Russian Military Doctrine Looks East

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 36

Statements by senior Russian defense officials raise many questions concerning Moscow’s defense posture. The Chief of the General Staff Army-General Nikolai Makarov and the First Deputy Defense Minister Army-General Nikolai Pankov recently chaired a roundtable with Russian journalists in Moscow, devoted to military reform. Noting that public interest in the reform has continued since the “new look” was first announced in October 2008, Makarov referred to an opinion poll that suggested 63 percent of ordinary Russians support the reforms and believe it will lead to the “expected result.” Predictably, both Makarov and Pankov highlighted the administrative achievements to date, ranging from abolishing the division-based structure of the armed forces and successfully completing the transition to permanent-readiness brigades with a three tiered command-and-control system. He also confirmed that the Sozvezdiye tactical-level command-and-control system, tested during military exercises in 2009, will be rapidly introduced as the military adopts network-centric capabilities (Krasnaya Zvezda, February 21). It was also implied during the roundtable that further additional, as yet unannounced, aspects of the reform are currently under consideration.

However, one source of puzzlement was his reference to the new military doctrine, signed by President Dmitry Medvedev on February 5, providing clear and unambiguous guidance on the future development of the military. Yet, it is unclear which elements of the doctrine he referred to. Indeed, the doctrine does not formulate such clear direction on these issues. One source within the defense ministry clarified this, saying that the doctrine confirms that such clarity exists in presidential statements and “strategic planning documents” (Krasnaya Zvezda, February 21; Vedomosti, February 15;, February 5).

Indeed, since the new doctrine was signed, following almost five years of drafting, much Western attention has focused on its more nuanced approach toward NATO. This stems from the distinction made in its content between a “danger” or “threat.” NATO enlargement, which is axiomatically opposed by the Russian military-security elite, is thus downgraded to a danger, allowing continued opposition toward its implementation without implying any shift in defense posture [EDM, February 9;].

Recognizing this distinction, compared with the previous military doctrine in 2000, a number of obvious novelties are evident. These include: “attempts to destabilize the situation in individual states and regions and to undermine strategic stability;” the “creation and deployment of strategic missile defense systems undermining global stability and violating the established correlation of forces in the nuclear-missile sphere, and also the militarization of outer space and the deployment of strategic non-nuclear precision weapon systems.” Despite these dangers being “new,” they are unsurprising. Other innovations involve the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, missile technology and the growth in the number of nuclear states, as well as the violation of international agreements and non-compliance with previously existing treaties. The former seems linked to Iran and North Korea, while the latter reflects the US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty and the difficulty in concluding a revised Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. The doctrine also notes the danger posed by centers of inter-ethnic tension, international armed groupings close to the Russian border, which may indicate its authors had Afghanistan in mind (, February 5).

Nonetheless, a military “threat,” according to the doctrine, may lead to a “real possibility of military conflict.” It then notes a deterioration in inter-state relations, which was not mentioned in the previous doctrine. The fourth and fifth threats, in contrast to other themes contained in the doctrine, are rooted in the observation of worrying trends close to the Russian border. These involve a “show of military force with provocative objectives in the course of exercises on the territories of states contiguous with the Russian Federation or its allies;” and “stepping up of the activity of the armed forces of individual states (groups of states) involving partial or complete mobilization and the transitioning of these states’ organs of state and military command and control to wartime operating conditions.” The underlying security thinking is less clear, yet there was evidently a weighty issue on the minds of the authors of the doctrine (, February 5).

Alexander Khramchikhin, the Deputy Director of the Moscow-based Institute for Political and Military Analysis, who has written extensively within the Russian military press on such issues, suggested that the formulators of the new military doctrine had in mind the growing threat posed by China. Khramchikhin pointed out that during military exercises conducted by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), they have rehearsed large-scale aggression against Russia. Other Russian military Sinologists have similarly observed a trend in the PLA’s exercises away from Taiwan or Tibet, toward rehearsing military intervention within Central Asia and Russia (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, February 18). Thus, while many analysts and commentators focused on the western dimension of the new doctrine, the threat perception in relation to China has increased, and this is firmly rooted in following the demonstration of military force displayed by China’s combat training exercises. As Khramchikhin concluded: “In recent years, only one country has conducted training exercises of such a nature. That country is the People’s Republic of China.”

To date, Russian military-security thinking on China has been based on downplaying this potential flashpoint, predicated on letting sleeping dogs lie. At a geopolitical level, Moscow has endeavored to foster a Sino-Russian strategic partnership and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as mechanisms through which both sides can defuse any tension, while playing their own zero-sum game. Faced with the overwhelming conventional superiority of the PLA, the only realistic option is nuclear deterrence. However, while not daring to overtly specify China in its military doctrine, this perception is influencing Russian defense planning. The author has identified the movement of Russian military experts into think-tanks devoted to examining Far Eastern issues. Moreover, all the indications are that the forthcoming combined-arms operational-strategic exercise Vostok 2010 with units of the Siberian and the Far Eastern military districts, the air force, airborne troops and the Pacific Fleet may also include a strong underlying signal to the Chinese leadership. While Russian silence on China as a future threat has been longstanding, the message displayed during this exercise may prove more revealing than any formulation of words.<iframe src=’’ border=0 name=’inner_menu’ frameborder=0 width=1 height=1 style=’display:none;’></iframe>