Publication: Prism Volume: 6 Issue: 3

By Sergei Oznobishchev

Once again–for the umpteenth time–the changes taking place in Russia are a cause for concern for the West, although strictly speaking the endless predictions that events in Russia would follow the worst case scenario have not been borne out. One recalls all the fears surrounding the loss of control over nuclear weapons and the nuclear complex as a whole in Russia, and the emergence of three new nuclear powers in three former Soviet republics. Then there was the million-dollar question: What was wrong with Yeltsin, and what would happen after Yeltsin? Would there be a return to communist rule in Russia? Would there be total economic collapse? And so on and so forth.

In spite of all its evolutionary difficulties, Russia has remained on the democratic path of development. But, despite the great hopes and the tremendous opportunities for close cooperation which opened up after it was declared that relations with the West would be based on partnership, these relations were seriously undermined. From Moscow’s point of view, there were at least three primary factors which contributed to these developments.

First, there was the issue of NATO expansion, which went ahead in the face of Russian opposition. Remember that in December 1994, when this process began, President Yeltsin even went as far as to warn against the onset of a “cold peace”.

In the opinion of Russia’s military leaders and numerous analysts, the expansion of NATO as a military bloc represents a visible threat to the country’s national security interests–particularly when Russia does not enjoy equal status with other countries in this process, but is given some sort of consultative role (as was the case with the Joint Consultative Council, established under the terms of the Framework Act of 1997). It is no surprise that the expansion policy left a negative mark on the whole decisionmaking process on issues of security and arms control in Russia for almost the entire decade.

Second, the way in which the Kosovo crisis was resolved had a highly destructive effect on how Western policies were perceived in Russia. The bombing of Yugoslavia was unequivocally seen as a violation of the principles and Charter of the UN, as aggression against a sovereign state, and as a clear indication of how western countries were acting following the successful implementation of their new strategy for NATO. The effect on the Russian public–even the most liberal among them–was so marked that one of the most prominent analysts from the democratic camp, Aleksei Arbatov–a member of Yabloko and the deputy chairman of the Duma’s defense committee–went so far as to say that Russia needed nuclear weapons to ensure that the Kosovo scenario was not repeated there. The third factor which is a source of constant friction in military and political relations between Russia and the West is the U.S. desire to be the undisputed leader and, many Russian specialists believe, to “dictate” events on the international stage. Back in 1998 defense minister Igor Sages used one of his speeches to stress that NATO expansion and US diktat were the main threats to Russia’s national security. The new draft of the “Conception of National Security”, which appeared in January 2000, speaks in negative terms of “the trend towards structuring international relations based on domination… led by the USA, and designed to facilitate unilateral decisions, primarily involving military might.” This is a new element, for the 1997 version of the document spoke only of the formation of a multipolar world.

Few people today doubt the fact that relations between Russia and the West (above all the United States) have seriously deteriorated, and the partnership proclaimed at the beginning of the 1990s has been thoroughly undermined, although cooperation and a certain degree of interaction have been maintained in a number of areas, including military policy. The key to understanding the direction and nature of lexical changes in national security documents is to understand the outlook which characterizes the Russian political and analytical community and those involved in decision-making processes.

The last few months have been unusually productive in the adoption and discussion of new documents in this field. A decree issued by acting Russian president Vladimir Putin on 10 January 2000 incorporated amendments into Russia’s Conception of National Security (Russian abbreviation KNB). However, even a brief analysis of the scale of these amendments reveals that in many ways what we have here is a new document (KNB-2). The previous document (KNB-1) was approved by President Yeltsin just over two years ago, on 17 December 1997.

On February 4, 2000 a draft of Russia’s new military doctrine (VD-2) was approved at a meeting of the Security Council. It was announced that after some fine-tuning it would be “put into circulation” within a month to six weeks (possibly after the presidential elections). This doctrine is a new version of the document adopted on 18 November 1993, entitled “The main principles of the military doctrine of the Russian Federation” (VD-1).

A key role in the formation of national security “ideology” in Russia was played by the “Memo on national security from the President of the Russian Federation to the Federal Assembly” (signed by the president on June 13, 1996). This memo defined the country’s national security policy (PNS) for the next five years. The significance of this document (which this author helped to prepare as a member of a special analytical team) lies in the fact that it gave political currency to a number of major framework principles which may be found in one form or another in subsequent documents of this type.

Those who are only interested in the here-and-now of Russian politics do not usually bother to undertake a retrospective analysis of the changes in national security thinking. As a result, important details are missed. For example, a row blew up over the fact that Russia has chosen this moment to announce that first use of nuclear weapons is permissible even in response to mass use of conventional weapons. However, it is worth remembering that former defense minister Pavel Grachev spoke unambiguously about this very possibility during discussions of VD-1. In fact it was in 1993, in the first draft of the military doctrine, rather than now, that Russia first announced that it was prepared to deploy nuclear weapons first, and this represented a fundamental departure from the traditional position of the Soviet Union which did not allow for such a contingency. The draft of the new doctrine merely specifies that nuclear weapons will be used “in response to the deployment of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction against Russia or her allies, and also in response to large-scale aggression using conventional weapons in circumstances when the national security of the Russian Federation is threatened.”

Let me refer again to Aleksei Arbatov, who noted that this clarification changes little, because the deployment of nuclear weapons implies per se that this is the last resort. Furthermore, Arbatov thinks that these statements from the Russian side are nothing more than bravado, since Russia’s strategic and tactical nuclear forces are “certainly not designed for first strike”. Our country does not possess nuclear superiority, which is the only thing that would make the strategy of first nuclear strike a feasible one. At the same time Russia’s policy remains nonaggressive, because the emphasis is placed on the deterrent factor. The key to documents such as these, on which defense strategy should be based, is the definition and formulation of levels of threat. It must be said that the above-mentioned negative perception of several important elements of western policy has prompted a corresponding shift in the formulation of these threats. Here there is a noticeable discrepancy between the new national security concept and the military doctrine. At the same time, KNB-2 maintains an important continuity with PNS, the framework document in this area, which presents a whole range of positive principles. One of these, undoubtedly, is the priority given to internal threats over external ones.

The authors of PNS took as their starting point the important thesis (continued in KNB-1) that “there is no major external threat” to Russia at present; this allowed them to concentrate their efforts on internal development and deal with the priority task of meeting the “main internal challenge”, related to the “incomplete and unstable structure of the democratic institutions of authority and government.”

In KNB-2 internal factors also head the list of threats to Russia’s national security: “The state of the economy, shortcomings in the system of organizing state power and civil defense (which means almost exactly the same as the PNS provision quoted above), socioeconomic polarization…” and so on. Only then are “complications in international relations” mentioned. In this new Conception of National Security, unlike KNB-1, there is simply no mention of the major question of the level of threat of large-scale aggression against Russia. But then at the very top (!) of the list of military threats is NATO’s shift “towards the practice of using (military) force outside the bloc’s zone of jurisdiction and without the sanction of the UN Security Council”, a shift which now forms “part of its strategic doctrine.” This is an obvious reference to NATO’s actions in Yugoslavia. The appearance of this particular provision, and the high priority accorded it, are a clear consequence of the current perception of the West’s actions in Russia, and are a formulation of the corresponding attitude to these actions. The use of this sort of language in such a high level document is a particular cause for concern here.

The draft military doctrine actually challenges the theory that the external military threat to Russia has receded. It asserts that, on the contrary, “the number of potential external and internal threats–including large-scale threats–to the military security of the Russian Federation and its allies remains constant, and is even growing in a number of areas”.

The return of this thesis is dangerous from all points of view. It attests to a growth of mistrust in the outside world and in Russia’s immediate neighbors. A shift in emphasis is noticeable: External threats are brought once again to the fore, and this provides the ideological basis for an attempt (for the umpteenth time in our history) to divert a considerable chunk of resources into defense programs. There is a glaring contrast here with a document which is just two years old–KNB-1, which not only emphasized the priority status of internal threats to security, but also drew from this the major conclusion that “all this opens up fundamentally new opportunities for mobilizing resources to solve the country’s domestic problems”.

However, regrettably the “defense mindset” is gaining strength: A law is passed on financing strategic nuclear forces (with a compulsory fixed level of allocations regardless of the general level of funding for defense programs); and after a short interval a second war is unleashed in Chechnya. In connection with this, for the first time in over ten years, reserve officers are being called up. Military leaders and politicians never tire of pointing out the numerical superiority of NATO over Russia. Military expenditure in the budget for 2000 is classified as secret. Elementary military training is returning to the school curriculum. Inside Russia efforts are being intensified to expose the activities of foreign intelligence services. The list goes on.

As expected, the threat from “NATO’s expansion to the East” occupies a prominent place in the list of international threats in both the “updated” Conception of National Security and the draft military doctrine–third and sixth place respectively. In the latter document the most dangerous threats listed are ones that do not exist at present. In the first place, particular mention is made, for example, of “territorial claims against the Russian Federation”, which are clearly not an issue today. Second place goes to “interference in the internal affairs” of Russia; again it would require blatant exaggeration and a stretch of the imagination to identify such interference in international relations today. Unless, of course, one counts the idea, expressed recently by one very highly-placed Russian politician who is running for president, that “interference in the internal affairs of Russia is going on under the guise of humanitarian activity by European institutions in Chechnya”. Let us hope that politicians’ views are open to correction.

Despite the fact that KNB-2 is a far more mature and balanced document–at least as it stands today–than VD-2, in comparison with the “first wave” of documents both texts contain a clear suggestion that the outside world is perceived as much more hostile than it was before. And this has basically happened “thanks” to the aforementioned actions of the West.

In this respect it should also be noted that the “main international threats” which take priority in KNB-2 have a very anti-Western feel to them. They include “the attempt by individual states and international organizations to belittle the role of existing mechanisms for ensuring international security, particularly the UN and the OSCE”. This again is an undisguised reference to the West’s actions in Yugoslavia. Then there is “the danger of a weakening of Russia’s political, economic and military influence in the world”. After the third point, which, as mentioned above, discusses the expansion of NATO, there is a reference to the danger of the “appearance of foreign military bases and large military contingents in the immediate vicinity of Russia’s borders”.

Clearly, this last point is envisaging what might happen if there were a dramatic worsening in relations and a total rejection of the Framework Act (which was signed by Russia and NATO in 1997, and which rules out the possibility of such a course of events), and if the updated Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (signed only recently in Istanbul, in November 1999) were undermined. None of this is seen as a realistic possibility as things stand today.

To sum up, the “second wave” of documents are decidedly less partner-oriented than their predecessors. KNB-2 speaks of Russia’s national interests in the international arena as being the “development of equal and mutually beneficial relations” with all countries. KNB-1 contained a fundamentally different interpretation: There the aim was to develop “equal relations based on partnership.”

One positive factor that deserves mention is that these Russian documents still show an understanding of the existence of common threats which require effective resistance based on the combined and coordinated efforts of the entire international community. With some reservations, KNB-2 does admit that “objectively the interests of Russia and the interests of other states are still in harmony on many problems of international security, including counteracting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, averting and settling regional conflicts, fighting international terrorism and the drugs trade, and solving serious ecological problems of a global nature, including the problem of radiation and nuclear safety.” It should be pointed out that for two years the sphere of “common interests” has changed so little that it is even described in exactly the same language as in the previous document. This may be partly because in this period very little has actually been done to coordinate efforts in any of these areas.

Nevertheless, it can be said that the latest conception focuses on cooperation, and on integrating Russia into the international political, economic and financial system. As regards domestic political aims, all those proclaimed in this and previous documents are noble and important: maintaining constitutional and institutional stability, ensuring civil peace and consensus, and many others. But regardless of the order in which they are articulated, they only have a very insignificant influence on the course and nature of internal political change in the country. This is because the realities of life in Russia do not lend themselves to reforms that are planned and proclaimed in advance. This is due to the complex nature of the crisis and the intricacy of the political and economic transformations underway in Russia. However, there is one important change which should be highlighted, because it formalizes something that has already taken place. Whereas it used to be stated (albeit with certain qualifications and exceptions) that the armed forces should not be used for internal political purposes, the new version of the Conception of National Security states that this is permissible, although only “in strict accordance with the Constitution.” Russia’s politicians and analysts are still arguing as to whether the current use of the armed forces in Chechnya is in strict accordance with the Constitution.

On the whole, the foreign policy and defense guidelines outlined above appear more “achievable” in practice than the domestic ones, because as a rule they can come into force “by decree”–that is, simply by being enunciated. And they are already being seized upon by military leaders to justify various defense programs, to limit transparency and to increase secrecy.

It has been announced that the text of the draft military doctrine is still subject to amendment. However, it is not really to be expected that these amendments will have a positive impact on relations between Russia and the West given the current state of affairs at home and abroad. They will probably be limited to a reworking of the more meaningless passages penned by military staff (the VD-2 project was drafted, quite properly, in the ministry of defense, and only then submitted to the Security Council for consideration). An analysis of just a few of the key provisions in these Russian national security documents demonstrates that forfeiting a relationship based on partnership and openness in cooperation between Russia and the West was a major failure of the 1990s. The style and principles of these documents are closely related to political and military realities and the perception of them by decisionmakers–the political and military elite. The proclaimed principles quoted above are today simply illustrations of the failed military and political “union” between Moscow and the West.

At the same time, these documents, as the texts themselves often mention, are transitional in nature. For this reason the West’s policy towards Russia is of much greater significance than it may appear. The future framework for Russia’s interaction with the outside world and the principles of Russia’s national security–which will have to be declared on many more occasions to come–depend on how the West’s Russian policy is implemented. The onus is now on the “new team” of leaders in both the West and–to a certain extent–in Russia, who still have the opportunity to improve relations between us in the near future.

The analysis of the new military doctrine (VD-2) is based on the draft text released to the media. It is expected that before it is approved some small changes to the text will be made, as announced at a meeting of the Security Council on January 4, 2000 (Novaya gazeta, No. 5, 7-13 February 2000).

Sergei K. Oznobishchev is the director of the Institute for Strategic Assessments.