Putin updated Russia’s official military doctrine on December 26, and the signals it sends points to renewed Cold War-esque tensions between east and west. Carnegie’s Dmitri Trenin reads how the tea leaves have shifted since the last update:
The list of main external risks has not changed much, but the nuances are important. As in the past, top of the table is NATO-related issues: its enhanced capabilities, global reach and enlargement, which brings alliance infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders. After the risk of NATO comes the risk of destabilization of countries and regions, which can be taken to mean Libya, Syria and Ukraine, and foreign force deployments close to Russia, which presumably refers to additional NATO aircraft in the Baltic States, [Ballistic Missile Defense] assets in Romania, and naval ships in the Black Sea. The top portion of the list of risks contains references to U.S. strategic ballistic missile defense, its Global Strike concept, and strategic non-nuclear systems.The latter two risks have attracted a lot of attention in Moscow recently, which put them on a par, along with strategic BMD, as key risks to Russia’s deterrence capability, the apple of the eye of Russia’s entire defense posture. The danger is, of course, that Russian officials may exaggerate the risks and overreact—as they did once under Mikhail Gorbachev, when they fell under the spell of Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) with its “brilliant pebbles” and such. As a result, much of Gorbachev’s disarmament agenda was based on the need to avert something which was not coming.
Trenin also explains that Russia views its combination of military and political campaigns for control in its “near abroad,” (for example, Belarus, Abkhazia, Ukraine) as necessary for establishing a ring of buffer zones against Western expansion. And Russia insists that any dialogue with the West should be conducted on the basis of a conversation “of equals.” He concludes:
The new iteration of Russia’s military doctrine makes it clear that even if the West is not officially an adversary, it is a powerful competitor, a bitter rival, and the source of most military risks and threats. Even faced with a coming recession, upgrading defense capabilities and force readiness remain Russia’s clear priority. Russia is also strengthening integration and cooperation with its several allies and partners in Eurasia, even as military contacts with the West are downgraded to Cold War levels. A watershed has been passed.
If indeed intractable civilization conflict is the framework within which Russian policymakers are thinking, Western policymakers need to take note.