Some thoughts on Russia’s updated military doctrine

by Mathieu BOULEGUE on 1/28/2015

On 26 December 2014, President Vladimir Putin signed into law the revised version of Russia’s 2010 military doctrine. Left largely unchanged, the document still encompasses what is commonly called a “defensive” stance, i.e. the fact Russia will deplete all non-violent means to settle a diplomatic issue before engaging in military might and resorting to use its armed forces. If Russia’s nuclear forces engagement remains untouched, the updated document introduces the concept of “non-nuclear deterrence”, aimed at keeping the national sanctuary in a high level of preparedness for conventional forces and “non-nuclear means” – yet without clearly stating how this might actually unfold.

 

A much-commented point, NATO’s military buildup in Central and Eastern Europe is still, like in 2010, considered a “main external threat” to national security. It the latest events in Ukraine and Crimea have somewhat altered the situation, the appraisal remains the same: measures taken by the Alliance to reinforce offensive capabilities and the expansion of NATO members “to the borders of the Russian Federation” are always considered major threats. At stake are NATO’s strategic deployments and enlargement in the Baltic States, Romania, and the Black Sea. In this context, on 13 January, the Russian Ministry of Defense unveiled a plan to boost military and combat capabilities in Crimea, Kaliningrad, and in the Arctic region – namely areas around which NATO enlargement plans are present. Yet it is important to make out that only NATO’s enlargement is considered a threat, not the Atlantic Organization in itself (nor the United States per se), as it was often misconceived in the media.

Just as much as “organizations of foreign governments and their coalitions against the Russian Federation” and foreign private military companies deployed along Russian borders are an existential threat to Moscow, according to the doctrine. Which means that foreign interference and attempts at destabilizing Russian interests at its borders – namely in the “near abroad” – will not be tolerated.

 

A new trend, information war is mentioned for the first time in a Russian military doctrine, emphasizing that information and communication technologies are now considered both an external but also an internal threat. It unambiguously cites the fact that young Russians can be disrupted by such information war and prevent them from “defending the fatherland”. This surely includes young political activists and organizations using modern communication services, now considered national threats. In retrospect, this move is probably aimed at preventing the emergence of a “Maidan 2.0” in Russia or avoid a repeat of the 2011-2012 anti-Putin social movement.

In terms of military cooperation, the doctrine insists once again on the necessity to increase common security with the CSTO, the SCO, the rest of CIS countries, as well as with BRICS countries. The document also outlined the possibility to create joint missile defense systems with such allies. Unsurprisingly, the protection of Russian citizens outside the country’s defined borders is repeated as a priority in terms of the “lawful use of the armed forces”. Which inevitably raises the issue of knowing until where Russian borders might actually stop – Crimea and the Donbass region driving the point home…

 

In the end, Russia’s latest update of its military doctrine offers nothing surprising or shockingly new, as only a few (yet paramount) details were added. The nuclear posture remains unchanged, the defensive nature of the document prevails, and NATO’s enlargement – and not the Alliance as such – is still considered a military threat. Nothing new under the sun.


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This post was written by...

– author of 16 posts on Registan.net.

A Sciences Po and King’s College London alumnus, Mathieu Boulègue is an analyst in the field of Russia/CIS security and geostrategic issues. He currently works as a project manager for a risk management consulting firm. He is also a founding member of Sogdiane, a strategic think-tank on Eurasian affairs.

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