A true ‘Medvedev doctrine’

Moscow News
September 26, 2011 Monday

This month, more than 15,000 Russian soldiers have taken part in two major multinational military exercises.

The first, ‘Center-2011,’ is formally under the banner of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Russia’s answer to NATO and includes Kazakh, Tajik and Kyrgyz soldiers.

Meanwhile, Russian and Belarusian troops are engaged in ‘Union Shield-2011′ to the west. These wargames are much less aggressive than recent years’. ‘West-2009,’ for example, included a pretend nuclear attack on Poland, while ‘East-2010’ simulated fighting off the Chinese.

Both ‘Center’ and ‘Union Shield,’ though, are based on resisting threats against allies.What is alarming is the threats they envisage. In ‘Center,’ the CSTO played out how it would defeat an attempted coup in Tajikistan.

In ‘Union Shield,’ the exercises explicitly addressed how to defend against foreign air strikes along the lines of NATO’s operations in Libya.

These military exercises are carefully-organized major events, the highlights of the annual training calendar. They often give us a pretty good idea of what kind of wars a country thinks it might be fighting.

The ‘Arab Spring’ has led many to wonder if the same democratizing impulses will lead to unrest in the authoritarian states of Central Asia.

It is easy to see why autocrats like Tajikistan’s Rakhmon and Belarus’s Lukashenko would like to feel they have Russia’s support if they face protests at home. Lukashenko is trying to get the CSTO’s charter changed to reflect this.

But is this really Moscow’s intent? Is there to be a new ‘Medvedev Doctrine’ like the old ‘Brezhnev Doctrine’ which sent the tanks rolling into Prague in 1968 and Kabul in 1979?

Almost certainly not. Mainly.

First of all, it makes no military sense. The Russian army is at last going through a reform program which is beginning to make it a more modern and effective force.

The new, slimmed-down military is designed for sharp, mobile modern warfare, not glorified crowd control and messy streetfighting with irregulars and rebels.

Even in Chechnya, fighting is now handled by Interior Ministry police and security troops, not the regular military.

It also makes little political sense. The lessons of the ‘Arab Spring’ are that violence is rarely a solution. The Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan regimes have fallen; the Syrian one is embattled. What will happen elsewhere is still in doubt.

In Central Asia, Moscow also knows that its oil, gas or business give it a strong hand. When Kyrgyzstan fell into chaos last year, Russia refused appeals to intervene. A new government rose, but – despite occasional disputes – Moscow can deal with it comfortably and in the main dominate it. The lesson would seem to be that it is not worth intervening in domestic politics abroad.

But that only applies so long as the regimes in question are what Moscow would consider to be ‘sensible’ – willing to accept her regional dominance. As Georgia found, openly challenging Moscow is a dangerous move.

Russia’s new-look army ought to be even more effective at delivering short, decisive in-and-out reprimands to such resistance in the future.

But what about radical Islamic regimes which might not be willing to be tamed by Moscow?

Concern is growing that the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan will lead to an influx of jihadist fighters into Central Asia, capitalizing on deep-seated economic and ethnic grievances.

In this case, it is possible that Moscow would feel it had no option but to intervene and try and prop up a failing regime, even though its army was trained and equipped to fight a very different kind of war. Much as in Afghanistan in 1979.

The regimes which seem to be weathering the ‘Arab Spring’ best, though, seem to know that repression is not enough. They have been making reforms, spending money on jobs and benefits.

Perhaps a true ‘Medvedev Doctrine’ would also encompass knowing when to lean on corrupt and authoritarian neighbors to try and encourage reforms to pre-empt unrest rather than making implicit promises to send troops when that discontent erupts?

Mark Galeotti is Clinical Professor of Global Affairs at New York University’s SCPS Center for Global Affairs. His blog, ‘In Moscow’s Shadows,’ can be read at: http:// inmoscowsshadows.wordpress.com

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