Russia’s new strategic posture
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on the last day of 2015, approving a document that updates and replaces Russia’s existing National Security Strategy (NSS) paper, which had been in force since 2009. The updated strategy paper essentially summarizes Russia’s national interests and defines its strategic priorities for the years ahead. Although there was no officially endorsed English version of the paper, various unofficial translations and semi-official leaks to the press have already revealed enough of the document that we can now safely argue that it generally reflects Russia’s anxiety over NATO’s enlargement and undeclared containment policies outside the country and several domestic difficulties inside.
The relationship between Russia and the West has been deteriorating since the former first invaded and then annexed Crimea on March 18, 2014. The continued Russian hostility toward Ukraine, resultant Western economic sanctions on Russia, which exacerbated the impact of its economic recession due to low oil prices and the depreciation of ruble and the Western-induced international isolation of Russia, have all contributed to the acrimony between Russia and the West. This led to Russian tests of European resolve through violations of NATO airspace and territorial waters. In response, NATO organized exercises and a military build-up on its eastern borders and decided to enhance its defense capabilities by increasing members’ defense budgets and creating new task forces at the Wales Summit on Sept. 4-5, 2014.
In light of the changing security environment, the Russian NSS document has established goals and priorities for Russia, while also highlighting its threat perceptions that includes “color revolutions,” “bio-labs around Russian territory,” “NATO’s eastward expansion,” and “the activities of foreign intelligence services, terrorists and extremist organizations.” Leaving aside the out-of-date terminology it uses, the document unashamedly accuses the United States and the European Union of supporting a coup in Ukraine, thus dividing Ukrainian society and leading to an armed conflict. Though not said, presumably this also “forced” Russia to occupy and annex Crimea.
We all know how Russia has been uncomfortable with regime changes in its sphere of influence, unless induced by Russia. The alleged role of Western NGOs in various “colored revolutions” is perceived as a Western conspiracy to undermine Russia. Thus the outbreak of mass protest in Ukraine in 2014 and subsequent European support have further induced Russian anxiety, which is clearly reflected in the new NSS paper.
In fact, the new NSS paper contains no surprise as it essentially replicates Russia’s 2014 military and 2015 maritime doctrines with minor revisions. Although Russia has frequently announced its annoyance with NATO’s open-door policy, seeing it as a threat, this time its displeasure is more openly expressed in places where the NSS paper deals with Western interference, NATO’s expansion and military activities near Russian borders.
While the paper, despite its negative wording, leaves the door open to the development of relations with the West in general, seeing partnership with NATO on an equal basis as a way to counter emerging new threats to Russian security, it still heavily criticizes the West for its “counter-action” toward Russian “independent domestic and foreign policy.” In short, with the not-so-new strategic posture of Russia, President Vladimir Putin is once again repeating his long-term desire to consolidate Russia’s status as one of the leading powers in international politics. His re-emphasis on the “multi-polar” character of the world in every platform clearly shows his intention for – but not the capabilities of – Russia.