- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 16, 2000

On the 10th day of his acting presidency, Vladimir V. Putin signed Decree No. 24, which had the force of law and did not require parliamentary approval. It proclaims a world outlook regarding Russia's national interests, threats to their attainment, as well as world objectives of the new regime in Moscow.

Should one take such a programmatic statement seriously or treat it as a fanciful excursion into an ideal and unattainable future? Obviously one must watch for indications of both, since the two are not mutually exclusive.

President Putin, sworn into office on May 7, most probably will remain in the Kremlin during the next four years. If re-elected, that would mean eight years. However, should the current four-year term be changed to seven years (as Mr. Putin said "others" have suggested), the two terms would not end until 2011, when he will be only 58 years of age.

Hence, the new national security concept may even last that long. What does it portend?

The document begins with a general statement that two contradictory trends exist in the world today. The first involves Russia's currently avowed intention to mold an ideological foundation for a multipolar world based upon integration with a considerable number of countries that share the same outlook. The other trend is based on alleged attempts to create an international structure under the domination of developed Western countries under U.S. leadership. The latter applies military force to decide key problems in the world, ignoring international law, or so asserts the new security concept.

National interests of Russia are said to be centered on protecting sovereignty, strengthening great power status, consolidating relations with all countries and, especially, members of the CIS or Commonwealth of Independent States (all former parts of the Soviet Union). Leaders of four CIS states in Central Asia signed a security pact or defense union on April 21, the same day Russia proclaimed a new military doctrine. Leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan probably know more about Russian intentions than do outside observers.

International threats to its security are perceived in Moscow as being aimed at "weakening Russia's political, economic, and military influence throughout the world" by:

• Strengthening blocs and alliances, especially the eastward expansion of NATO.

• Foreign military bases in immediate proximity to Russian borders.

• Proliferation of mass destruction weapons and their delivery systems.

• Weakening integration processes throughout the CIS.

• Escalating conflicts close to Russian borders and those of CIS states.

• Foreign claims to territories within the Federation of Russia.

These threats are aimed at blocking Russia from becoming one of the centers of influence within a multipolar world and at "weakening its positions in Europe, the Middle East, Trans-Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Asian-Pacific region." This would suggest that only Africa, the Western Hemisphere, and the Atlantic Ocean remain outside Russia's proclaimed sphere of influence.

How will the Kremlin counteract the foregoing perceived threats? The new national security concept suggests measures to be taken along the following lines, among others:

• Strengthening state regulation of the domestic economy.

• Breaking the scientific and technological dependence on foreign countries.

• Guaranteeing equal cooperation with mutual benefit between Russia and leading countries of the world.

• Increasing support at sufficiently high levels for Russia's military potential.

• Effective counteraction against espionage and subversive activities by foreign governments.

Finally, the document suggests military measures that will be undertaken by Moscow. Aggression is to be countered at all levels, including aggression involving the use of nuclear weapons against Russia and/or its allies. In the interests of guaranteeing the Kremlin's national security, it is considered mandatory under certain unspecified circumstances for Russia to maintain a presence in certain strategic regions of the world. Stationing, by treaty, of its "limited military contingents" on land as well as at naval bases would guarantee the readiness of Moscow to fulfill its obligations and contribute to the maintenance of a world strategic balance.

It should be noted that on Nov. 23, 1999, then-Prime Minister Putin had promised to provide additional funds for deployment in the Mediterranean of Russia's sole aircraft carrier, the Adm. Kuznetsov along with one destroyer, a frigate, a tanker, and nuclear-powered submarines by November 2000. They will be stationed at the reactivated Tartus base in Syria. Improvements at the Cam Ranh Bay naval installation for Russia's 15th Operational Squadron are also being planned under an agreement with Vietnam that expires in 2004.

Examples of former Soviet "limited military contingents" have included 100,000 troops in Afghanistan over 11 years (1978-1989) and the much smaller force on the island of Cuba (Oct. 25-Dec. 25, 1962), the latter having included Russian crews for intermediate-range nuclear weapons aimed at targets in the continental United States. It is assumed the law school graduate and former KGB lieutenant colonel may in this respect be endowed with more intelligence than the late Nikita S. Khrushchev, who had made the decision to install the missiles in Cuba.

It does behoove U.S. policy-makers, however, to study the implications of the new national security concept as well as the new military doctrine (a component part of the concept). Perhaps they would learn something more about Russian intentions that are not the same as capabilities. It is doubtful, however, that the face-to-face encounter in Moscow in June between the current American and Russian presidents provided more insight for the United States government than the two documents mentioned above.

Richard F. Staar is a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a visiting professor of political science at Duquesne University as well as author of "The New Military in Russia."

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