Ready for a Fight: Russia’s New Security Policy

Ready for a Fight: Russias New Security Policy

Diminishing supplies of oil and natural gas will push countries into violent competition, the Kremlin predicted in a long-awaited national security strategy paper released this week. The document foresees these struggles playing out in the Arctic as well as the Middle East, the Barents Sea, the Caspian Sea and Central Asia — and states that Russia is prepared to fight for its share of the world’s resources.

“In the face of competition for resources, the use of military force to solve emerging problems cannot be excluded,” reads the strategy paper, which was signed by President Dmitri Medvedev on Wednesday. It adds: “This could destroy the balance of forces on the borders of Russia and those of its allies.” The paper also addresses the future of NATO and nuclear proliferation, as well as domestic social issues.

Although it vividly outlines the worsened relations between Russia and the West, the anti-Western rhetoric is tempered with acknowledgment of the beginning of rapprochement with the Obama Administration. “Now there is a viewpoint in the Kremlin that the U.S. can be worked with,” says Nikolai Petrov, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, an independent think tank. “Russia has come out and specifically formulated its foreign and defense policy. However, this paper is not setting out how policy will look; it is setting out the de facto situation.”

The paper was ordered up by Medvedev last August, after Russia’s brief war with Georgia made it clear that a new security policy would need to be drawn up to replace the one set out in 2000, which focused more on playing up Russia’s role in the war on terror while it was fighting a war in Chechnya. The updated paper is meant to be a guide for policy development and implementation until 2020.

But while the new paper maintains the belligerent stance displayed last summer and admits that Russia, one of the world’s largest exporters of oil and gas, is willing to use military force to protect and even expand its reserve of resources, the tone has been softened. “If you look at what was formulated concerning Arctic strategy last year and you look at this paper, it looks as if the government position has changed and become more moderate,” says Petrov. “Another explanation is that the foreign ministry is trying to present strategy in a less aggressive way.”

Yet, even as it presents a friendlier Russia, the document makes some sharp comments about NATO and the nuclear balance. “International security is increasingly threatened by the truly inadequate existing global and regional security architecture, as well as international legal instruments and mechanisms for its security,” the paper reads. “Particularly evident is the failure of the security architecture in the Euro-Atlantic region, represented mainly by NATO and the OSCE.” At the same time, it slams U.S. foreign policy without actually calling out the U.S. by name, claiming that Russia’s military security is jeopardized “by the efforts of a number of foreign countries to achieve military predominance, especially with nuclear forces.”

Although the paper focuses on foreign military policy, there is also a significant domestic socioeconomic element that was missing from the 2000 version. The document itself was supposed to be released in March, but was delayed possibly for this very reason. Media speculation abounds that the hold-up was due to the Obama Administration’s less aggressive policy towards Russia, which forced a rethink on the tone of the document. However, observers believe that specific socioeconomic benchmarks such as poverty, food costs and education were removed from the document — which had been in draft form for over a year — as a result of the global financial crisis. “The figures were removed to reduce the liability of the government for their performance,” Vyacheslav Senchagov, a member of the Scientific Council of the Security Council who was not involved in writing the paper, told Russian daily Kommersant.

Others who are familiar with both papers disagree. “The social issues are decorative additions, but the document was not significantly revised,” says the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Petrov. “Even so, the idea of returning Russia to greatness [is now] less important in comparison to the economic crisis. In the end, in the middle of the crisis there is no real reason to formulate this strategy because no one knows what will happen between now and 2020.” And although Russia remains on the offensive on many fronts — from nukes to energy and the Arctic — continuing negotiations with the U.S. may mean future strategy papers come with an even stronger tone of camaraderie.

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