The Russian government released its latest national security strategy in December 2015. A close look at this document provides valuable insight into what the country will seek to accomplish in the foreign policy and security spheres over the coming years.
The Russian Federation issued its first version of a national security strategy since 2009, ostensibly taking into account developments in the geopolitical landscape over the last six years. While there are some noticeable shifts in focus relating to domestic and foreign policy, the main themes that characterized the country’s past strategic undertakings remain in place.
Relations between the US and Russia have by any objective measure worsened since 2009. Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian conflict and subsequent sanctions imposed by the US highlight the current poor state of affairs between the two countries. This dynamic has been shaped by developments in other parts of the world too, as differences in approach to resolving the Syrian civil war and other issues in the Middle East pit the two nations increasingly at odds.
Against this backdrop, Russia claims that carrying out an independent domestic and foreign policy will bring it into opposition with the US and its allies. The text states that the US strives to preserve its dominance in global affairs and, in so doing, aims to prevent Russia from exerting its own influence on the international stage. Russia places blame on the US for supporting the overthrow of the Ukrainian government in 2014 and for inciting military conflict in the country in the years following. This serves as just one example of the points of tension that Russia asserts US foreign policy has brought about in the former Soviet region.
While this rhetoric may appear sufficiently antagonistic toward American interests, observers note that in comparison with past strategy white papers, the US is described less as a direct threat and more as an obstacle to the country’s ascension as a world power. Supporting this observation, Russia names the growth of Islamic State as one of its primary security threats, but attributes its rise in power to certain countries following contradictory policy in the fight against global terrorism, a less than subtle jab at America’s alleged role in the terrorist group’s rise in prominence in Syria and Iraq.
As in previous years, Russia continues to see the existence and potential expansion of NATO as a major threat to its interests. Although no new member states have officially joined since mid-2009, the organization has made significant inroads in multiple countries in the former Soviet bloc. Montenegro’s invitation to join the alliance has caused consternation among Russians and many Montenegrins alike. Along with NATO’s expansion efforts, Russia remains critical of Europe’s missile defense systems, particularly those located in the eastern part of the continent. Regional security partnerships are at multiple points in the paper blamed for not only failing to resolve conflicts, but on the contrary, exacerbating them.
While remaining deeply suspicious of the Western-oriented alliance, Russia seems to focus more on developing and strengthening its own strategic partnerships. Though only lightly referenced in the 2009 strategy, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is given more attention in the latest version, having been established in 2014 and comprising of five member states as of January 2016. While previous iterations of post-Soviet groups, from the Commonwealth of Independent States to the Collective Security Treaty Organization, have taken on limited aspects of cooperation, the EAEU is the most all-encompassing and closest-resembling organization to the European Union, which Russia likely sees as a competing model of political and economic influence. Russia makes reference to the importance of establishing regional currencies, ostensibly as both a means of curtailing the US dollar’s use as an international currency and as a proposal that the ruble should be adopted among the group’s member states, as has been discussed in the past.
State of Economy
As in the 2009 version, special attention is given to the state of Russia’s economy, though for different reasons this time around. Seven years ago, the country was recovering from a severe economic downturn brought about by the collapse of the global financial system. At present though, the country has struggled to adjust to perpetually low oil prices and broad sanctions imposed by the US and Europe. With forecasts indicating a bearish energy price climate for the foreseeable future, it will be of particular interest how the government adapts to these new conditions.
Promoting energy security remains an integral part of the administration’s national strategy moving forward, with an eye on ensuring energy demand abroad and maintaining strategic oil reserves at home amid an unpredictable international market. Although potentially just empty rhetoric, the parts of the text that emphasize cracking down on corruption and fostering a better business environment seem to suggest evolving priorities for a country that finds itself increasingly cash-strapped. Especially, as it aims to increase its military and political clout from beyond the near abroad to the Middle East and Asia.
The communication of an effective, concise national security strategy becomes somewhat muddled in a 40-page document with as many different focuses as this latest paper has. However, if there is any unifying theme, it is that Russia is intent on expanding its role as a powerful country in a multipolar world, and that efforts made by the US directly impede, if not threaten, this progress. From counter terrorism and nuclear defense to cultural values and the economy, the US is presented as a contentious rival, but not necessarily spoken about with the same kind of undertones that characterized relations during the Cold War and after. Tensions between Russia and the West will undoubtedly persist well into this decade, but it appears that the nature of this rivalry from the Russian perspective has shifted from one of vying for global dominance to one of breaking up US hegemony and creating a multipolar geopolitical landscape.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons