The Broad Mind | Russia’s new military doctrine: an attempt at deterrence

By Pranay Kotasthane

The new doctrine seeks to assert Russia’s position in the neighbourhood and salvage Putin’s position domestically

Only a few days after Ukraine moved closer to NATO, relinquishing its troubled “non-aligned” status, Russia announced its new military doctrine which was signed by President Putin on December 26, 2014.

This update has garnered a lot of attention in the US, EU, and NATO nations, which I argue was its sole objective. A few frantic reports from the US termed this new doctrine as an escalation, culminating in a “Cold War 2.0” or “The New Cold War”.

The updates in the military doctrine by themselves are cursory in nature. First, the doctrine singles out the NATO expansion in Eastern Europe as the primary threat to Russia’s national interest. As a result, military measures such as anti-missile shields, ‘global strike’ concept, plans of placing weapons in space are spotted as the dangers to watch out for. Considering the upheavals in Ukraine and fomenting troubles in Estonia, Lithuania and Moldova, this move is in line with Russia’s previous versions of the doctrine, which explicitly state that protecting Russian “compatriots”, a loose term meaning any ethnic Russian in the former CIS states is a duty of the Russian Federation.

Second, analysts have highlighted that the new doctrine is belligerent because it mentions that Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons against its enemies if it faces aggression of any type that threatens the security of the Russian State. This is again consistent with Russia’s earlier stance of retaining the right to the “first use” of nuclear weapons. Indeed, deterrence as a policy rests on the foundation of extremely destructive consequences.

Third, a significant change that should be of interest to all nation-states, but has largely gone unnoticed is that the doctrine has put protection of national interests in the Arctic as a priority for the armed forces for the first time. This highlights Russia’s continued focus on the oil & gas market as a currency for global power.

Thus, even if the doctrine does not contain any remarkable changes in Russia’s position, it is significant for other reasons. What’s important is that Russia felt it important to garner attention towards a doctrine that had not changed since 2010. This change might be a signalling instrument aiming at two things. First, buckled by sanctions over the Ukraine issue, Russia wants to signal that involving Ukraine and other eastern European nations in the NATO buildup might have larger repercussions for the world. This is particularly aimed at the fence sitters in the EU, who have supported Russia previously due to their energy dependence. Second, the falling rouble and a resulting looming economic crisis have started hurting Russian businesses badly. This change in the doctrine will help stem the opposition to Putin coming from powerful business circles. A new military doctrine helps Putin consolidate his position, generates public support and possibly prevent a backlash from the oligarchs.

The larger point that the doctrine signals is Russia’s desperation over the crippling sanctions, exacerbated by the falling revenues from oil and gas exports.