The Kremlin is drafting a new military doctrine, due by year's
end, that may authorize the armed forces to use nuclear weapons not
only to counter a massive conventional attack but even to launch a
preemptive strike against a small regional adversary - such as
neighboring Georgia or Ukraine - that might be deemed a threat to
Or so declared the new doctrine's main author, Kremlin Security
Council chief Nikolai Patrushev, in a newspaper interview that sent
shock waves rolling around the world last month and generated a
storm of controversy among military analysts.
Experts divide between those who see the new, forward-leaning
nuclear doctrine as a sign that the Kremlin is becoming more
menacing toward its post-Soviet neighborhood, and those who view it
as an expression of extreme vulnerability at a moment when the
Russian military is undergoing its most radical reorganization in
almost a century.
What Mr. Patrushev said, speaking to Moscow's biggest daily
newspaper, Izvestia, was that, in a big change over the previous
doctrine adopted in 2000, "We have corrected the conditions for use
of nuclear weapons to resist aggression with conventional forces not
only in large-scale wars, but also in regional or even a local one."
A warning or expedient?
Even more explosive, Patrushev added that Russia might strike
first against an enemy whom it suspected of harboring belligerent
intentions. "In a situation critical for national security, we don't
exclude a preventive nuclear strike at the aggressor," he said.
Some critics say it seems almost bizarre to lower the threshold
for using atomic weaponry at a time when Moscow is trying to
negotiate radical reductions in strategic warheads with the United
States and President Dmitry Medvedev has signed on to the "Global
Zero" campaign for a world free of nuclear arms.
These critics also warn that the new doctrine, which Mr. Medvedev
is due to sign in December, could have a chilling effect on Russia's
relations with other post-Soviet states if the final version
includes those provocative points.
"It seems that even in the case of small conflicts, such as the
war Russia had with Georgia last year, where there is a fear that
the US or NATO might intervene," says Pavel Felgenhauer, a military
expert with the opposition weekly Novaya Gazeta, "we are now going
to invoke nuclear deterrence. Nobody is really intending to use
nuclear arms, but the point here is to warn other big powers to stay
away in the event of conflicts in our own neighborhood," such as a
hypothetical crisis with Ukraine over Crimea, or with Georgia over
the breakaway state-lets of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, he says.
Other experts suggest the bombastic - and very public - nuclear
talk might be a temporary expedient, to cover Russia's extreme
weakness as it undergoes a quiet reorganization of its armed forces.
According to Vitaly Shlykov, a former Soviet war planner who now
serves as a civilian adviser to the Russian Defense Ministry, the
military reform will abolish the old "mobilization" army that Russia
has maintained for more than a century and replace it with a much
smaller and streamlined force, but one whose brigades are fully
staffed and combat ready. …