Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 11

The Russian government published a key national security document on January 14, one which formalizes the hard line long evident both in Russian foreign and security policy pronouncements, and in the more assertive posture which Moscow has adopted since last spring’s NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia. The twenty-one-page document, called Russia’s Concept on National Security, was adopted by virtue of a decree signed on January 6 by acting Russian President Vladimir Putin (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, January 6). The new concept supplants an earlier version of the document approved by President Boris Yeltsin in 1997. It is the broadest of all Russian security documents, and as such is intended to orient Russian policymakers in the post-Cold War period by outlining and prioritizing the major threats to Russia’s security. In establishing a set of domestic and foreign policy goals aimed at strengthening Russia’s geopolitical position, the concept is intended also to shape other key national security documents. Those include Russia’s military doctrine, a new version of which is also expected to be approved in the near future.

The timing of the security concept’s approval and publication is undoubtedly related to the upcoming presidential vote and intended (by the Kremlin) to serve as yet another indication of Putin’s take-charge style in national security matters. There is little unexpected in the new document, however, the essential outlines of which were actually adopted and publicized in October of last year (see the Monitor, October 12). Putin, then serving only in the more modest capacity of Russian prime minister, also presided over the Security Council meeting at which the draft national security document was approved. Indeed, prior to his August appointment as premier, Putin served as secretary of the Russian Security Council, and in that role is believed to have played a key part in the development of the new Russian security guidelines.

Reports of the new Concept of National Security make clear that, in the broadest sense, it continues to make the creation of a “multipolar” world order the highest priority of Russian foreign and security policy. By “multipolarity,” Moscow means the development of a world order in which influence and power are spread among a variety of regional power groupings–one of which, obviously, would be headed by Russia. Conversely, the new document depicts alleged efforts by the United States and NATO to dominate the world (a “unipolar” world system) as the gravest threat to Russia’s security. Washington’s exertions on the world stage are said to be aimed at constraining Russia’s own freedom of action and at prohibiting Moscow from assuming its rightful place as one of the world’s regional power centers. In one of the Russian government’s most direct public statements to this effect, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on November 12 accused the West of trying to “weaken” Russia’s international positions while “edging [Russia] out of the strategically important regions of the world, primarily from the Caspian region, the Transcaucasus and Central Asia” (Washington Post, November 13).

The security concept also outlines a wide array of domestic challenges to Russia’s security, including the country’s economic weakness, organized crime, terrorism and separatist movements. Indeed, the main security threats to Russia–both domestic and foreign–highlighted in the new document are related to events which have rocked Russia’s political and security establishments over the past year. That, at least, was the impression given by Russian officials this past October, when they identified Russia’s war in the Caucasus as the key domestic impetus for rethinking Russia’s security needs. The NATO air campaign in Yugoslavia, as the embodiment of U.S. and NATO efforts to dominate the world, was said to have been the primary external impetus for the exercise (Nezavisimaya gazeta, October 6).