Does Russia have the "grand strategy"?

Long-term planning looks like zigzagirovanie between declared objectives and the harsh reality
Ruslan Pukhov
Military-Industrial Courier
Published in issue number 36 (453) for September 12, 2012

The question of the presence of the so-called Russian grand strategy is quite interesting. In the West, traditionally held belief about the presence of the Russian leadership of some deeply thoughtful, purposeful and comprehensive strategic plans that define the foreign policy and military development in the long term.

Such plans by Western observers attributed any and all Russian emperors – from Peter I to Nicholas II and all the Soviet leaders – from Lenin to Gorbachev. Accordingly, any actions by Russia and the Soviet Union were interpreted as corresponding to some profound long-term plans – even the reflex and improvised, such as the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

03-01Documents are of a benevolent nature

This trend continues to live in the West, and now, the good, purposeful-authoritarian style of Vladimir Putin’s policy creates an atmosphere of alleged presence at the Russian leadership of long-term vision. On the other hand, it is under Putin did have a very active efforts to create long-term strategy of Russia’s development in both the economy and security policy. Although, no doubt, these efforts are largely a consequence of the ideological support of Putin’s desire to transform its power in a lifetime, but they do reflect the intention to shape and kind of strategic vision.

The latest incarnation of the long-term planning security policy under Putin – Medvedev became the National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation up to 2020, approved by the decree of President Dmitry Medvedev on May 12, 2009, and the Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, Medvedev signed a decree on February 5, 2010.

However, in my opinion, now in Russia in the field of strategic planning there is a very ambiguous situation in general characteristic of Russian history, but it is most pronounced in Putin’s political system. This situation is the fact that the real domestic security policy is very poorly to formalization, and accordingly all formal schemes and texts designed to formulate the policy to the present and future, are fairly conventional, schematic and cut off from the real nature of the activity. This fully applies to all kinds of doctrines, strategies, plans and concepts galore issued by the Russian authorities in the last decade, not excluding the two last-mentioned alleged "fundamental" document (national security strategy and military doctrine.) Therefore, we must fully understand that these are not formal documents are critical for action of the Russian leadership, and are more political and propaganda (or more precisely, the benevolent) character.

The real Russian strategy of action (if it is possible at all to use the term "strategy") is defined as a bizarre compromise between various factors, and other interest groups, and in many ways a kind of zigzagirovanie between declared objectives and plans, and the harsh reality. Russian policy under Putin has been and continues to be primarily reactive, following the events, reacting to external factors and is difficult to describe in the terms of long-term planning. This is facilitated by the personal qualities of Vladimir Putin, which fugitive oligarch Boris Berezovsky, put it in the sense that "Putin well knows how to use situations, but can not create the situation." Hence the de facto general prevalence in Putin’s policy of tactics over strategy.

On the other hand, it is hard not to see that while Putin has some fairly robust amount of views on the nature of the Russian state and its policies, and that Putin’s foreign and defense policy is based on some relatively strong performances. However, these views are still not very formalized, and apparently only partially amenable to reverse engineering.

Finally, we should point out that Putin’s vision is partly opportunistic, based on the mood of the great majority of the Russian population. Putin likely to be those moods, and does not define them. Putin’s views largely correspond to consensus on the security policy of the Russian people and the Russian elite. This is in no small measure contributed to the breadth of support for Putin in the past decade, during the existence of the so-called Putin’s majority. And revealing that even now, during the collapse of the "Putin majority" issues of foreign and security policy is hardly in Russia of serious debate and does not even contested by opposition politicians and the layers (except the absolutely unbridled ultra-marginal).

In general, speaking more broadly, we can say that in Russia today we see several major sources of the key policies in the field of security:

  • defining vision and the amount of political and psychological attitudes of Putin as an authoritarian leader, almost setting the political agenda, as well as practical measures Putin;
  • formal declarations of doctrine and strategy of the era of Putin and Medvedev’s presidency;
  • common "natural" consensus vision and policy objectives of security prevailing in the Russian elite and the population.

If one can speak of the existence in Russia "grand strategy", this "grand strategy" is a kind of integrated resultant of these sources, and so it makes sense to try to give it characteristics that result. So, here we are talking about trying to sort of "reverse engineering" of the current Russian "grand strategy" and highlighting key elements to understand the logic of the political elite of the country in making certain decisions in the field of security. Concentrated on the military aspects of the issues.

Russian consensus and controversy

It is obvious that in Russia in the last fifteen years is gradually taking shape a national consensus on the goals and objectives of nation-building. Basic national goal in this vision are to rebuild Russia as a great power, economically, politically and militarily. An important aspect of this vision is the consciousness of the Russian elite and the need to radically modernize the country just to revive its superpower status.

Actually, it is the interpretation of the formula and create a basis for determining the main directions of military construction, the main tasks of the Armed Forces of Russia, possible threats and potential adversaries.

The main problem of the Russian security policy in this context is that this aspiration is at variance with the policy of the United States and the West, which, objectively, in principle, show care for the strengthening of Russia economically, politically and militarily. On the other hand, and Russia and the West is interested in the economic and political cooperation, and the West is Russia’s main source of modernization.

This presupposes the whole of the present ambiguous military and political relations between Russia and the West, where both sides hold about one another controversial policy of "friendliness and containment." Objectively, on the one hand, Russia is looking to the West as the main resource for modernization, and on the other – the U.S. and the West at the same time considered (and often justified), the main external obstacles on the path of national reconstruction and modernization, and therefore still identified as potential opponents Russia.

An additional complicating factor in this section are the relations between Russia and its near neighbors. We can say that in general none of the border with the Russian Federation states (including most of the former Soviet Union) are not interested in the revival of Russia. It is this fact is the main reason for their unrestrained pro-Western aspirations to join NATO, and so on. Post-Soviet nationalist formation (especially the Baltic states, Ukraine and Georgia) in fact now are a major problem for the immediate safety of our country. Therefore, the RF part has to be considered almost all contiguous land as potential enemies of the state in some degree.

On the other hand, it is clear that the former Soviet republics are the natural sphere of Russia’s national interests.They are associated with myriads of social, political and economic threads with Russia. Therefore, from the point of view of the national elite, the revival of Russia as a great power is impossible without the preservation of Russian influence (and preferably dominance) in the former Soviet republics. Forms and methods of influence – the question of separate discussion. But it is clear that the preservation of this impact is not possible without breaking the current anti-Russian trends in domestic and foreign policy of the republic, and without the intervention of the West in what is interpreted by Moscow as a "historic zone of Russian interests."

Finally, for Russia, the threat of terrorism and separatism.

Based on the above, we can conclude that Russia faces three basic types of military threats (the degree of likelihood):

  • conflicts "post-Soviet-type" inside Russia as a separatist rebellion and secession attempts and similar in nature, conflicts with neighboring former Soviet republics, in the bulk of its perceiving Russia as the main threat to its sovereignty and interest in weakening Russian influence in any way on its territory, and Russia as a state at all;
  • threat of conflict with the United States as the dominant superpower in the world today and the US-led "Western bloc";
  • the possibility of conflicts with non-member states in the "Western bloc", especially with China. Currently, this type of threat is seen largely minimal in importance due to the relatively small intersection of interests of Russia with such countries. However it is worth noting that Russia retains significant enough military capacity in the Far East.

In this the threat of this conflict of the first type, which was a clear expression in the direction pursued since 2008 under the leadership of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s military reform. Its essence lies in the transformation of the Armed Forces of Russia, from the traditional to the mobilization of forces constant alert. Fundamental conceptual basis of military reform is a reorientation of a new image of the Russian Armed Forces to participate mainly in limited conflicts such as the five-day campaign in 2008 against Georgia. Under these challenges and a new structure built Russian Armed Forces – The Armed Forces should be more flexible, mobile, constantly combat-ready, capable of rapid response and for the participation in the first instance on a limited scale conflicts in the territory of the Russian Federation and other former Soviet states, as well as adjacent areas.

It should be noted that Russia retains and stores in the near future, complete military superiority over the former post-Soviet countries, providing its military and strategic dominance in the former Soviet Union. On the military threat from the West, as can be seen, the main type of the threat – is the possibility of political and military intervention in conflicts in the former Soviet Union from Western countries. Such intervention is seen as the main threat to the national goals of Russia in Eurasia.

Should pay attention to one aspect. So actively promoted the concept of Russia "multipolar world" is itself a priori conflict, giving the world the game "free forces", including the power. "Many of the poles" on the planet will inevitably compete with each other and try to surround themselves with their own spheres of influence. This means that Russia must be mentally prepared to fight for his position and has to have a sufficiently powerful military power to bear on him in this fight. Obviously referring to the Russian military and industrial opportunities, stable imperial traditions and unique geopolitical position in the center of Eurasia, Russia is much greater than other nations able to acquire positions of one of the most powerful nations. Therefore, from the point of view of Moscow, a multipolar world (and even the kind of geopolitical chaos) is beneficial for Russia, creating a unique opportunity to advance Russian interests.

The Russian Federation has a policy at the same time the expansion of ties with the West, as well as with the West is not in a state of ideological confrontation. Finally, Moscow would have to reckon with the rise of new forces in the world – most notably China.

The combination of these factors causes, so Russia to conduct multi-vector military construction, ready to repel a wide range of threats and prepare parallel to the different possible types of conflicts – from counterinsurgency and interventions in the former Soviet republics to the possible large-scale conventional land war with NATO or China and global nuclear war with the United States. Undoubtedly, such a multi-vector creates huge problems for the development of the Russian Armed Forces and defense planning, especially when combined with a vast territory of the Russian Federation and the length of its borders and in the continuing lack of resources.

Thus, the main immediate objectives of the Russian military building can be defined:

  • providing military and political pressure on the domestic and foreign policies of the former Soviet republics and the application to them of military force if requested by the public interest;
  • military containment of the U.S. and NATO in the first place in order to prevent Western intervention in conflicts in the former Soviet Union and in the possible actions of Russia in relation to the former Soviet republics;
  • involved in the repression of internal threats of separatism and terrorism.

Original in Russian:


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