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Much Has Changed Since Russia's Last Military Doctrine

The text directly states that Russian military forces may be used to defend Russian citizens abroad, a point that was not in the 2000 version.
The text directly states that Russian military forces may be used to defend Russian citizens abroad, a point that was not in the 2000 version.
At the very moment when one part of the Russian establishment is cautiously welcoming a thaw in relations with the United States and NATO, another part of it (evidently the more influential part) has determined the North Atlantic alliance and its actions constitute one of the most serious threats to Russian security. This is made clear in the new military doctrine that was confirmed by President Dmitry Medvedev on February 5.

Moscow has been talking about the need for a new military doctrine since at least the autumn of 2006. At that time, Sergei Ivanov -- who was defense minister and deputy prime minister -- announced that a draft of the new doctrine was being worked out and that, compared to the version confirmed in early 2000, there would be some serious changes. Nonetheless, it took three more years to finish the new text, get it approved by all the relevant agencies, and have it confirmed by the head of state.

The changes at the beginning of the document characteristically set the tone. The 2000 version said that it was "a document of a transition period, the period of establishing a democratic state." It also said the doctrine has "a defensive character."

The new text does not mention the democratic structure of the Russian state (in fact, the word "democracy" is not found in the document in any form) and there is no mention whatsoever of the doctrine's defensive character. It is unclear whether the democratic state was already built or whether Moscow at some point has rejected the idea of building such a state. The same could be said for the "defensive character" bit as well.

The rest is more of the same. The new military doctrine defines the main military danger to Russia as "the striving to endow the military potential of NATO with global functions that are exercised in violation of the norms of international law and to bring the military infrastructure of NATO member countries up to the borders of the Russian Federation." This is the way one speaks only of an enemy bloc; no one would be so suspicious of allies or even partners.

The 'Near Abroad'

It is clear why in the previous version there was not so much stress on the enmity of NATO. At that time, NATO had not expanded to include the Baltic countries and had not announced plans to grant membership to Ukraine and Georgia. But can it really by that the Taliban in Afghanistan and the threat of nuclear proliferation from Iran and North Korea (and their missile programs) present less of a military threat to Russia? Judging by the text of the military doctrine, they are on the same level with the U.S. plan to develop a missile-defense system in Europe (which the U.S. leadership is constantly stressing is not aimed at us, but against Iran).

Naturally everything that even slightly touches the country's most recent military experience -- the August 2008 war with Georgia -- has found its way into the new military doctrine. The text directly states that Russian military forces may be used to defend Russian citizens abroad, a point that was not in the 2000 version. In addition, the new doctrine names as a threat the territorial claims against Russian allies. This covers Abkhazia and South Ossetia, with both of whom Russia has signed military-cooperation agreements. Even military exercises in neighboring states (for instance, Georgia and Ukraine) could be considered as provocative and taken as a threat to Russia, the doctrine states.

As for Belarus, everything is the reverse. In the new document, this country is given a special place -- an attack on Belarus will be considered the same as an attack on Russia and military-political cooperation with Minsk is given priority. It would be interesting to know whether Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who is only just starting to improve his relations with Europe, is pleased with this close military embrace from Russia.

After Belarus, our main military partners are the states of the Collective Security Treaty -- that is, mostly authoritarian, Central Asian regimes. We have almost no cooperation with the West in the military sphere but are only "developing relations."

No Room For Democracy

All in all, it seems to be a completely Soviet military doctrine. But things are not all bad. According to many reports, until the very last minute the new doctrine contained a mention of the possible preemptive use of nuclear weapons. But the final document contains virtually the same language as the 2000 redaction: Russia will use nuclear weapons only in response to an attack with nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction or in order to repel an aggression using conventional weapons that has placed the existence of the state under threat. That is, only as a response and never as a first use.

But this point -- as is made clear at the very end of the document -- is not immutable. At the end of the previous version, it said that Russia "guarantees the systematic and firm execution of this military doctrine." But the last point of the new version runs like this: "The provisions of this military doctrine may be refined with changes in the character of military dangers and military threats or in the tasks involved with ensuring military security and defense or in the conditions of the development of the Russian Federation."

That is, for one thing, nothing is guaranteed. Second, no one knows what the mechanisms for these "refinements" might be. Will the president issue orders with these changes? Or will the Kremlin make decisions about them quietly at some closed session of the Security Council? It probably isn't a coincidence that the new version has had the word "democratic" erased.

Danila Galperovich is a Moscow-based correspondent with RFE/RL's Russian Service. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL