President Vladimir Putin approved a new military doctrine Friday outlining the threat Russia says is posed by NATO’s expansion and military buildup closer to its border.
NATO has boosted its military presence in Eastern Europe this year because of Russia’s support for insurgents in eastern Ukraine; the Kremlin says the Western allies' heightened activity in and near Eastern Europe is a "violation of international law.”
Sources familiar with the text of Putin's new doctrine says it appears to refer specifically to the United States when it condemns “acts contrary to international law aimed against the sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity of states.” It says these are threats to “international peace, security, global and regional stability."
The new doctrine singles out as military threats the West's new strategic antiballistic missile systems. Russia says these undermine global stability and the nuclear balance of power. The United States and some of its allies have expanded anti-missile systems in recent years, despite Moscow's objections.
"NATO poses no threat to Russia or to any nation," an alliance official told VOA. "Any steps taken by NATO to ensure the security of its members are clearly defensive in nature, proportionate and in compliance with international law. In fact, it is Russia's actions, including currently in Ukraine, which are breaking international law and undermining European security."
NATO reaffirmed that it intends to continue to seek a constructive relationship with Russia, "but that is only possible with a Russia that abides by international law and principles — including the right of nations to choose their future freely," the NATO official said.
Threat to Baltic states seen
Karl Altau, managing director of the Joint Baltic American National Committee, said that Putin’s move is more evidence that he continues on the road to entrench and isolate himself and his regime. “His threats against perceived enemies, particularly NATO, are surely meant to both cow the West and to ramp up chauvinism for an already propaganda-infused domestic audience in the Russian Federation,” he said.
Russia's entrenchment is both worrisome and dangerous for Russia’s neighbors, such as the Baltic countries, Altau said. “The Baltics, and all other Central and Eastern European countries, were absolutely correct in sensing that perhaps one day, a revanchist Moscow would be back [after the collapse of the Soviet Union].”
Putin’s intransigence and aggressive military maneuvering stretch well beyond Europe, reaching as far as the Caribbean, Arctic and the U.S. West Coast, Altau said, referring to months of increasingly far-ranging military "training" exercises that have sent Russian bombers on missions many thousands of kilometers from their home bases.
“Russia’s new doctrinal willingness to consider a broad use of nuclear weapons, whether in retaliation or in the case of aggression or even as a deterrent, is a new and unprecedented danger,” the Baltic analyst said.
Political rights in Russia
Eric Shiraev is professor of international relations and political psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and the author of several publications on U.S.-Russian relations. He says Putin's new military doctrine has been almost three years in the making and is not astonishingly new. Overall, the doctrine claims that there is a diminished threat of global nuclear war, but it states that Russia faces increased threats from other conflicts.
“Any strong government is supposed to put together quite articulate and quite precise military doctrine, but on the other hand, we know that this would be difficult to implement,” Shiraev said.
The doctrine also suggests the existence of internal threats in Russia. “This is a little bit worrying, because the government officials will consider this as another signal to tighten up the pressure on and limit the political rights in Russia,” the scholar said.
Timing of the new doctrine
Although the revised Russian military doctrine may have been years in the making, veteran observers of Russia are taking note of the decision to issue it now.
Putin signed the revised military doctrine almost one year after conflict erupted in eastern Ukraine, which followed protests in Kyiv that forced the country's president, an ally of Moscow, into exile in Russia. Since then, Russia has annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, and Russian-backed separatists have battled Ukrainian government troops in the country's east.
Ukraine's pro-Western parliament overwhelmingly passed a law on Tuesday abolishing Kyiv's neutral, nonaligned status, a step some Ukrainians hope will lead to European Union and NATO membership.
Moscow was quick to react, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the forefront, calling the law “counterproductive.”
NATO has boosted its military presence in Eastern Europe this year because of Russia’s support for insurgents in eastern Ukraine, but Moscow has continuously denied it actively supports the rebellion.