On December 31, President Vladimir Putin signed off on a new national security strategy for Russia that unequivocally identifies NATO as a threat. The new strategy, observers say, reflects the recent deterioration in relations between Russia and the West, following Moscow's annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, as well as its more recent military intervention in Syria.
The 40-page document is generally harsh in tone, focusing on what it characterizes as Russia's isolation in the current international system. In addition, it gives clear priority to state interests over personal interests. It emphasizes the need to guarantee "the inviolability of the constitutional order, the sovereignty, independence, government and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation."
US, both opponent and partner
The strategy document takes a two sided approach to the United States. On the one hand, it says that Russia's "independent" foreign and domestic policy has "provoked opposition from the United States and its allies, which are seeking to maintain their dominance in world affairs." It condemns the United States for continuing to deploy anti-missile defenses, accuses it of supporting an "anti-constitutional coup" in Ukraine and even claims that "a network of U.S. military-biological laboratories" is being expanded on the territory of states neighboring Russia.
On the other hand, the document goes on to say that Russia is interested in building a full partnership with the United States. It notes the need to further develop arms control and confidence building measures related to nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The new strategy also calls for expanded cooperation" in fighting terrorism and resolving regional conflicts.
The call to partnership is almost at the end of the document.
'Threat' from NATO
Taking aim at the Western military alliance, the new Russian national security strategy describes a "buildup" of power on the part of NATO, "imparting to it global functions undertaken in violation of the norms of international law, the intensification of military activities of the bloc countries, the further expansion of the alliance, the approach of its military infrastructure up to Russia's borders." Russia says all of this is a threat to its national security.
Writing in The National Interest Thomas Fedyszyn, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College, says that the document fails to note that NATO decided to bolster its rapid reaction force "in direct response to Russian revanchism [a foreign policy aimed at the regaining of lost territories] in Crimea and Ukraine, several months after the aggressions occurred."
Fedyszyn, who served as U.S. Naval Attaché to Russia and two tours of duty at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, also notes that NATO troops in Poland and the Baltic states are "rotational," not permanently-stationed forces, and that their numbers "are dwarfed by Russian counterparts across the border."
Alexander Konovalov, president of the Moscow-based Institute for Strategic Assessments, noted in an interview with VOA that the new strategy document reflects Russia's international isolation since it no longer seeks to connect with either former Soviet countries or those in central Asia.
"In the previous strategy, the priority in foreign policy and security policy was given clearly, directly in the text, to cooperation with the CSTO [the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which includes, Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan], with some Asian countries - the SCO [the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes China, Russia and four Central Asian countries] was mentioned. This time I found no mention of the priority of cooperation with CSTO member states, the widely publicized turn to the East."
Alexander Golts, a Moscow-based independent military expert, said the new national security strategy is more "defensive-aggressive" than its predecessors.
"The ideology of the document is that Russia is ringed by enemies; Russia is resisting Western countries, which don't like that it is conducting an independent and autonomous foreign policy," he told VOA. "It explicitly states that if Russia cannot achieve its goals using diplomatic and political means, it may resort to military means."
Still, Golts said he is sure that the document approved by Putin is not a practical guide for the Russian governmental bodies responsible for national security.
"It is necessary to understand that such documents in Russia are purely bureaucratic," he said. "A meticulous researcher could find signs here of conflicting points of view between different bureaucratic clans. But you have to understand that this 'strategy' does not represent the thinking of Russia's leaders: it is what Russia's leaders want to convey to the world about their views, so that the world thinks this is how they are thinking."