Russia’s Old, New Doctrine

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu outlined Russia’s new doctrine for the benefit of Arab leaders.

Russia’s Old, New Doctrine
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

report over at Defense News outlines the proceedings of the Moscow Conference on International Security which took place on May 23 and 24, just ahead of the Shangri-La Dialogue. Just as the latter conference was a venue for Asia-Pacific states to share competing visions for security in Asia, so Russia seized the opportunity of the Moscow Conference on International Security to pitch its doctrine to participants. While the participants of the Moscow Conference were mostly from the Middle East, including high level Algerian, Egyptian, Libyan, Lebanese, Syrian, and Emirati military representatives, the doctrinal pronouncements reveal a deep skepticism in Russian circles about the United States’ role in the international system.

At the Moscow Conference, Kremlin officials “briefed” participants from over 41 countries on “the new emerging Russian national security doctrine.” According to Defense News:

The doctrine holds that the U.S. and its allies are engineering revolutions and uprisings in key areas around the world to destabilize governments and replace existing regimes in order to establish control and exploit natural resources. Furthermore, the doctrine treats the U.S. as a dangerous nation that seeks to dismantle the Russian statehood.

The doctrine was outlined by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu himself, which means this pronouncement comes from the highest levels of Russia’s leadership. The pronouncement is unsurprising given the fact that relations between Russia and the West, in particular the United States, are at their post-Cold War low point. Between disagreements over how to deal with Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and, more recently, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its fomentation of separatism in eastern Ukraine, Russia has positioned itself as an adversarial power to Western interests.

Shoigu emphasized that the United States and Western powers were actively fomenting “color revolutions” across the world. The Russian position on Ukraine’s post-Yanukovych government is in line with this statement — the Kremlin sees the Yatsenyuk government as one that was propped up by the United States and the European Union to undermine Russian interests. If we take Shoigu’s statements at the Moscow conference to accurately reflect the most current manifestation of Russian foreign policy priorities then the number one goal for the Kremlin is to combat the United States’ perceived geopolitical expansionism.

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One expert cited by Defense News, Theodore Karasik, notes, “The Russians are interpreting U.S. interference in countries like Ukraine and across the Middle East like Egypt, Syria, North Africa and even Venezuela as operations to take their natural wealth and convert their population towards a western leaning oversight.” Furthermore, he adds, “the Russians, by announcing this new doctrine in such clear terms, are announcing their intent to counter this activity [of destabilizing governments by popular uprising] by conducting additional research and analysis, ultimately coming out with counter policies.”

In Shoigu’s remarks, there seems to be little focus on the Asia-Pacific. That doesn’t mean that Russia is content to stand still in the region. By contrast, it has made major advancements in its relations with China, Vietnam, India, and Pakistan. It recently concluded a historic $400 billion natural gas supply deal with China, lifted its self-imposed arms embargo on Pakistan, and deepened its military cooperation with Vietnam and India.

Most of the Kremlin’s post-Cold War policy towards Asia-Pacific states has been driven by its economic self-interest, with relatively less emphasis placed on Moscow’s geopolitical position vis-a-vis Washington. Pursuant to Shoigu’s remarks on Russia’s new doctrine, we might see a new sort of activist Russia emerge in the Asia-Pacific as well as in the Middle East and North Africa. To be sure, this doctrine isn’t exactly “new” — if anything, it represents a more overt return to the Kremlin’s Cold War mindset. This development would considerably complicate the United States’ ability to command influence in the Asia-Pacific as it would have to compete with Russia, particularly in defense matters.