A National Consensus in Moscow on Pursuing a Revisionist Strategy

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 176

Russia-led War Games Begin in Armenia (Source: The Rise of Russia)

In an interview published on September 26 in the official government Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Deputy Prime Minister in charge of armaments Dmitry Rogozin, highly praised President Vladimir Putin’s plans to “reindustrialize Russia” by spending hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild its defense industry. During his reelection this year for third term as Russia’s president, Putin promised to create 25 million new “high-tech jobs” and, according to Rogozin, up to 17 million of those new “high-tech jobs” will be created within the revitalized defense industry. Russia will once again become a true industrial world powerhouse, while at the same time transforming its military into an “iron fist” to deter the West. Rogozin, a former flamboyant populist-nationalist politician, served as Russia’s chief representative in NATO headquarters in Brussels from January 2008 to December 2011. In the Rossiyskaya Gazeta interview Rogozin recalls his NATO experience, insisting that the Western “civilized world” recognizes only raw military power, while “smart power” and “soft power” are only nice words. According to Rogozin, Russia will be acquiring Western know-how and technologies to revamp its military prowess. It does not have “global military expeditionary plans,” but may use its newly found might closer to its home territory (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, September 26).

After the fall of Communist rule in 1991, Western and Russian leaders have time and again publicly declared the Cold War over and that the former Cold War adversaries are no longer enemies. Since 2009, this assumption has been the backbone of the Barack Obama administration’s policy of “reset” of relations with Russia. It turns out the view from Moscow is different: the US and the US-led alliance of Western nations are seen as the primary long-term adversary that Russia must arm against at all costs and oppose, while partial security cooperation and tactical agreements on issues like Iran and Afghanistan are temporary, opportunistic in nature and may be abandoned as soon as plans to turn Russia into a world industrial and military powerhouse are realized.

Ruslan Pukhov, the director of the CAST (Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies) think tank, closely associated with the defense ministry, writes that “a national consensus exists in the Russian elite on state-building, defense and foreign policy.” This “consensus” has effectively replaced Russian official military and national security doctrines that are formal documents in most respect, used for propaganda and window-dressing. According to Pukhov, the “consensus” is not only shared by the Putin apparatchiki in the Kremlin, but also by most of the anti-Putin prodemocracy opposition leaders, “except some marginal ultraliberal radicals” (VPK, September 12).

Russia must restore itself as an economic, military and political superpower, which involves not only rebuilding its military, industrial and technological base, but also reestablishing absolute dominance in its “natural sphere of influence—the former Soviet republics,” that gained independence in 1991. All of Russia’s neighbors are seen as potential adversaries, “especially pro-Western, nationalistic anti-Russian entities, like Ukraine, Georgia, and the Baltic states.” The present “Moscow consensus,” according to Pukhov, recognizes that Russia must dislodge, using soft power or direct military efforts against all neighboring anti-Russian regimes and limit Western influence. Since the US and the US-led alliance of Western nations actively oppose Russian efforts to reestablish its dominance, they are Russia’s chief enemy. Other, “non-Western powers,” like China and Iran are seen as a much lesser threat, since they at present do not actively oppose Moscow’s strategic revisionism. Of course, Moscow needs the West as a source of capital and technologies and does not want to engage in a global all-out confrontation, as during the Cold War. This makes Russian foreign policy ambivalent and partially susceptible to the policy of “reset” (VPK, September 12, VPK, September 19).

Pukhov declares Russia a “revisionist power” that is outside the Western world, is opposed to the present world order and must destabilize it in order to achieve its national ambitions. The Russian military must prepare to fight and win low-intensity conflicts with separatists inside Russia and in neighboring states, like the war with Georgia in August 2008. At the same time Russia must develop conventional military capabilities to successfully prevent the “incursion of US forces into the post-Soviet space” without the use (or with pinpoint tactical use) of nuclear weapons. At the same time the strategic nuclear parity with the US must be maintained as a deterrence of last resort. Overall Russia must build an armed force that could give it a free hand in dealing with neighbors within its sphere of influence, while depriving the West of any hope to intervene. A global nuclear confrontation with the US is seen as highly improbable in the foreseeable future, unlike low-level conflicts within the post-Soviet space (VPK, September 12, VPK, September 19).

Last week, the strategic Kavkaz-2012 war games were enacted in the North Caucasus as well as in the Black and Caspian Seas. A simultaneous exercise Vzaimodeistviye-2012, involving the Russian military, was held in Armenia under the mantle of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). New precision-guided weapons were used as well as network-centric, command, control and communications capabilities. The Kavkaz-2012 exercises were held under a cloak of unprecedented secrecy and Western military observers were not invited (EDM, September 20). According to remarks by Chief of General Staff Army-General Nikolai Makarov, the Kavkaz-2012 “involved the resolving of two distinct very important strategic tasks: to use troops to resolve an internal conflict, while at the same time repulse an external conflict” (www.kremlin.ru, September 21). 

It would seem that Kavkaz-2012 was a reenactment of the new Russian military strategy to dominate militarily within the presumed sphere of influence, while repulsing US forces that may move to stop Russia from occupying its neighbors. The radical Russian military reform began in 2008 after the war with Georgia primarily to build such a capability. In August 2008 the Russian military did not have the conventional means to deter the US air and sea power if a decision was made to engage the Russian forces invading Georgia. The actual use of the strategic nuclear deterrent was unthinkable, so the Russian troops stopped without achieving the strategic goal of regime change in Tbilisi. Today, Putin and Makarov have hailed the successes of Kavkaz-2012 as a demonstration of Moscow’s new capabilities (www.kremlin.ru, September 21).