by Patrick Truffer. He graduated from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich with a Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs and completes a Master of Arts program in International Relations at the Freie Universität Berlin.
In a two-part article, we will explore the question, why there was an adaptation to the Russian military doctrine to a a strategic rearmament and a lowering of the nuclear threshold in 2000 and 2010? In the first part, the theoretical chapter did illustrate the change from a rather liberally dominated domestic and foreign policy under Boris Yeltsin to the neorealistic geopolitical influence of Vladimir Putin as well as the influence on the interpretation of events at the international level. Based on Putin’s addresses to the nation from 2014 (see Vladimir Putin, “Address by President of the Russian Federation“, President of Russia, 18.03.2014 and Vladimir Putin, “Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly“, President of Russia, 04.12.2014), the second chapter focused on the influence of NATO’s Eastern Europe strategy to the second eastern enlargement in 2004. The second part focuses on the political instability in Russia’s area of interest and the resultant increased influence of the West in the third chapter. In the conclusion, the findings will be summarized, the research question will be answered and implications for the long-term easing of relations will be drawn.
3 – Unstable domestic political situation and expansion of Western influence in Russia’s area of interest (2003-2010)As a result of NATO’s enlargement of 1999 and 2004 as well as the enlargement of the EU, their areas of interest are overlapping with Russia’s. Directly affected by the negative effects of regional conflicts, for example in the area of organized crime, the West gained increasing influence in the Russian area of interest, which was unacceptable for Russia, especially with regard to Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Belarus (“Russia and the West: The end of the honeymoon“, Strategic Survey 104, No. 1, 01.05.2004, p. 117, 125). Already in November 2003, Russia felt this influence with regard to a unification treaty between Moldova and Transnistria, which was formulated on behalf of Putin by the first deputy head of the Russian Presidential Office, Dmitry Kozak. This treaty took into account the political and military interests of Russia in Transnistria and would have de facto guaranteed the Transnistrian separatists, who are considered criminals by the OSCE and the EU, a veto right in the federal domestic and foreign policy of Moldova (cf.: Sandra Ivanov, “Transnistria: Russia’s pawn in the game for security“, offiziere.ch, 02.01.2015). Both organizations were significantly involved to the extent that the Moldovan president Vladimir Voronin did not sign the treaty. The negative attitude was supported by demonstrations in Chișinău. On the Russian side, the rejection of the treaty was interpreted as anti-Russian power politics, resulting in an increasingly critical stance with respect to the influence of foreign states in the internal affairs of CIS states (Strategic Survey 104, p. 126). Still in agreement with Yeltsin, the EU and US called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova and Georgia, which Putin, however, did not implement (Nicu Popescu, “The EU in Moldova – Settling conflicts in the neighbourhood“, Occasional Paper, European Union Institute for Security Studies, No. 60, October 2005, p. 36; OSCE, “Istanbul Document 1999“, 19.11.1999, p. 49f, 252). The US in turn expanded their presence in Russia’s area of interest. Due to the ongoing war in Afghanistan since December 2001, US troops were operating from the military base in Kyrgyzstan and were stationed in Karshi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan. The Georgian Armed Forces had already been supplied with military material by the US and trained by the US military under the former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. The tensions between Georgia and Russia originated in the Second Chechen War when Chechen rebels stayed on Georgian territory. After the downfall of Shevardnadze, cooperation with NATO and the US was further expanded under Mikhail Saakashvilli (“Eduard Shevardnadze – obituary“, 07.07.2014; “Europe/Russia“, Strategic Survey 105, No. 1, 01.05.2005, p. 146, 156). Prior to the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, Putin accused the US of “arming Georgia in preparation for war and of deliberately starting the conflict [with Russia]” (Marc Champion, Jay Solomon, and Mary Jacoby, “U.S. Ally Proves Volatile Amid Dispute With Russia“, Wall Street Journal, 30.08.2008). Due to the increased presence of NATO and US armed forces in Russia’s area of interest, Russia felt its freedom of action in the area of foreign policy was restricted and that it was threatened by an encirclement (cf.: Strategic Survey 104, p. 125). Especially after the US-American invasion in Iraq 2003, Russia felt increasingly threatened by the West and the relations between Russia and the West were deteriorating (cf.: Strategic Survey 104, p. 117f); Marina Ottaway and Thomas Carothers, “The Greater Middle East Initiative: Off to a False Start“, Policy Brief, Carnegie Endowment, March 2004).
Ukraine also oriented westward, when Viktor Yushchenko was elected as the third Ukrainian president following electoral fraud in the presidential elections in November 2004, in the course of the Orange Revolution and after a re-run of the elections in December (Strategic Survey 105, p. 146, 156). For Russia, the election defeat of the pro-Russia rival-candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, who was openly supported by Moscow meant a bitter defeat. The different interests of the EU/NATO and Russia in Ukraine are like a zero-sum game: For example, an increasing integration of Ukraine into the EU hinders Russia’s plan for a Eurasian Single Economic Space. In addition, key components for the Russian defense industry are manufactured in Ukraine and the Russian Black Sea Fleet is stationed in Sevastopol (Strategic Survey 105, p. 158; “Russia and Eurasia“, Strategic Survey 106, No. 1, 01.01.2006, p. 189).NGOs supported by the West had a significant influence on the mobilization of sections of the community in Georgia as well as in Ukraine (Gerald Sussman and Sascha Krader, “Template revolutions: Marketing US regime change in Eastern Europe“, Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture 5, No. 3, 2008, 91–112. See also: Jeanne L. Wilson, “Colour Revolutions: The View From Moscow and Beijing“, Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics 25, No. 2–3, 18.11.2010, p. 369–95; Sreeram Chaulia, “Democratisation, Colour Revolutions and the Role of the NGOs: Catalysts or Saboteurs?“, Global Research, 25.12.2005). Russia accused the West of deliberately bringing about the change of government in order to weaken Russian influence (Strategic Survey 105, p. 157). The assessment of international relations in the MD 2010 was accordingly pessimistic: the existing international security architecture and the legal mechanisms at the international level are not able to guarantee the security of all states to the same extent. The regional conflicts in the Russian neighboring countries and the tendency to resolve these conflicts with violence would lead to an intensification of the military risks for Russia. In addition, one of the major external military threats was NATO’s endeavor “to endow the force potential […] with global functions carried out in violation of the norms of international law and to move the military infrastructure of NATO member countries closer to the borders of the Russian Federation, including by expanding the bloc” (MD 2010).
The modernization of conventional armed forces moved at a snail’s pace until 2010, mainly due to the inefficient, state-funded, corrupt defense industry, which was in financial peril in 2008 following the global economic crisis (“Chapter Four: Russia“, The Military Balance 110, No. 1, 01.02.2010, p. 213f.). This can be seen, for example, with the battle tanks, where the defense industry was not successful in significantly increasing the proportion of T-90s owing to military-technical reasons. The tactical skills of the Russian Air Force also remained at a very low level with an average annual flight time of 20-25 hours. For comparison: NATO pilots have to fly at least 180 hours per year (Rainer W. During, “Kampfpiloten der Bundeswehr üben zu wenig Flugstundenzahl liegt klar unter Nato-Vorgaben“, Der Tagesspiegel, 01.01.2005, accessed 01 February 2015). Despite the success through the quantitative superiority, some of the weaknesses became plain during the 2008 Georgia Operation: the Russian Air Force was unable to provide close air support, the armed forces lacked night vision devices as well as C4ISR capabilities (“Chapter Four: Russia“, The Military Balance 109, No. 1, 30.01.2009, p. 207, 211). There were also shortcomings in the organizational sector, which led to a replacement of divisions by brigades after the adoption of the MD 2010 (“Russia“, Strategic Survey 109, Nr. 1, 01.09.2009, p. 207; The Military Balance 109, p. 207). Subsequently, the Soviet organizational structure of the Red Army was definitively disestablished after around twenty years (“Chapter Five: Russia“, The Military Balance 111, No. 1, 01.02.2011. p. 173).
Due to the conventional capability gap, Russia prioritized the strategic systems and thereby the potential use of nuclear weapons with the MD 2010 – as already with the MD 2000. The importance of nuclear deterrence increased with the MD 2010. Accordingly, Russia reacted sensitively to the US plans to build an anti-missile shield with approximately one dozen interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. From Russia’s perspective, the long-term strategic nuclear deterrent potential could therefore be undermined and this would enable the US to impose its interests in the Russian area of interest by force. Therefore, Putin threatened in 2007 to pre-programme European target coordinates in the Russian ICBM or to station them in Kaliningrad, should the system components be stationed in Poland and the Czech Republic (“Russia/Eurasia“, Strategic Survey 107, No. 1, 01.09.2007, p. 193). In August 2007, the Russian Air Force conducted long-range flights of strategic bombers for the first time since the mid-1990s (“Russia“, The Military Balance 108, No. 1, 01.02.2008, p. 206). The number of SS-27 (carrying one warhead) increased from 20 in 2000 to 65 in 2010. In addition, an ICBM was introduced with the RS-24 in 2010, which can deploy 3-4 warheads simultaneously (cf.: “Chapter Five: Russia and Eurasia“, The Military Balance 114, No. 1. 01.01.2014, p. 181; Charles P. Vick, “RS-24 / SS-29 / Yars-M“, GlobalSecurity.org, 16.04.2014). With the MD 2010, Russia left open the possibility of carrying out a nuclear first strike against a conventionally superior opponent in the event of an existential threat to Russia.
Russia held NATO, the US and the EU responsible for the unstable political situation in Russia’s area of interest. Thereafter the expansion of Western influence as well as regional conflicts resulted in a strategic rearmament of the Russian armed forces and the adaptation of the military doctrine in 2010. The conventional capability gap had the negative effect that Russia lowered the nuclear threshold in both the MD 2000 and the MD 2010. Moreover, the importance of nuclear deterrence – similar to the Cold War – is again gaining in importance. Therefore, both, the unstable domestic political situation of Russia’s neighboring countries as well as the expansion of Western influence into Russia’s area of interest between 2003 and 2010 led to a rearmament of the Russian armed forces.
NATO’s Eastern Europe strategy, which was geared towards an expansion into the Russian area of interest, together with the transformation of the defense alliance into an offensive military security instrument of the West and the conventional capability gap of the Russian armed forces, led to the MD 2000 and to an associated qualitative rearmament of the Russian armed forces. Thus, NATO’s Eastern European strategy is a necessary, but not sufficient factor for the rearmament of the Russian armed forces. Due to the conventional capability gap, the focus of the rearmament was placed on strategic systems and the lowering of the nuclear threshold. Due to the common interests in combating terrorism, the resources tied up in the Second Chechen War and the inefficient, state-funded corrupt defense industry, the second eastward NATO enlargement led to no additional rearmament and to no adaptation of the military doctrine. The rearmament as part of the MD 2000 was, however, continued.
Based on the neorealist perspective, Russia identifies the West as the catalyst of the unstable political situation in Russia’s area of interest – so that the West would expand its influence at the expense of Russia. As a priority, Russia must compensate for this relative power loss with military means in the context of internal balancing, resulting in the rearmament of the armed forces. Paradoxically, the conventional capability gap of the Russian armed forces have negative effects for the West, because Russia continues to priorities strategic means in the MD 2010, further reducing the nuclear threshold and increasing the importance of nuclear deterrence. Russia’s strategic security need to preclude an enemy nuclear first strike with a reliable second-strike capability must be taken into account in the design of an anti-missile shield. Should the Russian second-strike capability be undermined, this could lead to unpredictable adverse reactions, which has already been shown by Putin’s threat to pre-programme European target coordinates in the ICBM or to station them in Kaliningrad.
It can generally be stated that the eastward expansions of NATO and the EU and their growing influence in Russia’s area of interest, the superiority of the West in the conventional sector and the unstable domestic political situation in the neighboring countries led to the adaptations of Russian military doctrine in 2000 and 2010 and the related strategic, nuclear rearmament of the Russian armed forces. To understand this reaction by Russia, the neorealistic, geopolitical school of thought of Russian politicians must be taken into account, which puts power, power shifts, one’s own relative power loss and the corresponding compensation options at the center of international relations. In this system, each power projection of the West is associated with Russian power compensation. For the long-term easing of relations, such projections of power must be reduced and trust should simultaneously be rebuilt, for example, by treating Russia as an equal partner. If this is not possible, Russia should have the option of being able to implement its power compensation primarily through external balancing within the CIS, secondarily in a non-military manner and thirdly in the conventional sector, in order to prevent further upgrading in the strategic nuclear field.