Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 14

Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (L) and President Vladimir Putin (R)

On Saturday, January 19, the first deputy defense minister and chief of the General Staff, four-star general Yuri Baluyevsky, announced that Russia must build an armed force that will be ready to meet the challenges of the modern world. Baluyevsky sent a stern-sounding warning to the outside world: “We do not plan to attack anybody, but we consider it necessary for all our partners in the world community to clearly understand that to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia and its allies, military force will be used, including preventively, [and] including the use of nuclear weapons.” Baluyevsky added, “Military might must be used to demonstrate the determination of the national leadership to protect the interests of the state – and used on a major scale when all other means proved fruitless” (RIA-Novosti, January 19).

Baluyevsky called for a strategy of national security that would “be fully observed by all government agencies, including the ‘power’ departments” (RIA-Novosti, January 19). The present Russian military doctrine, adopted in 2000, refers only to the military. Apparently, the Russian General Staff intends to promote another overall security doctrine that could expand its influence over other so-called power agencies – the Interior Ministry and various security services.

Baluyevsky made his comments at a conference of the Academy of Military Sciences, which is legally a non-governmental think tank, run by retired generals. However, the Academy is closely connected to the Defense Ministry, and the conference was held in the Defense Ministry building in the center of Moscow, with Defense Ministry staff providing organizational support and security. The conference was addressed by high-ranking officials from the Ministry of Defense, Foreign Ministry, and other “power-agency” officials, and their presentations were extensively covered by state-controlled TV channels. Baluyevsky’s statement is more or less in line with Russian military doctrine, which states that Russia may use nuclear weapons first against an aggressor that threatens Russia or its allies, but his wording was sharply bellicose.

Anti-Western rhetoric dominated other conference speeches. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak declared, “We see the attempts by the USA and other countries to strengthen their influence in the post-Soviet area … to the detriment of Russian legitimate interests in the region” (Interfax-AVN, January 19). In a keynote address the president of the Academy of Military Sciences, retired four-star General Makhmut Gareyev, announced, “With the growth of the dependence of its economy on access to world markets and natural deposits, the military-force component of U.S. policy will be systematically intensifying, including toward Russia, owing to the specifics of its geopolitical position.”

According to Gareyev, “The West does not want a strong Russia.” The United States, he claims, aspires “to dismember Russia into a multitude of infighting mini-states, to banish us into the depths of Asia to defend American self-interests.” Gareyev called for an increase in defense spending and forming alliances with other nations to counter U.S. aggression. “The political course pursued by the United States will inevitably lead to confrontation with a considerable part of the world and conditions are objectively developing in which Russia will have to act as a geopolitical arbiter,” announced Gareyev (Itar-Tass, January 19).

As Vladimir Putin’s term as president draws to a formal end, Russia’s future political lineup is less clear than ever. The Russian military, Foreign Ministry, and security services are banking on more anti-Western, anti-American rhetoric, on increased confrontation that will give them more budget money and more political influence. At the same time Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s designated successor, in his first major election speech this week avoided pointing at the West as the main threat to Russia’s future development. On foreign policy Medvedev did not say much – he only emphasized the positive aspects of Russia continuing contacts with “problem states that provoke unpleasant emotions in the international community.” At the same time, Medvedev stressed the need to fight corruption, impose the rule of law, and develop private enterprise, democratic institutions, and freedom of the press (RIA-Novosti, January 22).

Such careful words seem to put Medvedev into the role of a “liberal” surrounded by authoritarian wolves and unreformed, aggressive Cold Warriors. Thus he obviously deserves Western support and endorsement. But Putin came to power in 2000 also speaking eloquently about the rule of law and democracy, emphasizing partnership with the West, and so on. Yet today Putin’s Russia is a corrupt police state with large parts of its economy renationalized and freedom brutally suppressed. Putin restored Soviet-style rhetoric, called the United States “Comrade Wolf,” and compared it to Hitler’s Third Reich.

Elections in Russia are randomly rigged, meaningful public debate is suppressed and, as in Soviet times, observers in Moscow and in the West are building theories of what is happening behind the scenes in the Kremlin, of who is “liberal” and who is not. This revived Kremlinology is a fascinating game: The less solid evidence available, the more elaborate the theories. Chances are that some of them may be true, but we will know for sure only in retrospect, when some future massive upheaval briefly opens the Kremlin backyard, as did the collapse of communism in 1991.