October 24, 2016

Russia's new national security strategy has implications for the West


A close reading of Russia’s new national security strategy shows how the Kremlin perceives the situation in Russia and abroad.

Mikhail Fradkov, the head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, left, Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, and Federal Security Service Chief Alexander Bortnikov, right, attend an annual meeting marking a professional holiday for Russian security service employees in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 19, 2015. Photo: Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

At the end of December, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the executive order On Russia’s National Security Strategy, which overrides the former National Security Strategy approved in May 2009 and effective until 2020.

The new National Security Strategy contains 116 clauses that identify major threats and spell out possible solutions. It is important to point out that even though the Strategy is a very broad document, it lays the foundation for specific measures meant to enhance Russia's national security across the board. Essentially, it is a road map, and a close analysis of it shows how the Kremlin perceives the situation within Russia and abroad.

The National Security Strategy is not the first core document that had to be updated due to the rapid changes in global politics in 2014. On Dec. 30, 2014, Putin approved the new edition of Russia's Military Doctrine, which constitutes "a system of official state adopted views on the preparation for the armed protection and defense of the Russian Federation." As for the Strategy, it does not just cover military defense issues, but is much more comprehensive, even though it reiterates many Doctrine clauses, such as the development and strengthening of the collective security system.

At the same time, the Strategy approved on Dec. 31 is a lot more specific than the Doctrine in its description of external threats to Russian national security. For example, only one clause of the Doctrine discusses the threat of NATO expansion and the Alliance getting closer to Russian borders. The Strategy openly states that the U.S. and its allies are hampering Russia's independent foreign policy and that Washington and Brussels are responsible for supporting the unconstitutional coup in Ukraine, which created military conflicts close to Russian borders.

Similarly, according to the Strategy, the formation and strengthening of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) would not have happened had it not been for the policy of double standards, which is a clear reference to U.S. involvement in the region.

 Also read: "Debates: Russia's foreign policy failures and achievements of 2015 

Naturally, the new Strategy was widely discussed in the West. Several days after its publication, Jeff Davis, the director of Press Operations at the United States Department of Defense, claimed that the U.S. did not see Russia as a threat in spite of the lack of agreement on a number of issues. On Jan. 5, Oana Lungescu, the principal spokesperson for the North Atlantic Alliance, also stated that NATO was not acting against Russia's interests. 

Simultaneously, Brussels and Washington – both officials and experts – started pointing out that analogous U.S. and NATO strategies did not so much as mention "the Russian military threat."

However, neither does Russia's Strategy, which does not refer to NATO and the U.S. as "possible adversaries" and does not imply the possibility of military confrontation. For example, Section II Clause 12 of the Strategy states that Washington uses various methods to put pressure on Russia, and Western politicians have repeatedly professed the necessity of exerting pressure on Moscow through various means. Thus, it is difficult to pretend that no such pressure exists.

Section II Clause 15 is dedicated to relations with NATO and speaks of the disruption of the balance of power due to the Alliance's expansion and NATO’s attempts to defy international law. Of course, the degree to which NATO breaks the law is debatable, but the Alliance is never referred to as "the aggressor" directly.

It is necessary to point out that the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama passed two documents analogous to the Russian Strategy, the U.S. National Security Strategy in February 2015 and the U.S. Military Doctrine in June 2015.

Many experts believe that the Obama administration developed and approved these documents in an attempt to avoid accusations of implementing rash and inconsistent foreign and domestic policies.

Still, the U.S. updates its strategic documents quite often, and it is rather remarkable that these core U.S. security documents feature bolder claims than their Russian counterparts.

Washington essentially states that it is the world leader, means to maintain its status, and if it comes to it, will propagate its values from a position of strength. Since the U.S. claims that Russia is responsible for violating the sovereignty of Ukraine and actively speaks of the need to ensure the energy security of Europe, Russian Security Council experts state that, "The U.S. Doctrine and Strategy are anti-Russian."

American core security documents approved in 2015 appear to be a lot more vague and imprecise compared with their Russian counterparts. Analysis of the U.S. Strategy and Doctrine indicates that Washington is trying to impress upon the world its readiness to assume a stronger role and Obama's success in resolving multiple issues ranging from the American economy to the promotion of democracy and stability throughout the world.

Another important contributing factor is the significance that both the White House and the Kremlin attribute to cooperation with countries of the Asia-Pacific region. By the way, the U.S. Strategy has already translated into a major breakthrough: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement was signed, though it has not yet taken effect.

Russia also emphasizes the development of cooperation with China, which is perceived as the key player for maintaining stability in the region and worldwide, an opinion shared by a leading Chinese media source, the People's Daily newspaper. Actually, American and Russian strategies only make clear that in the near future Moscow and Washington will be competing for influence in India and the Far East. For Russia, after its partial economic break with the EU, U.S., and Canada, this region is of paramount importance.

Russia also talks about its values, but in a tone that is dramatically different from that of Washington. First and foremost, the Kremlin focuses on supporting the Russian language and acting against the falsification of history. Moscow is not intending on spreading its way of life, while the propagation of the American way is what is implied under "values" in the American documents.

Still, what will Russia actually gain from adopting a new Strategy? Many experts and politicians deem the Strategy isolationist and say that it is nothing but useless self-promotion and a series of slogans.

At the same time, the Strategy contains instructions for the Russian political establishment. The carefully crafted document sets state priorities straight and provides a detailed analysis of threats to Russian national security and preferred solutions.

Even though the Strategy does not list specific people or organizations responsible for certain areas, Russian federal and affiliated agencies are used to reading between the lines and will adjust their plans rather quickly, if necessary.

At the same time, the Strategy sends a clear message to the global community and explains the Kremlin's stance on the issues that are of interest to Russia. It is necessary to point out that a large part of the document is dedicated to further cooperation with the U.S. and NATO in various areas. Under the circumstances, it is hardly a self-isolationist document. The Kremlin is ready for dialogue, but only if Russia's interests are taken into account.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.

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