Russia’s New Security Strategy: Deter U.S., Ignore EU, Partner with China and India

Russian Soldiers Marching

(Russia Matters – russiamatters.org – Simon Saradzhyan – July 15, 2021)

Simon Saradzhyan is the founding director of Russia Matters.

Vladimir Putin has just signed off on Russia’s new National Security Strategy. As with any such strategic document, it is useful to compare it to its predecessor, if only to identify key changes in the Kremlin’s vision of what constitutes Russia’s national security and how to attain it. My comparison between the 2021 document and its 2015 predecessor reveals that the Kremlin has strengthened its determination to deter the West and engage the East (Asia), which it sees, respectively, as declining and rising, while starting to pay more attention to domestic components of national security, such as human capital.When the previous strategy was adopted in 2015, many analysts suspected that relations between the West and Russia had already hit rock bottom following the intervention in Ukraine that the Kremlin launched in 2014 with some hoping for an eventual rebound, if only a partial one. The new document shows that that bottom was false, with multiple layers underneath ripe for the further deterioration of Russia’s relations with the United States and its allies, even as Moscow’s partnership with Asia’s leading powers remained strong (India) or strengthened further (China).While the 2015 strategy contained clauses for cooperation with the United States and the European Union, with multiple goals to be pursued jointly, and even for the development of relations with NATO, the 2021 version contains no such language when describing Russia’s interaction with what the Kremlin sees as a declining West. Moreover, the new document does not mention the European Union at all, indicating that in the Russian leadership’s view, the European Union no longer matters—at least in matters of national security (and never mind that it remains Russia’s largest trading partner). While the number of references to the European Union has gone from three in the 2015 document to zero in the 2021 document, the latter mentions the United States four times, and all these references are negative, as is the sole reference to NATO, accusing the United States and the alliance it leads of exacerbating “military dangers and military threats to the Russian Federation” and even of attacking “traditional Russian spiritual, moral, cultural and historical values.” Also, the language criticizing the United States and its allies has become harsher. The 2015 document referred to these countries’ “aspirations” to “retain their domination of world affairs.” The 2021 document proclaims that the world is undergoing a “period of transformation” amid the failing “aspiration of the Western countries to retain their hegemony” in the world. It also accuses “certain states” of encouraging a “process of disintegration” in the Commonwealth of Independent States, while also accusing unnamed states of trying to “isolate the Russian Federation.” If there is a silver lining to all of this, it is the omission in the 2021 strategy of any references (present in the 2015 document) to a “network of U.S. military-biological laboratories on the territories of states adjacent to Russia.”In contrast to its treatment of the United States, all three of the 2021 document’s references to a rising China are positive, though not without a caveat. The 2021 document—like the preceding version, as well as statements by Russian leaders—is careful to distinguish Russia’s partnership with China from that with India, which is mentioned in the new strategy twice. Russia’s relationship with China is described as a “comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction,” while the relationship with India is described as an “especially privileged strategic partnership.” That distinction, which reflects Moscow’s desire to retain deep cooperation with New Delhi in spite of its growing ties to Beijing, is especially illustrative of Moscow’s desire not to keep all its eggs in one basket, given that Chinese leaders routinely describe relations with Russia as a “comprehensive strategic partnership.”To sum up, the new strategy’s geopolitical arithmetic reflects a Kremlin view that can be described as “deter the U.S., ignore the EU, partner with China and India.”

While taking pains to formulate Russia’s national security priorities in relations with other countries, overall, the 2021 strategy appears to prioritize the development of domestic components of national security significantly more than the preceding version. One section, entitled “National interests of the Russian Federation and strategic national priorities,” starts with a description of national priorities, the first of which is the “preservation of the people of Russia and the development of human capital,” and discusses at length how to retain and improve the quality and quantity of that capital in Russia. That subsection is followed by “Defense of the country” and then “State and public security.”

In contrast, the national interest section in the 2015 document contained no references to the “preservation of the people of Russia.” It did contain subsections on defense and public security and these were followed by a subsection entitled “Increasing the quality of life of Russian citizens.” Also, the 2015 document lauded population growth in Russia, while the 2021 strategy contains no such language, implicitly acknowledging that, after nearly a decade of population growth, depopulation has resumed in Putin’s Russia.

The 2021 document assigns less priority to the democratization of Russia. The very first national interests it identifies are the “preservation of the people of Russia, developing human potential and improving the quality of life and well-being of citizens”; in contrast, the 2015 document explicitly mentioned democratization (albeit only once) among the first national interests listed: the “strengthening of national accord, political and social stability, the development of democratic institutions and the improvement of mechanisms of interaction between the state and civil society.” The 2021 strategy’s sole reference to democracy is contained in the section on “Russia in the modern world,” which makes clear that democracy has to conform to what the Kremlin is fond of describing as traditional values: “The preservation of Russian identity, culture, traditional Russian spiritual and moral values and the patriotic education of citizens will contribute to the further development of democratic order in the Russian Federation and its openness to the world.”

Overall, one can’t help getting the impression that the 2021 document is distinctly more inward-looking than the preceding version, even though the Security Council—which typically plays the lead role in drafting such strategies and which remains a bastion of Russian conservatism under Nikolai Patrushev—has acquired a new, less conservative senior figure since 2015: former president and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, who has been the deputy chairman since 2020.

The table below provides a comparison of the two strategies’ key points.

2021 Strategy 2015 Strategy
Section II “Russia in the modern world”
Starts with an assertion that the world is undergoing a “period of transformation” and refers to the “aspiration of Western countries to retain their hegemony.” Starts with a description of state policy for national security and uses milder language to describe the “aspirations” of the U.S. and its allies to “retain their domination in world affairs”; notably, does not include explicit accusations of hegemonic intent.
Refers to “growing geopolitical instability and proneness to conflict.” Refers to “growing global and regional instability.”
Contains no references to the growth of Russia’s population, which is not surprising given the recent resumption of depopulation. Lauds the “natural growth” of the Russian population.
Accuses “certain states” of encouraging “processes of disintegration” in the Commonwealth of Independent States. N/A
Refers to “the danger of the escalation of armed conflicts into local and regional wars, including those involving nuclear powers.” N/A
Refers to “the desire [of certain countries] to isolate the Russian Federation.” N/A
Refers to “the crisis of the Western liberal model.” N/A
Section III “National interests of the Russian Federation and strategic national priorities
Identifies the following national interests:

  1. Preservation of the people of Russia, development of human potential, improvement of the quality of life and well-being of citizens;
  2. Protection of the constitutional order, sovereignty, independence, state and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, strengthening the country’s defenses;
  3. Maintenance of civil peace and harmony in the country;
  4. Development of a secure information space, protection of Russian society from destructive information and psychological attacks;
  5. Sustainable development of the Russian economy on a new technological basis;
  6. Protection of the environment, conservation of natural resources and rational nature management, adaptation to climate change;
  7. Strengthening of traditional Russian spiritual and moral values, preservation of the cultural and historical heritage of the people of Russia;
  8. Maintenance of strategic stability, strengthening of peace and security, legal foundations of international relations.
Identifies the following national interests:

  • Strengthening of national accord, political and social stability, development of democratic institutions, improvement of mechanisms of interaction between the state and civil society;
  • Improvement of the quality of life and strengthening the health of the population, stable demographic development of the country;
  • Preservation and development of culture, traditional Russian spiritual and moral values;
  • Increasing the competitiveness of the national economy;
  • Consolidation of status as one of the leading world powers for the Russian Federation, whose activities are aimed at maintaining strategic stability and mutually beneficial partnerships in a multi-polar world.
Starts with a description of national priorities, the first of which is the “preservation of the people of Russia and development of human capital”; also contains a lengthy discussion of how to retain and improve the quality and quantity of human capital in Russia, followed by subsections on “defense of the country” and “state and public security.” Contains no references to the “preservation of the people of Russia”; starts with a subsection on “defense of the country,” followed by one on “state and public security,” and only then comes a subsection on “increasing the quality of life of Russian citizens.”

 

Contains a subsection on information security. Does not contain a subsection on information security.
Contains a subsection on the “protection of traditional Russian spiritual and moral values, culture and historic memory.” Does not contain a subsection on the “protection of traditional Russian spiritual and moral values, culture and historic memory.”
Like the strategy as a whole, contains no language calling for the development of relations with the European Union, the United States or NATO.

 

Contains language that does call for the development of relations with the European Union, the United States and NATO:

“The Russian Federation advocates the consolidation of mutually beneficial cooperation with European states and the European Union, the harmonization of integration processes in Europe and on post-Soviet territory, and the formation in the Euro-Atlantic region of an open system of collective security on a clear treaty and legal basis.”

“The Russian Federation is interested in establishing full-fledged partnership with the United States of America on the basis of coinciding interests, including the economic sphere, and with regard to the key influence of Russo-American relations on the state of the international situation as a whole. The improvement of the mechanisms of arms control specified by international treaties, confidence-building measures, the solution of questions involving the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, expanded cooperation in the fight against terrorism and the settlement of regional conflicts remain the most important areas of this partnership.”

“The Russian Federation is prepared for the development of relations with NATO based on equality for the purpose of strengthening general security in the Euro-Atlantic region. The depth and content of such relations will be determined by the readiness of the alliance to take account of the interests of the Russian Federation when conducting military-political planning, and to respect the provisions of international law.”

References to US, NATO, EU and China
The strategy contains at least four references to the United States, all of which are critical in tone:

    1. “The United States of America… is pursuing a consistent course of renouncing international obligations in the field of arms control. The planned deployment of U.S. intermediate and shorter-range missiles in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region poses a threat to strategic stability and international security.”
  1. “Important conditions for ensuring the economic security of the Russian Federation include … a reduction in the use of the U.S. dollar in foreign economic activity.”
  2. “Traditional Russian spiritual, moral, cultural and historical values are being actively attacked by the United States and its allies.”

 

The strategy contains at least five references to the United States (of which four are critical, while one calls for cooperation with the United States):

  1. “The Russian Federation’s implementation of an independent foreign and domestic policy is giving rise to opposition from the United States and its allies, who are seeking to retain their dominance in world affairs.”
  2. “The opportunities for maintaining global and regional stability are shrinking significantly, with the location in Europe, the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East of components of the U.S. missile defense system amid the practical implementation of the ‘global strike’ concept and the deployment of strategic non-nuclear precision weapon systems and also in the event that weapons are deployed in space.”
  3. “The network of U.S. military-biological laboratories on the territory of states adjacent to Russia is being expanded.”
  4. “The support of the United States and the European Union for the anti-constitutional coup d’état in Ukraine led to a deep split in Ukrainian society and the emergence of an armed conflict.”
  5. “The Russian Federation is interested in establishing full-fledged partnership with the United States of America on the basis of coinciding interests, including the economic sphere, and with regard to the key influence of Russo-American relations on the state of the international situation as a whole. The improvement of the mechanisms of arms control specified by international treaties, confidence-building measures, the solution of questions involving the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, expanded cooperation in the fight against terrorism and the settlement of regional conflicts remain most important areas of this partnership.”
The strategy contains no references to the European Union. The strategy contains at least three references to the European Union (of which two are critical, while one calls for cooperation with the European Union):

  1. “The persisting bloc approach to solving international problems is not helping to counter the entire range of present-day challenges and threats. The increase in migration flows from African and Middle Eastern countries to Europe has demonstrated the non-viability of the regional security system in the Euro-Atlantic Region based on … the European Union.”
  2. “Support of the United States and the European Union for the anti-constitutional coup d’état in Ukraine led to a deep split in Ukrainian society and the emergence of armed conflict.”
  3. “The Russian Federation advocates the consolidation of mutually beneficial cooperation with European states and the European Union, the harmonization of integration processes in Europe and on post-Soviet territory and the formation in the Euro-Atlantic region of an open system of collective security on a clear treaty and legal basis.”
The strategy contains at least one reference to NATO and it is critical: Exacerbation of “military dangers and military threats to the Russian Federation is facilitated by attempts to exert pressure on Russia, its allies and partners, building up the military infrastructure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization near Russian borders, stepping up intelligence activities and practicing the use of large military formations and nuclear weapons against the Russian Federation.”

 

The strategy contains at least four references to NATO, of which three are critical and one calls for the development of relations with NATO:

  1. “A determining factor in relations with NATO is still the unacceptability for the Russian Federation of the alliance’s increased military activity and the approach of its military infrastructure toward Russia’s borders, the building of a missile-defense system and attempts to endow the bloc with global functions executed in violation of the provisions of international law.”
  2. “The Russian Federation is prepared for the development of relations with NATO based on equality for the purpose of strengthening general security in the Euro-Atlantic region. The depth and content of such relations will be determined by the readiness of the alliance to take account of the interests of the Russian Federation when conducting military-political planning and to respect the provisions of international law.”
  3. “The buildup of the military potential of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the endowment of it with global functions pursued in violation of the norms of international law, the galvanization of the bloc countries’ military activity, the further expansion of the alliance and the location of its military infrastructure closer to Russian borders are creating a threat to national security.”
  4. “The persisting bloc approach to solving international problems is not helping to counter the entire range of present-day challenges and threats. The increase in migration flows from African and Middle Eastern countries to Europe has demonstrated the non-viability of the regional security system in the Euro-Atlantic Region based on NATO.”
The strategy contains at least three references to China, welcoming:

  1. “Development of relations of comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction with the People’s Republic of China.”

2-3. “Deepening multi-faceted cooperation with foreign states in the formats of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRICS, strengthening the functional and institutional foundations of interaction within the RIC (Russia, India, China).”

The strategy contains at least three references to China (all call for cooperation):

  1. 2. “The Russian Federation is increasing collaboration with its partners within BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), RIC (Russia, India, China), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, the G-20 and other international institutions.”

3. “The Russian Federation is developing relations of all-embracing partnership and strategic cooperation with the Chinese People’s Republic, regarding them as a key factor of the maintenance of global and regional stability.”

The strategy contains at least two references to India, welcoming:

  1. “Development …of special privileged strategic partnership with India.”

2-3. “Deepening multi-faceted cooperation with foreign states in the formats of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRICS, strengthening the functional and institutional foundations of interaction within the RIC (Russia, India, China).”

The strategy contains at least three references to India:

  1. “The Russian Federation is increasing collaboration with its partners within BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), RIC (Russia, India, China), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, the G-20 and other international institutions.”
  1. “The Russian Federation assigns the privileged strategic partnership with the Republic of India an important role.”
  2. “The Russian Federation is increasing collaboration with its partners within BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), RIC (Russia, India, China), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, the G-20 and other international institutions.”

Article also appeared at russiamatters.org/blog/russias-new-security-strategy-deter-us-ignore-eu-partner-china-and-india, with different images, bearing the notice: “© Russia Matters 2018 … This project has been made possible with support from Carnegie Corporation of New York,” with a footer heading entitled “Republication Guidelines” linking to: russiamatters.org/node/7406, which bears the notice, in part: