Guardian
Russia raises nuclear threat

Ian Traynor

Friday January 14, 2000


Russia has revised its defence doctrine to make it easier to press the nuclear button in an international crisis, while unequivocally declaring the west a hostile power that must be resisted.

A new national security strategy decreed by the acting president, Vladimir Putin, on Monday and to be published today marks a radical shift in Russia's view of the world. It ushers in a policy of "expanded nuclear containment" while pledging to resist western attempts to dominate the globe.

The strategic shift lowers the threshold at which Russia may resort to nuclear weapons and is the first foreign policy move that Mr Putin has taken since replacing Boris Yeltsin in the Kremlin on New Year's Eve.

Mr Yeltsin's strategy, decreed in December 1997, declared that nuclear weapons could only be used "in the case of a threat to the very existence of the Russian Federation as a sovereign state".

The new document states that the use of nuclear weapons is necessary "to repel armed aggression if all other means of resolving a crisis situation have been exhausted or turn out to be ineffective".

The new strategy substantially eases the constraints on resort to the nuclear option. This has been partly triggered by the fact that Russia still commands a large nuclear arsenal, but its conventional forces lack combat readiness.

"These are very substantial changes," said a military affairs expert, Sergei Sorkut. "The emphasis on nuclear weapons has changed. They can now be used in crisis situations."

The Putin strategy takes a much more confrontational position towards the west, a policy overhaul sparked by Nato's expansion into former Warsaw Pact countries and by the US-led war against the former Yugoslavia last year.

Whereas the 1997 strategy spoke of "partnership" with the west and decreed that there was no threat of military aggression to Russia, the new paper says that two "mutually exclusive tendencies" are now locked in combat on the globe.

It says that the "multi-polar world" promoted by Mr Yelt sin, who sought to enlist India and China as allies, is in conflict with "the west led by the US" which aims to use its military might to dominate world affairs.

It is not clear what the new strategy may mean for Nato's Partnership for Peace pact, agreed to appease Russia during negotiations to admit Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to the alliance. Moscow froze its participation last year in protest at the Nato war in Kosovo although more than 3,000 Russian troops are serving in the Nato-led peacekeeping force.

Russian commentary on the leaked 21-page document said it made it clear that "the term 'partnership' has been consigned to the past".

The radical departure in nuclear doctrine, said Moscow analysts, represented an "entirely logical development" enshrining a new policy of "expanded nuclear containment".

"Russia will not only use nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack, but in response to a conventional attack when there is no other way out."

The hostile tone appears to seal a drawn-out process of disenchantment with the west.

A new Russian military doctrine, dovetailing with the Putin national security strategy, is expected to be endorsed by the acting president in February, said Sergei Ivanov, a close Putin ally and secretary of the Kremlin's influential security council.

A draft of the military doc trine, published last October, also attacked the US and Nato but attracted much adverse comment in Moscow and many thought it would be toned down.

Monday's decree by Mr Putin confirms that this will not happen, although Mr Ivanov said changes to the military doctrine would still be "necessary".

On a more conciliatory note, however, Igor Sergeyev, the defence minister, said he was confident that the new parliament in Moscow, due to convene this month, would soon ratify the Start-2 arms control treaty with the US.

Mr Putin is known to support ratification and he wants parliament to act before Russia's presidential election on March 26, a contest that he is widely expected to win.

The timing of the adoption of the security strategy this week and the military doctrine next month also represents electioneering by Mr Putin, whose central message to voters is that he will restore Russia to its great-power status.

The new strategy also places greater emphasis on the threats to Russia from separatism, terrorism and organised crime, and, in an indirect reference to the war in Chechnya, delivers a more forthright assertion of when Russia may deploy armed forces domestically "in strict accordance with the constitution".




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