Under existing legislation, Russia’s National Security Strategy (NSS) must be updated every six years. The previous version was approved in May 2009 by then-president Dmitry Medvedev, so a new NSS was due in 2015. The NSS is composed under the auspices of the Security Council of the Russian Federation (SCRF). Last month SCRF Secretary Nikolai Patrushev told the government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta that the text of the revised NSS has been prepared and submitted to President Vladimir Putin (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, December 22, 2015). Putin, who tends to be notoriously late on practically any appointment, signed the revised NSS on December 31, so the document is dated 2015 in compliance with legislation. The NSS is an open, non-classified document (Pravo.gov.ru, December 31, 2015).
Patrushev, always eager to promote the role and significance of the SCRF in security decision-making, insisted the NSS is a “fundamental document of strategic planning,” or a sum of other doctrines and long-term government plans on defense, foreign policy, defense industry, mobilization preparations, economic development, agricultural production, social stability, religious tolerance and so on. According to Patrushev, the key objective of the NSS is to strengthen national unity in the face of growing outside threats. The draft text of the NSS was, according to Patrushev, discussed by a “wide circle of representatives of the business community, scientists, different government ministries and departments, the presidential administration, and the prime minister’s office” (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, December 22, 2015).
Since the NSS is non-classified, it turned out an extremely vague document full of noncommittal slogan-type phrases about the need to strengthen defense and national unity, achieve “food production independence,” develop the economy and so on without any concrete hints about how all these good things could be achieved. The NSS was published on New Year’s Eve, when Russia was preparing to celebrate the traditionally (since Soviet times) most important holiday of the year and then fall into almost two weeks of drunken slumber, with banks, the government and newspapers closed until January 11. The NSS text appeared too late for much substantial comment from inside Russia; only Patrushev had a head start to comment the text. The revived NSS, according to Patrushev, in particular puts more emphases on “preparing civil defenses” and on “mobilization,” including industrial mobilization (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, December 22, 2015).
Civil defense was an essential part of Soviet war preparations, designed to minimize losses and ensure overall victory in a nuclear standoff with the US and its allies. After the end of the Cold War, civil defense preparations were neglected; but this has been dramatically reversed after the illegal annexation of Crimea, in 2014. Last October and November, a month-long all-Russia civil defense exercise involved reportedly some 50 million Russians—the second such massive exercise in two years. Cold War–era bunkers are being renovated and prepared for use. The authorities declared that all Russians (over 140 million) will be provided refuge from nuclear attack and radioactive fallout in the event of war with the US (Interfax, October 28, 2015). At an SCRF session, Putin demanded to begin mass production of gas masks to defend the Russian population against radioactive fallout, gas and germ attacks (Moscovskiy Komsomolets, October 30, 2015).
Mobilization, including industrial mobilization, was another essential pillar of Soviet Cold War strategy—i.e.: the preparation of capabilities to rapidly transform civilian industrial plants and infrastructure to serve massive military production in the run up to global nuclear war with the United States. The NSS implies renewed mobilization efforts and declares that the priority development of Russia’s military industry will be the main “engine” of overall future Russian modernization (Pravo.gov.ru, December 31, 2015).
Massive civil defense and industrial mobilization preparations are costly endeavors that make sense only if the Kremlin seriously sees an imminent threat of armed conflict with the US and its allies. While Russia convalesced after prolonged New Year’s celebrations, the threat assessment part of the NSS, which is much more concrete and makes more interesting reading, was actively commented on by officials and the media in the West. In the threat assessment part of the NSS, the US and its allies are accused of “exerting military, political, economic and informational pressure” to reverse Russia’s “independent foreign and internal policies.” The US is allegedly threatening Russia in the West, in the East and in the Arctic. The Ukrainian crisis is the result of the US and the European Union’s “support of an unconstitutional coup” in Kyiv. The Islamic State developed as a result of the West’s meddling, “double standards” and a Western policy of “provoking the overthrow of legitimate governments.” According to Patrushev, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an aggressive organization, while “Western leaders lie about it being a defensive alliance” (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, December 22, 2015).
Duma (Russia’s lower house of parliament) security and anticorruption committee chair, Irina Yarovaya, dismissed Western concerns about the newly signed document: “The NSS does not define anyone as an ‘enemy’—it objectively assesses the threat of US policies to Europe, Russia and the entire world.” Yarovaya accused Washington of “aggression” and of treating Russia as an enemy. But in accordance with the NSS, continued Yarovaya, Russia will use military might “only if other legal and diplomatic means are exhausted” (RIA Novosti, January 5, 2016).
As a non-classified text, the NSS is not a military or diplomatic action plan per se. But it apparently correctly reflects the overall Kremlin notion of Russia being besieged on all sides by the US and its proxies, which purportedly seek to isolate, subvert, and cause internal political and social upheaval to bring about regime change in other countries. In turn, Putin’s Russia is ready to defy and push back on all fronts—in Syria, in Ukraine, in the Arctic—and by all means available. In Ukraine, Moscow’s apparent agreement to settle for a “frozen conflict” based on the present line of separation and a prolonged ceasefire may be a misinterpretation. The overall goal of pushing the US and its “proxies” out of Kyiv is still a dominant strategic objective.
The NSS threat perception may seem bizarre when one focuses on such unfounded statements as the document’s Article 19: “The US is increasing the network of biological warfare labs in countries neighboring Russia” (Pravo.gov.ru, December 31, 2015). But for Russia’s rulers, such threats seem real. Patrushev previously accused the United States of “increasing 20-fold the number of bio-war labs” and of “deploying bio-weapon production labs in some CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries” (Mk.ru, October 30, 2015). Today, Putin has underwritten into law these and other similar threat evaluations. Russian countermeasures are surely forthcoming.