doctrine is blunter on the issue.

Only countries deemed to be friendly to Moscow are labeled partners: members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (China and Central Asia) and the BRICS group.

Placing China in the SCO context, the doctrine proposes to “coordinate efforts to deal with military risks in the common space.” This, of course, falls far short of any form of military alliance with Beijing.

Despite the public debate, the Russian doctrine makes no change to the principles of using nuclear weapons.

As before, Russia will retaliate against a nuclear/WMD attack against itself and/or its allies; and it will also go nuclear if an existential threat is posed by a conventional attack.

The new iteration of Russia’s military doctrine makes it clear that even if the West is not officially an adversary, it is a powerful competitor, a bitter rival, and the source of most military risks and threats.

Even faced with a coming recession, upgrading defense capabilities and force readiness remain Russia’s clear priority.

Russia is also strengthening integration and cooperation with its several allies and partners in Eurasia, even as military contacts with the West are downgraded to Cold War levels.

A watershed has been passed.

Dmitri Trenin is director of Moscow Carnegie Center. He retired from the Russian Army in 1993. From 1993–1997 he held a post as a senior research fellow at the Institute of Europe in Moscow. In 1993, he was a senior research fellow at the NATO Defense College in Rome.

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