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Russia’s New Military Doctrine: An Overview

Dr Rajorshi Roy is Associate Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile [+].
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  • April 16, 2015

    On December 26, 2014 Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a new military doctrine. This is the fourth such declaration on national security following the ones that were adopted in 1993, 2000 and 2010. The current doctrine, set against the backdrop of the worst post-Cold War standoff between Russia and the ‘West’, provides an insight into the key security challenges perceived by the Kremlin and the way it intends to tackle them. And contrary to popular perception, the document stands out for its rather cautious approach even though it highlights Russia’s resolve to protect core strategic interests.

    While the nucleus of the 2014 doctrine remains the same as that articulated in previous version, its finer details are noteworthy. With Russia and the ‘West’ at increasing loggerheads, the document dwells on the fundamental differences between them. This includes a notable shift from the “weakening of ideological confrontation” in 2010 to the current “increase in global competition” and “tensions due to different values and development patterns”. It also argues for the “gradual redistribution and emergence of new global economic and political centres”. These statements likely reveal Moscow’s calculation of a prolonged confrontation amidst the re-shaping of the global balance of power. It also raises questions about Russia’s European outlook.

    External Dangers and Threats

    The new doctrine elaborates on both the external as well as domestic ‘dangers1 faced by Russia. NATO’s improved military capabilities and expansion ‘Eastwards’ continue to pose the main external ‘danger’. This is followed by the military build-up of foreign forces near Russia’s borders – an apparent reference to NATO’s growing military engagement with Eastern European countries. The U.S. missile defence system and Prompt Global Strike – seen in Moscow as an American attempt to expand military superiority over Russia – round off the key challenges posed by the ‘West’. The developments in Ukraine also find their imprint in the document. It includes references to information and communication warfare, the activities of foreign private military companies and overthrow of legitimate public authorities near Russia’s borders. The document rounds up the external ‘dangers’ by re-emphasising the risks posed by global terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

    In a veiled reference to Western military assistance to Ukraine and its NATO membership, the doctrine singles out the principal external ‘threat2 as the “revitalization of armed forces of states near Russia that are likely to create conditions for use of military force.” This reaffirms the perception that Moscow has factored in a military conflict with the ‘West’ in order to protect its existential interests. The growing mutual threat perceptions between Russia and the West are likely to lead to increased military spending in Europe. This will have significant repercussions for European stability.

    For the first time, the doctrine articulates the need to protect the Arctic. This imperative has led to Moscow’s establishment of the Arctic Command. The protection of the Crimea and Kaliningrad has also become a priority for the Kremlin. Russia’s recent military exercises involving the Arctic, Black and Baltic Sea fleets as well as the western and southern military districts have sent alarm bells ringing in the ‘West’. Russia’s exit from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), symbolic as it may be, and its alleged violation of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty have further raised the ante. For their part, NATO states have also initiated a number of provocative measures including the stepping up of military exercises and deploying additional troops near Russia’s borders.3

    While nuclear deterrence remains the mainstay of Russia’s national security, a notable shift in the current doctrine can be seen in the emphasis on attaining ‘conventional non-nuclear’ deterrence through ‘precision guided weapons’. While the document does not elaborate on the details (perhaps in an attempt at deliberate ambiguity), it does highlight Russia’s newfound confidence in the success of its military modernisation programme. There also appears to be a renewed focus on making the military industrial complex more efficient, fast-tracking the system of army ‘contracts’ in order to form a more professional fighting force and reviving interest in UAVs, automated systems (robots) and aerospace defence development. All this indicates that Moscow is prepared to give priority to defence expenditure even during a period of acute economic turmoil.

    The doctrine also puts to rest the apprehension that Russia will take recourse to a pre-emptive nuclear strike option. It declares that nuclear weapons will be used only as a last resort and in the face of an existential threat.

    Internal Dangers

    The 2014 doctrine reflects the emerging internal threats to Russia. A notable addition in this regard is of “activities aimed at violent change of the constitution and destabilising the country’s political and social situation.” This highlights Moscow’s apprehension of a colour revolution and is an apparent reference to the street protests of 2012 that Putin had accused the ‘West’ of orchestrating. Further, the doctrine also dwells on the “influence of information on young citizens that can undermine the historical, spiritual and patriotic traditions of the country.” In this regard, Moscow has initiated a number of measures, from passing the ‘foreign agents bill’ to limiting foreign ownership of Russian media, to tackle the perceived misinformation campaign of the ‘West’.

    Politico-Military Cooperation with Foreign States

    The doctrine enumerates Russia’s priorities in terms of strengthening ties with strategic partners. Not surprisingly, most countries mentioned are located in its immediate neighbourhood. This reflects a desire to secure the Russian periphery. At the top of the list is Belarus, with the document pointing out the need to “coordinate the development of national armed forces of the Union State”. Minsk is a founding member of Putin’s pet project – the Eurasian Economic Union. It has also facilitated a dialogue between Russia and the ‘West’ over Ukraine.

    A notable addition to the doctrine is the need to “ensure common defence and security policy” with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In the last few months, Moscow has signed key agreements with both the Republics leading to the criticism that they have been virtually integrated with Russia.

    Next on the list is the stress on robust security cooperation within the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). This military organisation is expected to tackle the threats emanating from Central Asia. This is followed by an emphasis on the ‘coordinating’ efforts of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) – an apparent reference to China – to deal with the emerging military ‘dangers’ in the region. In a subtle way, this reflects the new dynamics of Russia’s growing engagement with China with cooperation rather than competition driving their bilateral ties. Finally, substantial cooperation with BRICS countries is also envisaged by the doctrine. Interestingly, the doctrine also articulates Russia’s pivot towards the Asia-Pacific.

    All in all, the new doctrine reflects Russia’s views on the changing geo-political order. It perceives key military risks as emanating primarily from the ‘West’ and dwells on measures to counter them. The document’s underlying tone suggests that Moscow expects this confrontation to intensify in the near future. The new US National Security Strategy, which Russians believe is virulently anti-Kremlin, would have further strengthened this perception. Therefore, one is likely to see a renewed purpose in Russia attempting to build ties with countries that follow an ‘independent’ foreign policy. But at the same time, the doctrine stands out for its comparatively defensive posture by identifying military action only as the last resort. It also leaves the door open for joint missile defence development and collaboration with EU and NATO on European security – but on equal terms.

    Implications for India

    The doctrine fleetingly refers to India as part of the “need to strengthen ties with BRICS countries”. However, the nuances are vital here and herein lies both a challenge and an opportunity. The ongoing Russia-‘West’ standoff has complicated India’s foreign policy options. Sooner or later it will be called upon by both sides to take a firm stand. The wheels of motion have already been set by the EU envoy to India’s call to New Delhi to “persuade Russia over the turmoil in eastern Ukraine”. Against this backdrop, while ties with Moscow have been a pillar of the country’s foreign policy, it cannot ignore the ‘West’ anymore. Therefore, how India manages to tactfully deal with the competing pulls from both sides will be a key test of its diplomacy. Notwithstanding this challenge, India can look to explore greater synergies of cooperation with Moscow’s massive military modernisation programme that is expected to unveil cutting edge defence technology. Despite attempts to isolate it, Russia retains its relevance on the global stage.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India

    • 1. The doctrine defines Military Danger as ‘a state of interstate or intrastate relations characterized by an aggregation of factors capable in certain conditions of leading to the emergence of a military threat’.
    • 2. The doctrine defines Military Threat as ‘a state of interstate or intrastate relations characterized by the real possibility of the outbreak of a military conflict between opposing sides and by a high degree of readiness on the part of a given state (group of states) or separatist (terrorist) organizations to utilize military force (armed violence)’.
    • 3. NATO has set up a 5,000 strong quick reaction force while Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine have agreed to create a joint military brigade in order to tackle the threat emanating from Russia.