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Obama's New Security Strategy Sharply Shifts Tone On Russia

  • Luke Johnson
  • Carl Schreck

U.S. President Barack Obama (left) will still "collaborate" with President Vladimir Putin's Russia "in areas of common interests, should it choose a different path -- a path of peaceful cooperation that respects the sovereignty and democratic development of neighboring states,"

U.S. President Barack Obama (left) will still "collaborate" with President Vladimir Putin's Russia "in areas of common interests, should it choose a different path -- a path of peaceful cooperation that respects the sovereignty and democratic development of neighboring states,"

WASHINGTON -- What a difference five years can make.

The White House's new national security strategy portrays Russia exclusively as a regional bully and a threat to international stability, a sharp reversal from the collaborative U.S. approach to Moscow spelled out in the previous version of the policy document issued in 2010.

The 29-page document unveiled on February 6 contains a total of 16 direct references to Russia, 12 of which use the words "aggression," "coercion," or "belligerence" to describe Moscow's actions in Ukraine and relations with other neighboring countries.

"Russia's aggression in Ukraine makes clear that European security and the international rules and norms against territorial aggression cannot be taken for granted," the document states.

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration issued its previous national security strategy in 2010 during its "reset" policy with Russia, which was forged while then-President Dmitry Medvedev occupied the Kremlin and current Russian President Vladimir Putin served as prime minister.

That document expressed optimism about cooperating with Russia on an array of fronts, including nuclear nonproliferation, trade, and combating "violent extremism."

It also placed Russia among the "21st-century centers of influence," noting that Moscow had "reemerged in the international arena as a strong voice."

"We seek to build a stable, substantive, multidimensional relationship with Russia, based on mutual interests," the 2010 document states. "The United States has an interest in a strong, peaceful, and prosperous Russia that respects international norms."

The new strategy, however, makes only a vague, fleeting mention of such relations -- and lays out conditions for increased bilateral cooperation.

"We will keep the door open to greater collaboration with Russia in areas of common interests, should it choose a different path -- a path of peaceful cooperation that respects the sovereignty and democratic development of neighboring states," it states.

WATCH: The United States has presented its new national security strategy, a 29-page document setting out what it sees as the major security challenges. Speaking to the Brookings Institute, national-security adviser Susan Rice named Islamic State militants and Russia as key security issues. (Reuters)

Washington and the European Union have imposed several rounds of sanctions targeting Russia over the past year in response to the Kremlin's annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and an armed pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine that they accuse Moscow of backing.

The new strategy states that the United States "will continue to impose significant costs on Russia through sanctions and other means while countering Moscow's deceptive propaganda with the unvarnished truth."

"We will deter Russian aggression, remain alert to its strategic capabilities, and help our allies and partners resist Russian coercion over the long term, if necessary," it states.

No direct mention is made of the possibility of providing weapons to Kyiv as it battles separatists in eastern Ukraine, a move that the Obama administration is considering amid a last-minute diplomatic push for peace by France and Germany.

Russia's Neighbors And NATO

The previous U.S. national security strategy, released less than two years after Moscow's war with Georgia over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, made no mention of Ukraine.

It did, however, broadly note Washington's support for the territorial integrity of Russia's neighbors. "While actively seeking Russia's cooperation to act as a responsible partner in Europe and Asia, we will support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia's neighbors," it read.

The new strategy, meanwhile, stresses the importance of active precautionary measures. "We are reassuring our allies by backing our security commitments and increasing responsiveness through training and exercises, as well as a dynamic presence in Central and Eastern Europe to deter further Russian aggression," the new document states.

NATO, which Putin and other top officials in Moscow portray as a threat to Russian security, is touted in both the current and previous U.S. security strategies as a "preeminent" alliance.

But the NATO-related language in the new version is more muscular, reflecting increasing concerns by the alliance's eastern-most members about Russia's intentions in the region.

The new document reaffirms the United States' commitment to the military bloc's Article 5 clause treating an attack against one NATO member as an attack against all members.

"Our Article 5 commitment to the collective defense of all NATO members is ironclad, as is our commitment to ensuring the alliance remains ready and capable for crisis response and cooperative security," it states.

Energy And 'Universal Values'

The 2010 version of the U.S. national security strategy made no mention of Russian energy. The new strategy, however, expresses concerns about European and Ukrainian reliance on Moscow to keep the lights on, accusing Russia of using energy "for political ends."

This dependence "puts a spotlight on the need for an expanded view of energy security that recognizes the collective needs of the United States, our allies, and trading partners as well as the importance of competitive energy markets," the new document states.

Another contrast between the U.S. national security strategy issued in 2010 and the new version emerges on the issue of human rights in Russia, which rights groups say have deteriorated sharply since Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012.

While U.S. officials have repeatedly criticized Russia for its record on human rights, the updated strategy does not single out Moscow on this issue.

The previous version did address Russia's rights record, albeit in a mild tone compared to the current combative rhetoric coming from Moscow and Washington.

"We support efforts within Russia to promote the rule of law, accountable government, and universal values," the 2010 document stated.

With reporting by Robert Coalson in Prague
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