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After a three-week delay, President Dmitry Medvedev has signed off on Russia’s new National Security Strategy, a 20-page document that replaces the country’s 1997 National Security Concept, which itself was modified in 2000.

Medvedev first announced the need to replace the old concept with a new strategy following the war with Georgia last August. In March, the Security Council, headed by Nikolai Patrushev and charged with drafting the document, announced it had been completed. But on the very next day, Patrushev told journalists the council would take another month to “refine” the draft. According to media reports, the draft was approved at a council meeting on April 24 with Medvedev in attendance and has been awaiting his signature since.

When the one-month delay was announced, some analysts expected the draft would be modified to reflect the apparently warming relations between Russia and the West (the United States in particular) following mutual pledges to “reset” ties. However, quoted sources involved in the drafting process as saying the changes primarily were motivated by the country’s economic crisis. Vyacheslav Senchagov, a member of the council’s research staff, told the website that specific performance benchmarks were removed from the draft in order to make it easier for the government to say it had achieved the document’s aims.

And, indeed, the document does not reflect any warming of Russia’s relations with the West. It states that a major threat to Russian security is “the policy of some foreign states aimed at attaining an overwhelming military superiority, particularly in the area of strategic nuclear weapons, through targeted, informational, and other high-technology means of conducting armed conflict, non-nuclear strategic arms, the development of missile defenses, and the militarization of space” (It is clear why Andrei Savelyov, head of the Great Russia party, commented that “in places the document is so ungrammatical and illogical that it makes the reader weep”).

Likewise, it deplores NATO’s efforts to “move the military infrastructure of the alliance to [Russia’s] borders and efforts to give it global functions, which contradict the norms of international law.” This would seem to call into question even NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan. The doctrine asserts that “the North Atlantic alliance, as well as flawed legal instruments and mechanisms, are increasingly creating threats to international security.” Dmitry Tymchuk, a Ukrainian military analyst, said the document amounts to declaring the disbanding of NATO as a strategic goal of Russia.

The document’s calls for a new international security architecture would, at best, reduce NATO to just a partner with Russia in establishing security in the north Atlantic region, just as the Kremlin, for instance, sees the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as the main vehicle for ensuring security in Central Asia. This would seem to be the essence of what the document means when it discusses “the transition from bloc-based confrontation to multi-vector diplomacy.”

The National Security Strategy, of course, discusses the need to improve the country’s democratic and political institutions and to do more to ensure the rights guaranteed by the constitution. Interestingly, it lists “the activity of terrorist organizations, groups, and individuals aimed at the violent alteration of the principles of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation and at the disruption of the normal functioning of the organs of state authority (including violent actions against state, political, and social figures)” among the security threats the country faces. Human rights activists will undoubtedly seize on this statement to demand more concerted state action in regard to incidents such as the shooting death of defense attorney Stanislav Markelov, assaults against opposition politicians, and the like.

However, the status of concerns about the rights of citizens and the state of democratic institutions is definitely downgraded in the current document. Viktor Litovkin, editor of the military supplement of “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” writes: “In comparison to the old National Security Concept, which spoke about the priority of the security of the individual, society, and the state, the new Strategy brings to the fore national defense and state and public security. Of course, it does not forget about human rights. But they are not discussed in the sort of systematic way that they were before.”

Unlike its predecessors, the new strategy document includes benchmarks by which, in theory, the government’s success can be measured. These include categories like the level of unemployment, the difference between the economic potential of the top and bottom tenths of the population, a consumer-price index, and the like. However, these categories are listed without any baseline or target figures. reported that such targets are included in a secret protocol to the public document.

The new National Security Strategy now -- together with other policy statements like the Strategy 2020 economic-development plan, Medvedev’s integration anticorruption plan, and the ongoing reform of the Russian military -- becomes part of the government’s planning framework. Although it has no legal force itself, it will play a guiding role as legislation is drafted, and the Security Council will meet regularly to monitor the benchmarks it sets out.

But it is a sweeping document covering an unpredictable decade. “Unfortunately, and this has already become a sad tradition for us, there is often a wide gap between ideas declared and confirmed by the authorities…and real life,” analyst Litovkin says. “It happens that conceptions, strategies and doctrines are things in themselves, for the libraries and archives, for doctoral dissertations and research projects, while public and state policies are completely separate.”

--Robert Coalson

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The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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