NATIONAL DEFENSE UNIVERSITY
JOINT FORCES STAFF COLLEGE
JOINT ADVANCED WARFARE SCHOOL
DETERRENCE AND ENGAGEMENT: A BLENDED STRATEGIC APPROACH
TO A RESURGENT RUSSIA
Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force
Intentionally left blank
DETERRENCE AND ENGAGEMENT- A BLENDED STRATEGIC APPROACH
TO A RESURGENT RUSSIA
By Craig Nieman
Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force
A paper submitted to the Faculty of the Joint Advanced Warfighting School in
partial satisfaction of the requirements of a Master of Science Degree in Joint
Campaign Planning and Strategy. The contents of this paper reflect my own
personal views and are not necessarily endorsed by the Joint Forces Staff College
or the Department of Defense.
This paper is entirely my own work except as documented in footnotes.
Date: 15 Apr 2016
Dr. Robert M. TJhesis Advisor
Intentionally left blank
Over the last decade, Russia’s increased aggression towards its neighbors has
raised concerns over the stability of the European continent. Cyber denial attacks on
Estonia, war against Georgia, annexation of the Crimean peninsula, and the support to
rebels in Ukraine’s Donbass region have all come during Vladimir Putin’s watch. With
Putin firmly in control of Russia after having eliminated much of his political opposition,
the world asks, what are his motivations and what comes next?
Contemporary reactions to Russian aggression advance the notion that the U.S.
and its NATO allies should diplomatically and economically isolate Russia while
increasing the alliances’ hard power projection to contain and deter further aggression.
This strategic approach represents an extreme pendulum swing that is a polar opposite of
the U.S.’s 2009 approach to ‘Reset’ relations with Russia by engaging diplomatically
while reducing military strength. By applying an analysis of Russian strategic culture and
national interests, this thesis offers that instead of replacing engagement and disarmament
with isolation and containment, a blended solution of both deterrent strength and
engagement would achieve better results in line with U.S. national interests.
This work is dedicated to my family who patiently endured months of my focus on a
singular subject that did not involve sports, Legos, or home improvement.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION - THE RISE OF RUSSIAN AGGRESSION.1
CHAPTER 2: RUSSIAN HISTORY AND STRATEGIC CULTURE.6
Autocracy and Expansionism.6
Pan Slavism and Nationalism.9
CHAPTER 3: PUTIN’S RISE AND CONSOLIDATION OF POWER.11
Putin’s International Objectives.15
CHAPTER 4: RUSSIAN STRATEGIC APPRAISAL.17
Russian National Security Strategy.18
Russian Military Doctrine.20
2016 Strategy Update.24
Strategy Case Study.29
CHAPTER 5: FUTURE FRICTION AREAS.35
Ethnic Russian Populations.36
Former Soviet Spheres of Influence.37
Competing International Blocs.38
CHAPTER 6: DETERRENCE.41
CHAPTER 7: U.S. STRATEGIC APPROACH.44
Instruments of Power.49
CHAPTER 8: CONCLUSION.55
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION - THE RISE OF RUSSIAN AGGRESSION
Over the last decade, Russia’s increased aggression towards its neighbors has
raised fears for the continued stability of the European continent. During this time, Russia
has conducted cyber-warfare in a 2007 dispute involving ethnic Russians in Estonia. It
has engaged in cyber and conventional war against Georgia in 2008 and continues to
occupy disputed territories inside that sovereign nation. In 2014, Russia occupied and
annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula while that nation was in the turmoil of a revolution
and is suspected of continuing to support a rebellion in Ukraine’s Donbass region in the
east. 1 Most recently, Russia has deployed troops and aircraft into Syria to prop up a
Many of Russia’s aggressive actions are at odds with the U.S., its NATO allies,
and their common interests. All of these actions have occurred while Vladimir Putin has
been the President or Prime Minister of Russia. President Putin is leveraging Russian
Nationalism to help achieve his strategic goals, which may include designs for a new
Russian Empire. He is also using the tensions with NATO as an excuse to consolidate his
domestic power and extend his personal reign as Russia’s leader. The most recent
showdowns with the West over Ukraine and then again in Syria, have enabled him to
sustain his approval rating at greater than 80% since January of 2014. 2 Since Russia has
redefined presidential terms from 4 to 6 years, Putin can leverage that popular support to
1 Office of the Spokesperson U.S. Department of State, “Russia's Continuing Support for Armed Separatists
in Ukraine and Ukraine's Efforts Toward Peace, Unity, and Stability.” DOS Diplomacy in Action, July 14,
2014. http://www.state.gOv/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/07/229270.htm (accessed Jan 4, 2016).
2 Birnbaum, Michael, “Putin’s approval ratings hit 89 percent, the highest they have ever been” The
Washington Post, June 24, 2015.
the-highest-theyve-ever-been/ (accessed Sep 15, 2015).
potentially remain in control of Russia as the President until at least 2024, if not beyond. 3
As he proved from 2008-2012, he may still remain in control of Russia indefinitely by
taking the role of Prime Minister in between Presidential terms.
Ultimately, it is likely that the U.S. will be dealing with Putin as the leader of
Russia for the foreseeable future. What makes him a most dangerous opponent is that he
has slowly eliminated much of his political opposition, and has the support of an ever
thinning elite class. 4 Putin has consolidated power within what was hoped to be a
budding democracy and has slowly steered it closer towards a more traditional Russian
autocracy. By doing so, Putin has gained a wider latitude to take these aggressive actions,
allowing him to achieve both his personal desire for power and the restoration of Russian
Contemporary reactions to Russian aggression advance the notion that the U.S.
and its NATO allies should diplomatically and economically isolate Russia while
increasing the alliances’ hard power projection to contain and deter further aggression. 5
This strategic approach represents an extreme pendulum swing that is a polar opposite of
the U.S. administration’s 2009 approach to ‘Reset’ relations between the U.S. and Russia
by engaging diplomatically and reducing military strength. An analysis of Russian
strategic culture and national interests will reveal that instead of replacing engagement
3 Sefenov, Mike, “Russian presidential term extended to 6 years” CNN, Dec 22, 2008.
http://www.cnn.com/2008/WQRLD/eurot)e/12/30/mssia.presidential.term.extension/ (accessed Sep 15,
4 Dawisha, Karen, Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014),
5 Carafano and others, “U.S. Comprehensive Strategy Toward Russia.” Heritage Foundation, December 9,
(accessed January 25, 2016).
and disarmament with isolation and containment, a blended solution of both deterrent
strength and engagement would achieve better results in line with U.S. national interests.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking to revise the international status quo
and challenge the United States’ dominant international position. To do this, Putin seeks
recognition of Russia as a great power in a multi-polar world no longer dominated by the
United States and western international organizations. He also desires an increase in
Russian power and prestige by re-establishing Russian dominance over former Soviet
states and historical spheres of influence. Russia is vigorously engaging nations and
international organizations where the U.S. and its allies are weak to achieve gains in
national power. These gains continue to be at the expense of western interests, the NATO
Alliance, and stability in Europe. Therefore, the United States must change its strategic
approach to Russia and show its strength as a deterrent, with a synergized application of
Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic instruments of power, to prevent
further Russian aggression, while also reassuring Russia that it can still achieve its
strategic goals that positively contribute to the international environment.
In Marcel Van Herpen’s Putin’s Wars: The Rise of Russia's New Imperialism,
written and published in 2014 prior to the Russian incursions in Ukraine, the author
correctly predicts the continuation of Russia’s antagonistic actions on its periphery,
beyond the 2008 War with Georgia. In the final concluding words of the book, Van
Herpen uncannily foresees a scenario that “if Ukraine were to opt for deeper integration
into the European Union, a Georgian scenario could not be excluded, in which the
Kremlin could provoke riots in Eastern Ukraine or the Crimea, where many Russian
passport holders live. This would offer Russia a pretext for intervention in Ukraine to
‘protect its nationals’ and dismember the country.” 6 The author’s great accuracy in his
projection is attributable to his analysis of Russian strategic culture and a study of
Russia’s national strategy as it previously applied to their Chechen and Georgian Wars.
This thesis will seek similar insights by defining Russia’s strategic culture and the
importance it plays in reaching a better understanding of our adversary. It will explore the
Russian history that has helped shape this common identity and form the interests of the
Russian people. The work will review the history of Putin’s rise to power inside of this
culture and the methods he has used to maintain his position of leadership, in an effort to
reveal his strategic goals. With this framework in place, the paper will leverage Harry
Yarger’s The Strategic Appraisal to explore Russia’s current military doctrine and
national security documents in an effort to define their national interests and national
security strategy. It will then apply Graham Allison’s three conceptual frameworks for
analyzing foreign policy to question the Russian Federation’s recent actions in Syria and
determine if these activities conform with Russia’s strategic documents. With a
comprehensive consideration of Russia’s national interests and strategy in place, the
paper will seek to identify friction points where Russian strategy could lead to future
conflicts with the U.S. and/or its allies. The thesis will then weigh a theory of deterrence,
as defined by Thomas Christiansen in The Contemporary Security Dilemma and dissect
two deterrent efforts, the Korean War and the Cuba missile crisis to provide salient points
on both unsuccessful and successful deterrence. It will then reveal applications of this
6 Van Herpen, Marcel H, Putin’s Wars: The Rise of Russia’s New Imperialism (Lanham: Rowman &
Littlefield, 2014), 247.
deterrence theory that could serve to deter Russia from pursuing aggressive behaviors
that conflict with the U.S. and its allies, while encouraging Russia to pursue national
interests that are mutually beneficial to itself and the U.S. The paper will make
conclusive national policy and strategy proposals for the application of U.S. instruments
of national power using DIME as the framework for a synergized U.S. strategic approach
to shape the Russian resurgence in the international community.
CHAPTER 2: RUSSIAN HISTORY AND STRATEGIC CULTURE
Jack Snyder’s 1977 work, The Soviet Strategic Culture: Implications for Nuclear
Options, provides a definition for strategic culture as a ‘set of semi-permanent elite
beliefs, attitudes, and behavior patterns’ that provide a lens through which policy makers
view security developments” 1 Later it was noted by Eitelhuber, that a “state’s strategic
culture defines the basic foreign policy goals and objectives that are to be pursued and
shapes elite and public perceptions of the international environment.” 2 Late 20 th century
International Relations and Strategy theorist, Colin Gray, succinctly describes strategic
culture as “modes of thought and action with respect to force.. .and... national historic
experiences, national aspirations, and geostrategic circumstances.” 3 In summary, a better
understanding of a nation’s strategic culture can translate into a better comprehension of
why a state, i.e., Russia, takes certain actions in the modern geostrategic environment.
When this analysis of strategic culture is compared with a nation’s strategic documents it
could further help indicate if a nation’s desired ends are enduring, therefore core national
interests and less likely to be compromised on, or if they are perhaps more malleable.
Autocracy and Expansionism
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred
battles.” -Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
An analysis of Russia’s history suggests that when it comes to Russian strategic
culture, themes of imperialism, expansionism, and autocracy are as much a nonn for the
1 Snyder, Jack, The Soviet Strategic Culture: Implications for Nuclear Option (Santa Monica,CA: RAND
Corporation, 1977), 8.
2 Eitelhuber, Norbert, “The Russian Bear: Russian Strategic Culture and What it Implies for the West.” The
Quarterly Journal Winter (2009), 3.
3 Farrell, Theo, “Strategic Culture and American Empire.” SAIS Review of International Affairs 25:2
Russian people, as democracy and freedom are for Americans. These differences trace
back to the disparate security environments in which these two nations were fonned. The
United States has enjoyed a relatively secure environment through its short history.
Moments of war in the homeland merely punctuated the perpetual peace and security that
two vast oceans and minimally threatening border nations provided. On the other hand,
Russia has endured numerous foreign invasions throughout the centuries. The threats
have come from every side, whether they were Teutonic Knights invading from the West,
Muslim Arabs from the south, or Mongol Hordes from the east. 4 It is pertinent to recall
that the more recent and devastating invasions have also come from the west: the French,
Prussians, and Germans. Russians suffered extraordinary casualties during the last world
war, with estimates of over 25 million military and civilians killed. 5 An environment of
relentless war and casualty, punctuated by periodic peace, provides an explanation for
Russia’s perpetual focus on security. Because of this insecurity, Russians are accustomed
to giving up many more of their liberties for the greater good of the state. This greater
sacrifice of freedoms ensured a strong state that was capable of providing greater security
against these frequent attacks of foreign invaders. 6
Russian autocratic rulers have often tapped into this cultural insecurity, while
using Russian nationalism, Pan-Slavism, and Christian Orthodoxy as pretexts for further
territorial expansion. 7 “An exemplification for this mindset is Tsarina Catherine the
4 Billington, James H., The Icon and The Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture (New York:
Vintage Books/Random House, 1970), 4-22.
5 Krivosheev, G. I., Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses (London: Greenhill, 1997)
6 Billington, The Icon and The Axe:, p 4-22.
7 Van Herpen, Marcel H., Putin's Wars: The Rise of Russia’s New Imperialism (Lanham: Rowman &
Littlefield, 2014), 38-39. Pan Slavism is described as a tribal nationalism that always insisted its own
people were surrounded by a world of enemies and they are one against all because fundamental
differences exists between these people and all others. This is exemplified as early as 1841 in conservative
Slavophile Stepan Shevyrev’s complaint that the west expresses its aversion of Slavs and Russians at every
Great’s famous dictum: I have no way to defend my borders but to extend them.” 8
Territorial expansion had become the nonn in Russia between the 16 th and 17 th century,
so much so, that on average, the nation added territory the size of the modern Netherlands
every year for over 150 years. 9 The Soviet regime also tapped into this cultural norm,
briefly adding the spread of communist ideals as a fourth pretext. However, in his
memoirs, George Kennan wrote, regarding the Soviets and Stalin’s expansion, that “it
would be useful to the western world to realize that despite all the vicissitudes by which
Russia has been afflicted since August 1939, the men in the Kremlin have never
abandoned their faith in that program of territorial and political expansion which had
once commended itself so strongly to Tsarist diplomatists.” 10
Another of these pretexts used for Russian expansion, Christian Orthodoxy, traces
its roots back to 1453 and the fall of Constantinople. At this point, Russia became the
only Orthodox country left in the world. 11 By the 18 th and 19 th centuries, Russian Tsars
slowly incorporated Orthodoxy more and more into their regimes. The Tsars began to see
themselves as the defender of the faith, using Orthodoxy as a basis for legitimation of
their rule and as an integral part of the state control mechanism. It was at this time that
Nicholas I’s (1825-1855) deputy minister of public education, Sergey Uvarov, “coined
opportunity. This is again expressed in the modern age by Russian Pan Slavist Nikolay Danilevsky in his
2010 complaint from Rossiya I Evropa (Russia and Europe), that Europe doesn’t recognize the Russians as
equals. That everything Russian and Slav is despicable.
8 Van Herpen, Putin’s Wars, 17.
9 Gray, Colin S., “The Geopolitics of the Nuclear Era: Heartlands, Rimlands, and the Technological
Revolution.” Strategy’ Paper No. 30, National Strategic Information Center, Inc. (Crane, Russak &
Company, inc, 1977), 35.
10 Kennen, George, Memoirs 1925-1950 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1967), 519.
11 Billington, The Icon and The Axe, 3-15. Notably, Russia’s ties to the lands in modern Ukraine trace back
as the entry point for Christian Orthodoxy into the Russian culture and to Kiev being one of those key cities
of early Russia.
the ideological triad, Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationhood.” 12 Thus Orthodoxy became an
integral part of achieving both internal and external security. Priests were paid by the
state and a clerical head of church position was established at the right hand of the Tsar.
Externally, the unification of the Orthodox faith became the banner call for Russia’s
southern expansion into the Ottoman Empire. In this territory, Greeks, Bulgarians,
Romanians, and Serbs all shared the Orthodox faith but were ruled by the weakening
Islamic Ottoman Empire. It is during this campaign against the Ottomans that Russia
once again found itself facing some familiar western nations that had concerns over the
growing power of Russia in that region. France, and eventually Britain, joined the
Ottomans in a campaign against Russia by laying siege to Sevastopol and the Crimean
Peninsula in the Crimean War. 13 The important role Orthodoxy played in historical
Russia’s association with security, rule legitimation, and expansionism remains pertinent
today. “Under Putin, priests have become fixtures in the military, schools, and other
public institutions...[and] the Russian Orthodox Church [is witnessing a reemergence] as
the spiritual generator of public policy and the ideological bulwark of the state.” 14
Pan Slavism and Nationalism
The last major pretext for expansion, Pan Slavism, rose to preeminence as a state
mechanism in Russia around the end of the Crimean War. Originally a liberal democratic
movement, Pan Slavists quickly embraced autocratic rule for two reasons. The first was
that there simply was “not enough support in Russian society for liberal-democratic
12 Van Herpen, Putin’s Wars, 34.
13 Ibid., 32-34.
14 Weir, Fred, “Czarist Echo? Russian Orthodox Church drives to restore its political clout.” The Christian
Scientist Monitor, Jan 4, 2016. htty://ww’w.csmonitor.com/Worid/Euroye/20l6/0l04/Czarist-echo-Russian-
Orthodox-Church-drives-to-restore-its-yolitical-clout (accessed Jan 4, 2016).
ideas... and [the second] that the task of unifying all Slavs was considered more
important than democratic reforms. A strong and autocratic Russia was thought the best
guarantee to liberate the oppressed ‘brother peoples’ in southern Europe from the
Ottoman rule.” 15 As with Orthodoxy and the many ethnic movements of the day, the
theme of Pan Slavist identity continued to foment in Russia. It reached intense levels by
1891 under Alexander III and continued to develop during the reign of Nicholas II as it
morphed further into ethnic Russian nationalism. Nicholas’ policies supporting Russian
nationalism pointed to a growing repression of non-Russians, and “led to a process of
enforced Russification in Poland and the Baltic Provinces, where the national languages
were suppressed and assimilation was imposed.” 16 This enforced Russification by the
Tsars and then again during the Soviet era, underpins the modem tension that many
peripheral nations have with modern calls for Pan-Slavism or Russian nationalism. In
aggregate, Russia’s strategic cultural exhibits realism in its external and internal
behaviors by which national interests, sovereignty, independence, self-reliance, and force
play major roles. 17
15 Van Herpen, Putin’s Wars, 35.
16 Ibid., 36.
17 Igumnova, Lyudmila, “Russia’s Starategic Culture Between American and European Worldviews.
Journal of Slavic Military Studies Vol 24, Issue 2 (2011), 254-273.
CHAPTER 3: PUTIN’S RISE AND CONSOLIDATION OF POWER
With an understanding of how the themes of security, expansionism, autocracy,
orthodoxy, and nationalism help define Russia’s strategic culture, the rise of Putin into
this realm is easier to explain. Putin was a low-level KGB agent operating in Eastern
Gennany when the Soviet Union collapsed. As member of the Soviet apparatus, at some
level he believed the fa 9 ade that the nation was successful, powerful, and wealthy. It had
profound problems, but these could be solved by such a great nation. With the union in
collapse, Putin returned to his home city of St. Petersburg and soon found a
transformational place in Mayor Anatoly Sobchak’s 1989 administration as an assistant. 1
“The 1990’s saw [St. Petersburg] dominated by mafia groups who quickly corrupted the
city’s culture... [The city] acquired a reputation as the ‘bandits’ capital’ after a string of
high-profile murders... This is the environment that made Putin believe that Russia needs
strong state power and must have it.” 2 Unemployment was sky high, poverty was on the
rise, and the threat of famine was growing. Corruption was rampant as the former state
controlled economy entered privatization and ended up in the hands of a few. Putin’s
experiences in this environment shaped his view on the demise of the Soviet Union and
failure of liberal democracy. 3
In 1996, Sobchak lost his mayoral election and the new regime later accused him
of corruption. Putin refused to work for the incoming mayor and allegedly helped
Sobchak flee to France to avoid charges. His loyalty and capability quickly caught the
attention of the Yeltsin administration which had just won national re-election in 1996,
1 Judah. Ben, Fragile Empire: Flow Russia Fell in and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin (New Haven: Y ale
University Press, 2013), 10-19.
2 Ibid., 15.
3 Ibid., 12.
despite Yelsin’s promise not to run and his single digit approval ratings leading up to the
election. 4 The country continued on its economic downward spiral until it eventually
reached bottom in April, 1998, and Russia defaulted on its IMF loan. At this point,
disorder characterized the Russian democracy, which helped usher in a more
authoritarian rule that was palatable to the populace, as long as it brought order. 5
In 1998, President Yeltin had his fifth heart attack and continued to appear even
more intoxicated and out of control at his international and national appearances. The
elite went in search of a new candidate that they could control. As the head of the FSB at
the time, Putin was an appealing candidate for each “part of the elite; he was ex-KGB,
worked for democratic Sobchak, had shown himself to be loyal, and had shown himself
able to lead.” 6 Putin became Prime Minister in late 1999 and rode into the presidency on
a surge of public approval stemming from the newly launched second Chechen War. His
inaugural manifesto, in December, 1999, announced the aim of Putinism:
“Russia was and will remain a great power... This is preconditioned by the
inseparable characteristics of its geopolitical, economic, and cultural existence.
They have detennined the mentality of the Russian people and the policy of the
government throughout the history of Russia and they cannot but do so at
4 Judah, Fragile Empire, 23-34. According to Ben Judah’s interview with Boris Berezovsky in Fragile
Empire, Berezovsky made his fortune in Russia in the 1990’s as the country went through privatization. He
became part of the Boris Yeltsin inner circle as a billionaire owner of the country’s main television station,
Channel One. In his interview he describes the consolidation of former state assets into the hands of a few
super elites as political favor in exchange for loyalty to Yeltsin and assistance in assuring his re-election.
Berezovsky claims to have chosen Putin as Yeltsin’s successor, but later became an open critic of Putin’s
policies as Putin steered Russia towards authoritarianism. This culminated in Berezivsky’s resignation from
the Duma in the spring of 2000. Later his media channel criticized Putin’s handling of the submarine Kursk
accident and not soon after, numerous corruption charges that had been dropped, resurfaced, and
Berezovsky fled to Britain. His media assets were taken over in 2001 by the state. He became vocal
opponent of Putin, accusing him of committing war crimes in Chechnya, staging the 1999 Moscow
apartment bombings as a terror attack, and suppressing freedom of speech. He was later found dead,
hanging in his home in Britain 8 months after the interview.
5 Ibid., 26-27.
6 Ibid., 27.
7 Ibid., 35.
Putin was welcomed as the leader who would restore order to chaotic Russia and
bring it back to its former glory and world regard as a great power. His first year as prime
minister ushered in a 10% growth rate for the Russian economy on the heels of the
default. His timing was impeccable as his first two presidential tenns saw an upswell in
the state coffers, which benefited from the huge rise in prices of oil and gas. 8 Putin’s
reign also saw a reemergence of nationalism amid the nostalgia for the lost great empire
that once was.
“Stalin was rehabilitated as the vozhd (leader), the genial brain behind the victory
in the Great Patriotic War. The archives of the KGB, which had been temporarily
opened, were closed again. The great autocratic and imperialist tsars, especially
Peter the great, Catherine the Great, Nicholas I, and Alexander III, were
rehabilitated and reestablished in their full glory. In September 2000 Tsar
Nicholas II was canonized and became an official Orthodox saint. This official
revival of old imperial pomp and glory coincided with an increasingly aggressive
behavior vis-a-vis the former Soviet Republics.” 9
With the uptick in nationalism, there was also a resurgence of Russian perception that the
fault of all of the tunnoil of the post-soviet era was on the West, first by forcing the
Soviet Union to fall, and second by profiting from the chaos in Russia that followed.
Once in power, Putin began to consolidate his gains in order to realize the strong
state power that he believed it must have. Putin took advantage of the bitter tasting chaos
left from Russia’s period of liberal democracy to subvert the weakening of central control
that had characterized the first decade of democracy. Putin immediately instituted more
vertical control of the nation in what turned into a “managed democracy” that would
minimize opposition, control mass media, and diminish the power of the judiciary, Duma,
8 Van Herpen, Marcel H., Putin’s Wars: The Rise of Russia’s New Imperialism (Lanham: Rowman &
Littlefield, 2014), 53.
and federal entities. 10 He created “seven new superfederal regions to govern the eighty-
nine federal units, whose chiefs would all be appointed by, and beholden to the
president.” 11 He privatized many of Russia’s industries to include 90% of the media
companies and the oil and gas industry. Under Yeltsin, the leading Russian oil company
Gazprom “seemed to be investing in everything apart from its own pipelines and
reserves. It was being used like a giant government slush fund and not a natural resource
company.” 12 Putin immediately increased control over Gazprom by orchestrating the
replacement of its chairman by a man who was once Putin’s former “legal advisor in St.
Petersburg, head of his electoral campaign, and... first deputy head of the Presidential
Administration,” Dmitriy Medvedev. Medvedev remained chairman until he was elected
in 2008 to succeed Putin as Russia’s president. 13 Over the last decade in control, Putin
has consolidated the wealth of the nation and control over many of the nation’s key
industries and corporations into the hands of a few loyal oligarchs, and consolidated the
military and FSB in the hands of trusted loyalists. With these mechanisms in place, Putin
is now in firm control of Russia. His objectives are the nation’s objectives, the nation’s
strategy is his strategy, and will be for the foreseeable future. 14
10 Judah, Fragile Empire, 28. Managed Democracy is alleged to be coined by Yeltsin’s Chief of Staff
Alexander Voloshin. Meaning a democracy in name with similar institutions of the western inspired liberal
democracies, but with much more centralized control and power at the executive. There is a multiple party
system but they support the same central leader. The state owns much more of the essential industries in the
economy, natural resources, and media control.
11 Dawisha, Karen, Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014), 269.
12 Judah, 42.
13 Dawisha, 281.
14 Ibid., 347-350.
Putin’s International Objectives
In the foreign affairs realm, Putin wants Russia to regain its place as a great
power. There remains a suspicion in Russia that the U.S. dominates existing international
organizations and that those in turn serve western interests. Because of this, Putin has
preferred to build his own international organizations. In 2001, Putin added Uzbekistan to
the Shanghai Five, consisting of Russia, China, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan to
form the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The SCO started out as a border
settlement charter, but has now expanded into joint military exercises, cooperation on
counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics, and as an exchange for cultural cooperation.
Pakistan, India, and Iran were later invited for observer status, while the United States
has asked to observe, but has been denied. 15 Next, in 2002, Putin revised the 1992
Commonwealth of Independent States’ Tashkent Treaty, and created a new organization
named the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Russia, Belarus, and
Kazakhstan were joined by Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, and Armenia as original signatories.
Uzbekistan later joined in 2006, but withdrew in 2012. Then, in 2013, both Afghanistan
and Serbia were granted observer status. The CSTO was created by Russia as a direct
response to the challenge it perceived from the expansion of NATO. 16 Putin has
leveraged this organization as a means to block NATO expansion as the members of
CSTO are not allowed to join in any other collective security organization. Then, in 2011,
Putin announced the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), as a rival to the European Union,
with Customs Union partners, Belarus, Russia, and Kazakhstan as the founding members.
However, Putin wrote, that he hoped for the future inclusion of more partners, especially
15 Van Herpen, Putin’s Wars , 69-70.
16 Ibid., 68-69.
those from the former Common wealth of Independent States (CIS). 17 This organization
again is a direct response to the growing expansion of the European Union into Russia’s
perceived spheres of influence. Finally, Putin has attempted to play up the BRICS
organization (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and as of 2011, South Africa) as another body
that he hopes to leverage for international prestige and power. Putin hopes that the
BRICS development bank would challenge the western dominated IMF and World
Bank. 18 Collectively, Putin’s foreign policy strategy is to engage any and every nation
possible in any alliance or partnership that could challenge U.S. and European dominated
international organizations, while bringing international leadership prestige home to
Russia. The hosting of the 2014 Olympic games, 2016 Hockey World Championship, and
the 2018 soccer World Cup are all part of re-establishing Russia’s great power status.
17 Van Herpen, Putin’s Wars, 75.
18 Ibid., 70-72.
CHAPTER 4: RUSSIAN STRATEGIC APPRAISAL
This paper defines strategy as a framework with which to achieve a nation’s
desired political ends. It is an application of the means at a nation’s disposal. These
means are grouped into Instruments of National Power: Diplomatic, Informational,
Military, and Economic. The strategic framework also encompasses the ways in which
the means are applied to achieve the desired ends. The strategic framework has levels;
Grand Strategy, which is associated with the synergy of all instruments of power, and
Strategy, which is the framework for each individual instrument. Both Grand Stategy and
Strategy rely on national policy to define the desired ends to achieve and provide
boundaries for the ways and means. How the ends, ways, and means are applied, focused,
and/or constrained are in line with enduring national interests and the nation’s strategic
culture. National interests and national strategic culture are considered semi-malleable
over time, but represent the most enduring qualities, concerns, and objectives of the
nation that focus and shape how a nation crafts policy and strategy over time.
In assessing strategy, Harry Yarger asserts that a “strategist(s) must first
detennine the state’s interests and the factors in the environment that potentially affect
those interests.” 1 The previous chapters laid out the frameworks of Russia’s strategic
culture and Putin’s rise to power in an effort to illuminate the many factors influencing
Russian national interests and national strategy. This chapter will further assess Russian
strategy through an exploration of the pertinent areas of the 2009 National Security
Strategy of the Russian Federation to 2020, the 2014 Military Doctrine of the Russian
1 Yarger, Harry, “Strategic Appraisal: The Key to Effective Strategy.” The Army War College Guide to
National Security Issues, Vol I, July (2010): 53-64.
Federation , and finally the proposed changes that are described for the 2016 National
Security Strategy of the Russian Federation to 2020.
Russian National Security Strategy
In May 2009 President Dimitriy Medvedev approved the National Security
Strategy (NSS) of the Russian Federation until 2020. The document replaced the dated
security concept from 2000. The strategy highlighted Russia’s perception of the world
and its own security situation, and defined Russia’s national interests and strategic
priorities. Of primary importance is the confirmation that Russia intends to continue to
rely on nuclear deterrence and nuclear parity vis-a-vis the United States. The NSS also
demonstrates that Russia perceives there is a failure in the current global and regional
security architecture which it believes favors U.S. and NATO interests. Additionally, the
document strongly voices opposition to further eastward enlargement of NATO or
expansion of NATO’s military infrastructure into nations on Russia’s borders. The NSS
also opposes the expanded use of NATO’s forces outside of its regional boundaries. 2 At
the time, there was a significant and enduring NATO presence in Afghanistan on
Russia’s exposed southern front. This force relied on a logistics train through and the
fostering of relationships with the central Asian states, which Russia perceived as its
sphere of influence. When coupled with an erosion of Russian influence over fonner
Soviet spheres in Eastern Europe and the Caucus in favor NATO influence, this new
front represented a grave concern to Russia’s interests.
2 President of the Russian Federation, National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation to 2020.
Moscow, May 12, 2009. The International Relations and Security Network, May 12, 2009.
http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Publications/Detail/7idM54915 (accessed September 15, 2015).
While it avoids naming the United States directly, the Russian strategy does say
that attempts by leading states to achieve military supremacy is a threat to its national
security. Additionally, it specifically calls out unilateral development of a global missile
defense system and the militarization of space as perceived threats, as it does for certain
policies directed at the counterproliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological threats.
This essentially is a reference to the threat it perceives over U.S. willingness to
unilaterally violate the sovereignty of nations in pursuit of the counterproliferation of
WMD. It also states that Russia is willing to build a strategic partnership with the United
States on shared interests, but emphasizes it as an equal partnership. It seeks new
agreements with the U.S. in disarmament and arms control, confidence building
measures, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, antiterrorist cooperation, and
the regulation of regional conflicts. 3
According to this strategy, the key national interests of the country in both the
international and military spheres lie in the protection of Russian sovereignty, its
independence, and its territorial integrity. Its military is expected to remain strong enough
to prevent military aggression against both Russia and its allies. Additionally, the
document establishes a belief in the country’s position as a great power and aspires for it
to become one of the more influential power centers in a multipolar world. There are also
numerous declarations through the document that affirm Russia’s commitment to the
adherence of international law. 4 Yet, these statements are strictly about international
law’s protection of a nation’s sovereignty and again alludes to Russia’s belief that the
3 President of the Russian Federation, National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation to 2020.
U.S. is willing to unilaterally violate national sovereignty, using Afghanistan, Iraq, and
many other conflicts as indicators.
The Russian NSS is similar to that of the U.S. in that it ties economic prosperity
and independence as a mechanism to achieve the desired level of national security.
Russia recognizes its GDP dependency on the export of raw materials and is concerned
by its dependency on foreign investments and trade for its economy, especially in
agriculture, and on its import dependency on foodstuffs, technology, and medications. A
key Russian goal is to become one of the five biggest world economies by 2020.
Pragmatically, Russia associates its energy and natural resource exports and reserves as a
source of strength and influence on the international stage. The strategy acknowledges
that international policy will be focused on access to energy reserves to include the
Barents Sea, Artie, Middle East, Caspian Sea, and Central Asia. As a warning, the NSS
states that it cannot exclude the possibility that the competitive struggle for dwindling
resources worldwide may be solved with the use of military force. 5 This could be a
reference to competing Artie claims, as well as Russian concerns that nations either covet
or will covet its underutilized territory, especially as the world food and water supply
reaches critical levels vis-a-vis world population growth.
Russian Military Doctrine
The 2014 Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation focuses more narrowly on
the military priorities required to ensure its nation’s security. This analysis will focus on
specific areas and aspects where the Military Doctrine is unique or provides either width
or depth to areas covered by the Russian National Security Strategy. In the Doctrine,
5 President of the Russian Federation, National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation to 2020.
Russia spells out the specific military threats and the tactics and techniques that it finds
the most disturbing. The document also expands on the nations and regions it views as
critical to its national interests and specifies the varying degree of engagement the
military is to have. 6 An analysis of Russia’s military engagements will aide the
examination of future sources of friction in a later chapter.
Russia identifies numerous military threats to its national security. The document
describes its concern regarding the show of military force or exercises within nations or
territories contiguous to Russia or its allies and the mobilization of military command and
control elements to control operations under wartime conditions. 7 This is a fairly straight
forward concern over the frequency, character, and location of NATO’s exercises,
rotational deployments, and the accompanying command and control standup that occurs
during these events. Russia will place itself on a higher military alert during these
occurrences as it believes NATO’s increased mobility posture could also indicate a
prelude to intervention in Russia or its allies. This is a common theme throughout the
document indicating the fears the Russia’s leadership has of invasion. It believes the U.S.
has historically demonstrated the capability and intent to intervene in a sovereign nation
that does not comply with U.S. values or interests. The Russian Military Doctrine voices
concerns over actions taken by ‘foreign powers’ that have exacerbated military and/or
political situations and created conditions to justify the use of military force inside of
another sovereign nation. 8 This appears contradictive to Russian actions in Ukraine, but
6 President of the Russian Federation, Military’ Doctrine of the Russian Federation. Moscow, Feb 5, 2010.
The International Relations and Security Network, February 5, 2009. http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-
Librarv/Publications/Detail/?lang=en&id=154906 (accessed, October 20, 2015).
the narrative in Russia is that the Kiev uprising was a western influenced and financed
coup d’etat against the Russian backed regime. They fear the same thing can occur within
Russia or its allies.
The Military Doctrine illuminates the inherent fear and suspicion of a nation that
is obsessed with its own security, the embodiment of a key element of Russian strategic
culture. There is an underlying concern that ‘Color Revolutions’ or Arab Spring scenarios
could play out within Russia. Russia fears the establishment and training of anned force
elements inside of Russia or its allies and worries that these entities could try to forcibly
change its constitutional system and destabilize the internal political situation. The
Doctrine speculates that military power is not necessarily the primary method for
achieving these types of aims. Instead, the document voices concern over possible
information warfare on the population, especially the youth, for the purpose of
undennining the historical, spiritual, and patriotic traditions of the nation. 9 Later, the
Military Doctrine expands on those concerns by characterizing modem warfare to include
the foreign financing of political and public movements and the wide use of public
protest from the population. To ensure internal security against this disruption, the
document directs the anned forces to be prepared to execute martial law upon direction of
the President. 10
The Russian Doctrine continues to emphasize political and military cooperation
first and foremost with Belarus, and secondly with the Russian recognized ‘Republics’ of
Abkhazia and South Ossetia. 11 Additionally, it directs military engagement and
9 President of the Russian Federation, Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation.
11 Abkhazia and South Ossetia are breakaway regions within Georgia that are only recognized as
independent republics by UN members: Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and the pacific island of Nauru.
commitments to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and Shanghai
Cooperation Organization (SCO) and as well as with specific member states of these
organizations. The document also alludes to the Russian desire to maintain or reclaim its
former Soviet associations with references to being prepared for peacekeeping in, and
continuing the development or fonnation of allied relations with, the Commonwealth of
Independent States (CIS). The Military doctrine also adds that one of the armed forces’
many main missions includes supporting Russian interests in the Arctic. 12
The Doctrine lays out additional areas of military concern that could be used as
areas of mutual interest with the United States. Russia expresses concern about the
militarization of space to include conventional direct strike weapons. It sets an objective
to conclude an international treaty on the prohibition of various types of weapons in
space. Additionally, the document explores the threat and spread of international
terrorism, transnational crime, and threats to freedom of navigation by piracy. The
document also describes Russia’s willingness to militarily support operations sanctioned
by the United Nations Security Council or other entities empowered by international law.
Finally the document highlights a mission for the armed forces to protect and defend
Russian Federation citizens living outside of the Federation against armed attack. 13 This
statement on the surface appears no different than the U.S. intent to protect its citizens at
home or abroad. However, as subsequent chapters will describe, there are large
communities of millions of ethnic Russians living in nations adjacent to Russia. As we
12 President of the Russian Federation, Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation.
have seen in Estonia, Georgia, and Ukraine, Russia’s stated intent could bring about
conflict with some of its bordering nations over this issue.
2016 Strategy Update
In January 2016, Russia announced an update to their National Security Strategy
of the Russian Federation until 2020. Russian Security Council Secretary, Nikolai
Patrushev conducted an interview with the Russian newspaper Rossiysjaya Gazeta, where
he highlighted the changes for the updated document. Many of these changes reiterate
areas previously explored in the 2014 Military Doctrine. This includes an emphasis on
the threat that continued NATO expansion poses, the destabilizing effects that would
accompany the creation of a global missile defense system, and NATO’s perceived
global offensive posturing. The Secretary also labels new threats and explains the intent
behind some of Russia’s more recent international and domestic activities. 14
First and foremost the Secretary describes changes to Russia’s domestic security
environment that are very internally focused. The drop in oil prices, coupled with
economic sanctions by the west, and exacerbated by the nation’s economic dependency
on raw material export, is affecting government revenue. He believes Russia has shown
resilience throughout the imposed economic sanctions, but says that the new strategy will
seek to avoid domestic instability through economic growth and diversification of the
economy to include the strengthening of its military industrial complex and advancement
in technological fields. 15 There is an underpinning here and in the Military Doctrine of a
14 Egorov, Ivan, “Nikolai Patrushev: an updated National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation."
Rossiyskaya Gazeta, December 22, 2015. http://www.rg.ru/2015/12/22/patrushev-site.html English
translation: http://www.liveleak.com/view7U0ce 1451939610 (accessed January 8, 2016).
Russian perception that the economic sanctions are being used as a means to topple their
government and allow western influences to take control. To prevent this and address
other weakness, the strategy has internal focal areas that are meant to be bulwarks against
outside influence and intervention, to include an emphasis on traditional spiritual and
moral Russian values. With economic sanctions in effect, the strategy places a value on
the spiritual over the material, family, service to motherland, and historical unity of the
country’s people. Many of these themes are areas where Russian leadership perceives
western culture and values are capable of corrupting the populace. 16
The Secretary also references the interventions in the Middle East and North
Africa as resulting in the strengthening of international terrorist organizations. This has
produced long-term instability in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria that need solutions.
The new strategy emphasizes the importance of partnerships with the United States and
Europe on the basis of common interests, including economic ones, but again insists on
equal partnerships. 17 Russia believes that it is not only a world power, but a world
leader. 18 However, Russia realizes that overt confrontation with the US. will harm both
its national security and internal stability. The Secretary acknowledges that Russia needs
to avoid restarting an arms race. This assertion is indicative of both Russia’s inability to
sustain such a pursuit and its reliance on nuclear parity to achieve the desired balance of
16 Dubovikova, Maria, “Is Russia a world power or a world leader?” A l Arabiya News, January 6, 2016.
leader-.html (accessed January 8, 2016).
17 Egorov, Nikolai Patrushev.
18 Dubovikova, Is Russia a world power or a world leader ?
19 Egorov, Nikolai Patrushev.
Russia values Westphalian sovereignty and the protections afforded to its security
by international law and the United Nations charter. 20 It believes the U.S. is willing to
threaten Russian sovereignty and perceives that the law of force has replaced
international law. It bases this assertion on their view that the U.S. and its allies have
violated national sovereignty on numerous occasions and for various reasons from
Grenada, Panama, and Serbia, to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and most recently
in Libya and Syria. In each of these cases the U.S. invoked different sources of
legitimization from international law to intervene; whether it was the UN’s
Responsibility to Protect in Serbia or the protection of U.S. citizens in Panama and
Grenada. Russia’s perspective is that when they invoked similar reasons for Russia’s
interventions that they met unreasonable unneccesary resistance from the U.S. and west.
This perceived double standard futher stimulates Russia’s view that many of these
international institutions have simply become tools to serve western interests. 21
Russia views great power status as being derived from territory first and foremost.
This is logical as Russia is the largest country in the world by landmass. It approaches the
world with a thousand year history as not only a European, but also Asian power, with a
bit of a chip on its shoulder. The chip originates from being a marginalized nation whose
populace and major cities are on the periphery of Europe while the vast majority of
20 Krasner, Stephen D., “Sharing Sovereignty: New Institutions for Collapsed and Failing States.”
International Security Vol 29, No 2 (Fall 2004), 87. The fundamental rule of Westphalian sovereignty is to
refrain from intervening in the internal affairs of other states and that each state has the right to determine
its own domestic authority structures. The principle of non-intervention is traditionally associated with the
Peace of Westphalia of 1648, a treaty between the Prussian states, though Krasner advocates this wasn’t
explicitly articulated until a century later by a Swiss Jurist publication in 1758.
21 Raina, Flimanil, “Legal Questions of Russia’s Intervention in Ukraine” International Policy Digest.
April 21, 2014. http://intpolicydigest.org/2014/04/21/legal-questions-russia-s-intervention-ukraine/
(accessed Mar 12, 2016).
territory is in Asia. There is a widely held belief that throughout history Russia has never
been quite accepted as a European nation or treated on equal terms with other European
nations. Part of this is related to its fairly unique Christian Orthodoxy and emphasis on its
distinctive Pan-Slav identity. Additionally, Russia has maintained its autocratic,
centralized, and vertically controlled ruling structure long after the rest of Europe
developed into more democratic systems. 22
Russia sees a threat to its future prosperity and thus its ability to remain a great
power, from its projected population decline and its inability to effectively exploit its own
territory and resources. Additionally, Russia faces challenges from its over-dependence
on energy exports and from the negative effects that rampant corruption has had on
economic growth and state revenues. The Russian government has been unable or
unwilling to reform the country’s energy-dependent economy, even though the current
low prices of oil and gas now limit the nations abilities to further moderni z e its military. 23
As the Soviet Union, Russia experienced the power and respect from Europe and
the world that they always thought they deserved, and they want to reclaim that standing.
For Russia and Putin, the 1990’s attempt at western liberal democracy is seen as a failure
and there is no going back. During this period, Russians believe that they were
embarrassed and exploited from within and by the west. 24 Now, Russia wants to be at the
forefront of a new global economic system, while it continues to leverage its place in
existing international organizations that follow internationally agreed laws (the UN
Security Council). Putin requires that Russia gains equality with the world’s principal
22 Van Herpen, Marcel H., Putin’s Wars: The Rise of Russia’s New Imperialism (Lanham: Rowman &
Littlefield, 2014), 33-39.
23 President of the Russian Federation, National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation to 2020.
24 Van Herpen, Putin’s Wars, 52-55.
power centers of China, the EU, and the US, and demands its place among the leaders of
a global, multipolar world.
Russia also seeks to expand the reach of their new international organizations that
claim to focus on mutual national interests shared with potential partners, but at their
heart, the organizations target the inclusion of nations or regions where Russia wants to
gain or maintain its influence. These international organizations also court nations,
regions, or affiliations that have been or that they perceive to have been marginalized or
excluded by the western dominated organizations. An example of this included the
invitiation to Greece to take a loan from the BRICS development bank as an alternative
to the EU loan with its imposed austerity measures during the Greece bailout woes of mid
20 1 5. 25 Russia has also invited Serbia and Afghanistan to observe the CSTO and asked
Pakistan and India to observe a SCO exercise. Russia has long maintained and now is
further developing a stronger relationship with Iran, a state long grouped into the U.S
‘axis of evil.’
In the second presidential tenn of Vladimir Putin, Russia abandoned it path
towards integration with greater Europe and the west and instead began to pursue goals
that would put it at odds with the rest of Europe. Putin laid out objectives for Russia to
maintain its preeminence over former Soviet states and retain influence over the states on
its borders as buffers to its perceived threats. By August, 2008, Medvedev introduced his
five principles of foreign policy which ’’included the right for the Kremlin to protect
Russians.. .wherever they are.” 26 This principle has given them the excuse on numerous
25 Kennedy, Simon, “BRICS bank invite to Greece has Jim O’Neill Thinking it’s a Joke.” Bloomberg
Business, May 14, 2015. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-Q5-14/brics-bank-invite-to-greece-
has-iim-o-neill-thinking-it-s-a-ioke (accessed January 4, 2016).
26 Van Herpen, Putin’s Wars, 4.
occasions to intervene on behalf of Russian nationals. Many of Russia’s external actions
have also been attempts at consolidating power and promoting internal security.
Interventions in the Ukraine and Syria promote a rally around the flag effect that reduces
criticism of government polices during wartime and increases popular backing for the
leadership. This level of support and acceptance of the repression of freedoms is
unsustainable unless concrete economic improvements for its citizens are forthcoming
and there is a guarantee of security for the populace. This drives the regime’s perception
of its vulnerability and fear of foreign influence over its internal political affairs, foreign
cultural and informational influence on the populace (especially the youth), and its over
dependence on raw materials and on western economic models and trade to sustain its
economic growth. 27
Strategy Case Study
A study of Russian strategy through a review of its strategic documents serves as
a foundation for further analysis of its recent foreign policy actions. This section
leverages Graham Allison’s three conceptual frameworks for analyzing foreign policy, as
a way to validate the “why” behind Russia’s actions. Allison’s three models look at
international decision making through different perspectives. Model I is that of a singular
rational actor, in this case Putin. Model II, views actions through the lens of critical
organizations of the state and how their standard operating procedures affect decisions,
and Model III focuses on how these actions affect or are affected by internal government
politics. Though each of these models by themselves cannot answer ‘the why,’
collectively they can provide a framework of explanations through different lenses that
27 President of the Russian Federation, National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation to 2020.
ultimately will be closer to the truth. Through this comparison the analysis will reveal if
any hidden agendas exist or if Russia is simply pursuing its strategy as defined in its
strategic documents. This section will examine Russia’s recent actions in Syria, and how
these align with the interests of Putin as the leader of Russia, the interests of key
governmental organizations, and with internal Russian politics. 28
The previous chapter on the rise of Putin clearly demonstrates that he is firmly in
charge of steering his nation’s foreign policy. Russian strategic documents clearly
describe the importance and value of preserving old allies and fostering new allies.
Russian strategy also describes Russia’s concern with the preservation of a nation’s
sovereignty and the negative influence that regime changes have had on the stability of
nations to include Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and on the growth of international
The toppling of Gadhafi and subsequent mutilation of his body following the
uprising in Libya deeply affected Putin’s psyche. 30 Putin could not allow his Ukrainian
ally and its fonner leader, Viktor Yanukovych, to be taken by that nation’s coup d’etat,
and he could not allow Russia’s long term ally, Assad, to be taken either. Thus the supply
of weapons and eventual insertion of Russian forces into Syria served to prop up and
protect a failing ally in an important region of the globe where Russia has few allies. 31
Putin is willing to expend the time and resources on this endeavor because it also serves
multiple facets of Russia’s national interests. The physical protection of an ally serves as
28 Allison, Graham, and Philip Zelikow, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (Second
Edition) (New York: Longman, 1999), 274-276.
29 Egorov, Nikolai Patrushev
30 Shuster, Simon, “Top Russian Diplomat Explains Reasons for Syrian Arms Sales.” Time, May 17, 2013.
September 15, 2015).
an assurance to members of their other Russian alliances, like the CSTO, and to any
future allies, that Russia will honor collective security agreements.
Russia’s involvement in Syria also reflects its national interests in the global
environment at large. Putin’s strategic documents declare his intent to be a leader in
global affairs. Russia’s commitment in Syria guarantees it an important voice with
regards to an area and issue of global concern. Russia’s involvement also serves as a
venue to highlight their resolute support of national sovereignty and assertion that
meddling in another nation’s affairs breeds nothing but instability. This force insertion
also serves to secure their key military installation at Tartus, the only Russian naval base
on the Mediterranean coast. Finally, Russia shares the global concern over the spread of
Islamic extremist terrorism. Russia felt threatened by the unconstrained operation within
Syria and rise to power of many of its old Chechen War adversaries. It does not wish to
see them return, nor does it want extremism to take hold in other, predominately Muslim,
areas of both Russia and its neighbors.
The timing of Russian involvement reflects a perceived opening to achieve many
of these goals. The continued failure of U.S. policy and its actions to support moderate
rebels in the Syrian conflict and to act decisively against ISIS created the opportunity for
Russia to enter the region. Additionally, European and world opinion may have swung
more in favor of achieving a guarantee of stability and the removal of ISIS, and therefore
may be less concerned now over the removal of Assad’s regime and creation of a
democracy. The decision to insert Russian forces at this time, as world opinion changes,
could help stabilize a regime friendly to Russia, create prestige for Russia and Putin alike,
and preserve Russian access to the Mediterranean port. Additionally, assisting Assad has
created new opportunities for Russia to advance its relationship with Iran, Shi’ite Iraq,
and the Shi’ite community at large, all entities that have strained relations with the U.S. 32
Allison’s second model views an action through the lens of the critical
organizations of that state and they way that their standard operating procedures affect
decision making. 33 When it comes to the Middle East and Syria in general, there are a
number of Russian national interests in play as they relate to some key government
entities in Russia. The military and the oil oligarchy are two of these very important
organizations which have a vested interest in Russia’s involvement in Syria. The military
is a fraction of the size that it once was at the height of the Soviet Union, but still owns
some of the world’s most advanced military hardware, to include nuclear weapons. In the
2014 Military Doctrine it was charged with advancing Russia’s national security strategy,
maintaining world-wide access commensurate with a great power, and to defend its allies.
The seizure and subsequent annexation of the Crimean peninsula, which includes
Sevastopol, the primary wann water port of the Russian fleet, furthers the notion that the
Russian military values the access to the Mediterranean Sea that both Sevastopol and the
port of Tartus provide. Additionally, overtures in the past with Cyprus for port access,
reinforces this view that Russia sees wann water port access to and through the
Mediterranean as essential to achieving its national security strategy. 34 At present, the
Russian military has also leveraged this presence in Syria to establish an air base in
Latakia, their first in the region.
32 Khan, Imran, “Iraq, Russia, Iran and Syria coordinate against 1SIL.” A l Jazeera, September 27, 2015.
AAeQ9pK (accessed January 4, 2016).
33 Allison, Graham, and Philip Zelikow, Essence of Decision
34 BBC, “Cyprus denies ‘Russia deal on military bases’” BBC.com, February 9, 2015.
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31293330 (accessed Jan 4, 2016).
To achieve all of the goals set for it by the nation strategy, the Russian military
needs a secure budget, and Russian military budgets are highly dependent upon state oil
revenue. Oil and gas accounts are the largest single source that the Russian state relies on
for up to 50% of its revenue. 35 Additionally, many of the Russian elite and state power
brokers have wealth tied to the state oil companies. At present, oil is at a decade low and
revenues are much more constrained than in the past. Russian access or influence in the
Middle East oil rich region, to include greater relations with Iran, may advance the oil
oligarchs’ bottom line directly or indirectly. If Russia is able to bolster its presence in the
region, Russian companies may gain greater access to develop and exploit regional oil.
Additionally, if Russia is successful in aiding the EU to achieve its two primary
objectives, stopping ISIS and stopping the refugee flow, Russia may be able to leverage
an easing of the economic sanctions against it. Finally, at the core, instability in and
around the Middle East has more often than not, translated into increases in oil prices.
With Russia’s economic growth and dependence on oil and gas revenue, higher prices in
oil translates into greater Russian wealth and power, no matter the cause.
The final look at Russia’s intervention in Syria is through the lens of internal
politics. As this thesis has described, Putin’s control over Russia is tenuous. This was on
full display in 2012, when protests broke out over his return to the presidency. 36 Since
then, the Ukraine conflict created a rally around the flag effect promoting nationalist
fervor. The fervor was harnessed internally in two ways; (first) “to divert the attention of
the people from the real problems in the country and to knit them together behind the
35 Dawisha, Karen, Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014), 332.
36 Herszenhorn, David M., and Ellen Barry, “Large Anti-Putin Protests Signals Growing Resolve.” The
New York Times, June 12, 2012. http://www.nvtimes.com/2012/Q6/13/world/europe/anti-putin-
demonstrators-gather-in-moscow.html? r= 1 (accessed December 15, 2015).
regime and (second) to repress democracy and/or stifle demands for democracy.” 37 The
results boosted Putin’s approval ratings above 80%. 38 However, the Ukraine conflict
eventually bogged down into a stalemate and the economy was under siege from western
sanctions. Putin needed a new and possibly more successful campaign in Syria to revive
popular support, secure his power, and suppress opposition.
A look at Russian intervention in Syria from the three vantage points illuminates
Russian strategy and national interests in application. The intervention appears entirely
consistent with the Russian National Security Strategy and its associated international
objectives. A comparable look at Russia’s actions in the Ukraine or Georgia would most
likely yield similar results. Though Russia many have additional clandestine agendas at
work that are not apparent in their strategic documents, their current actions in Syria are
also consistent with Russia’s strategic culture and enduring national interests. The next
chapter will look to build on this knowledge base in order to discuss areas where Russia’s
strategic culture, enduring national interests, and security documents point to likely
friction areas with the U.S. and its allies in the future.
37 Van Herpen, Putin’s Wars, 54.
38 Birnbaum, Michael, “Putin’s approval ratings hit 89 percent, the highest they have ever been” The
Washington Post, June 24, 2015.
the-highest-theyve-ever-been/ (accessed September 15, 2015).
CHAPTER 5: FUTURE FRICTION AREAS
Russia’s prevailing world-view regarding power is one that sees a U.S. dominated
unipolar world as unacceptable. It also realizes that a return to the balanced bipolar world
of the Cold War is unachievable. Thus, Russia is detennined that the world should be
multipolar, and that it will be one of the great power centers. This overarching worldview
informs Russia’s actions on the world stage. Likewise, Russia maintains a heightened
perception of insecurity. NATO’s expansion has only served to further amplify those
concerns. Finally, Russia may be at the precipice of a shift in its strategic approach that in
the past has often relied on its military as its primary means to achieve its goals. In an
analysis of their strategic documents there are indications that Russia realizes that
economic power may actually be the best means to achieve its security. 1 If this was the
case, this shift would represent a potential opportunity for re-engagement.
As described in the analysis of Russian strategic culture, the Russian people are
traditionally more tolerant of authoritarian regimes, but only to a certain limit. This limit
is predicated on the nation providing the people with the level of security they require,
the feeling of prestige they want for their state, and the level of prosperity that was
promised. When these needs are not met, the people’s sacrifice of freedoms becomes less
tolerable. Riddled throughout the strategic documents are indications that Putin’s regime
fears internal unrest and is especially paranoid that the west will finance or flame this
unrest. The national and military strategies point to methods the regime will employ to
1 Eitelhuber, Norbert, “The Russian Bear: Russian Strategic Culture and What it Implies for the West.” The
Quarterly Journal Winter (2009).
maintain internal security. Since Russia values sovereignty over all else, any criticism or
perceived meddling of a foreign government or entity in the Russian government’s
internal affairs will become an immediate source of friction.
Ethnic Russian Populations
President Medvedev’s five principles and the subsequent publication of the 2014
Military Doctrine describe the right of Russia to intervene militarily under the pretext of
the protection of Russians. Russian actions in Estonia in 2007, Georgia in 2008, and the
Crimea and Donbass in 2014, have established this proclaimed right as a credible threat
to future stability. The nations bordering with Russia that have the most ethnic Russian
populations are Ukraine with the largest population, Kazakhstan with the second largest,
Uzbekistan, Moldova, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Interestingly, over 3.1 million
Ethnic Russians live in the United States, making it the third largest Russian diaspora.
Russians make up roughly 25% of Estonian and 27% of Latvian populations. 2 The
greatest concentrations of Ethnic Russians are in the Crimea and the Donbass region,
followed by the eastern sliver of Estonia along the Russian border. There are also large
concentrations of passport holding Russians both in the Transnistria and southern
Moldova. 3 In the geo-strategic environment, large populations in Kazakhstan are
relatively secure since that nation is fully wedded to Russian sponsored organizations.
Nations of future concern include Uzbekistan, which has inched further away from the
2 Stratfor, “Baltic States Concerned about Large Russian Minorities.” Stratfor.com , October 16, 2014.
minority?0=ip login no cache%3D0el477a2a4a75d48c69f7aa0b730dce9 (accessed January 4, 2016).
3 Bender, Jeremy, “These Countries with Large Russian Populations should fear what Putin might do next.”
Business Insider, March 21, 2014. http://www.businessinsider.com/countries-with-large-russian-
populations-2014-3\ (accessed December 15, 2015).
Russian sphere, Estonia, where there is a 73% concentration of ethnic Russian along the
border, and Moldova. Unrest or perceived threats to any of these diaspora communities,
especially in the three nations specified would represent the most likely risk of future
conflict with Russia.
Former Soviet Spheres of Influence
The Russian National Security Strategy until 2020 and the 2014 Military Doctrine
describe the importance of the fonner Soviet states and buffer nations along Russia’s
border. Putin has attempted to invite many of these same nations into the various
international organizations and collective security treaties Russia has created. Nations
within this sphere and belonging to these organizations are critical allies for Russia and
any change to that status would be cause for Russian concern. Of these, based on
international associations, Belarus is the now the number one priority ally for Russia,
with Kazakhstan close behind. Any attempts by European nations to court Belarus into
any association, agreement, or into the European Union would provoke a stark reaction
from Russia. Any outreach to Kazakhstan would be met with a similar reaction by
The frozen conflicts of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are also non-negotiable for
Russia. Russia has demonstrated a willingness to undertake militarily hostilities in
Georgia even though that nation had fostered U.S. relations. Russia has included these
‘republics’ in its strategic plans, defense commitments, and has invited them into its
international organizations. Through these actions they have effectively blocked
Georgia’s ability to join NATO or the EU, since these unresolved conflicts prevent
Of future concern is the level of association described by the Military and
National Security documents regarding the Commonwealth of Independent States. A
number of these states do not belong to the CSTO or EEU, but the Russian NSS has
openly described their desired inclusion. Moldova is the most concerning of the CIS
nations for the NATO alliance. As a member of the CIS, the EEU extended an invitation
to Moldova, which has chosen instead to pursue an association with the European Union.
There have also been calls for the frozen zone of Transnistria, the eastern border territory
of Moldova, to join the EEU. 4 This situation is compounded by the concentrations of
ethnic Russians in Transnistria and southern Moldova, and by the presence of Russian
peacekeepers in Transnistria. 5
Competing International Blocs
Russia has indicated its desire to challenge western dominated institutions. As
described in both national security strategies, Russia perceives that the U.S. and Europe
dominate most of the international organization power centers in the globe. It lists the
U.S. and E.U. as economic rivals, NATO as a military rival, and the UN agencies of the
World Bank, IMF, and dollar based world economic system as barriers. 6 As the Russian
NSS demonstrates, Russia is pursuing the creation of organizations and alliances where
any commonality can be found, a good example of which is highlighted in the BRICS
4 Romanian News Agency, “Russian Deputy Foreign Minister pleas for Transnistria’s integration in
Customs Union." ActMedia, June 11, 2014. http://actmedia.eu/dailv/russian-deputv-foreign-minister-pleas-
for-transnistria-s-integration-in-customs-union/52593 (accessed October 20, 2015).
5 Croft, Adrian, “NATO Commander warns of Russian Threat to separatist Moldova region”. Renters,
March 24, 2014. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-crisis-idUSBREA2M0992014Q324 (accessed
September 15, 2015).
6 President of the Russian Federation, National Security’ Strategy’ of the Russian Federation to 2020.
Moscow, May 12, 2009. The International Relations and Security Network, May 12, 2009.
http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Publications/Detail/7idM54915 (accessed September 15, 2015)..
(Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and BRICS bank. These organizations
play a dual role of both providing international prestige and power to Russia, as well as
challenging western based organizations for power. Additionally, Russia will continue to
try to expand the EEU as a counterbalance to ELI expansion. The pull between these two
organizations and the ultimate choice by the former Ukraine president Yanukovych to
stop EU membership is one of the root causes behind the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and
the greater Ukraine crisis. How nations align with these two economic unions may be a
source of friction in the future. The US and NATO should have similar concerns about
Russia’s creation of the CSTO as a Warsaw Pact revival. This organization is a reaction
to Russia’s perceived threat from further NATO expansion and is attempting to court
non-aligned nations. Afghanistan and Serbia have been invited as observers, and
indications are that Iran may follow. However, this organization could also serve as a
bulwark against the rise China and its influence in central Asia.
In its 2002 Arctic claim submission to the UN, Russia moved one step closer to
consolidating its hold over one of the last vestiges of unclaimed territory left in the world.
This area is of utmost importance to Russia’s sense of great power status, which is
derived from its territory and its vast, yet unclaimed natural resources. The U.S. currently
estimates that the Arctic could contain 15% of the earth’s oil, 30% of the natural gas, and
20% of its liquefied natural gas. Additionally, Russia intends to open 16 ports along
Arctic coastline, as well as 13 airfields and 10 air defense radar stations in the region. 7 In
7 Bender, Jeremy, “Denmark Just Claimed the North Pole.” Business Insider, December 15, 2014.
http://www.businessinsider.com/denmark-iust-claimed-the-north-pole-2014-12 (accessed December 15,
sum, Russia believes it has a valid claim to a majority of the Arctic resources and the
entire northern shipping route. With five nations, including the United States laying claim
to this region, how this competition plays out could lead to a future conflict between the
United States and Russia.
CHAPTER 6: DETERRENCE
In Thucydides book 4, Peace in Sicily, he quotes a Sicilian orator who states that
wars occur because, “one side thinks that the profits to be won outweigh the risks to be
incurred.” 1 Russia acts aggressively because it believes that the potential gains outweigh
the risks and the cost involved; essentially, that they can get away with it. Changing this
thinking will require a strong response from the U.S. to deter Russia’s pursuit of its
interests that are counter to the United States interests, and to shape Russian efforts to
instead focus their energy on interests that also benefit the United States.
Thomas Christensen in The Contemporary Security Dilemma, asserts that
assurance must accompany deterrence. “Successful deterrence requires both threats and
assurances about the conditionality of those threats. Otherwise, the target has no reason to
comply with deterrence demands.” 2 Christensen advocates that the real security dilemma
is how to show strength without being overly provocative, stating “that the target of a
deterrent threat must believe its core interests will be spared if it does not commit an act
of aggression.” 3 This theory postulates that the Soviet Union’s aggression has been
deterred in the past by the U.S. holding at risk core national interests that the Soviets
valued more deeply than the object of their aggression. The nuance of this point is that
the U.S. threat to these core interests were credible and that the Soviet Union was
1 Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War. Trans. Rex Warner. (London: Penquin Books. 1972), 298.
2 Christensen, Thomas J., “The Contemporary Security Dilemma: Deterring a Taiwan Conflict” The
Washington Quarterly 25:4 (Autumn 2002), 7.
3 Ibid., 8.
provided a believable reassurance that it would not be deprived of these core national
interests if it complied with the deterring states demands.
An example of the failure of deterrence and reassurance can be found in the
Korean War. The U.S. forces in the area and South Korean forces on the peninsula did
not represent a credible enough military threat to deter North Korea and its Russian and
Chinese sponsors from invading the south. Likewise, later in the war, following the
Inchon landing and the U.S. move north across the 38 th parallel towards China, the U.S.
was “insufficiently reassuring” to China that it would stop at the Yalu and not attack it.
This lack of assurance led to China’s perception that attack into China was inevitable,
and led to the ensuing escalation of the Korean War and Chinese invasion. 4 As the U.S.
looks to deter modern Russia from further aggression, it must be careful to also reassure
Russia that its core interests will be protected.
Graham Allison’s The Cuban Missile Crisis provides an in depth exploration of
how the Soviet Union, i.e. Russia, has been successfully deterred and assured in the past.
In October of 1962 the Soviet Union and the United States came close to nuclear war
over the Soviet insertion of nuclear missiles into Cuba. The United States responded with
a naval blockade, the visible threat of 200,000 invasion troops in Florida, and a verbal
threat of air strikes or invasion. By the 28 th of October, Krushchev announced the
withdrawl to the communist Presidium. There is much speculation and analysis over the
decisions that were made and why they were made. Some of this has speculation has been
aided by the release of records in the U.S. and Russia, though the Russian records were
4 Christensen, “The Contemporary Security Dilemma,” 8.
later closed. There are important takeaways from this incident that still apply today. First,
it is widely believed that Kh rushchev thought he could get away with placing missiles in
Cuba and that Kennedy would not stand up to him. Secondly, that a strong military
response and the threat of an invasion changed the Russian leader’s calculus. Finally, the
Kennedy and Krushchev letters confirm that the missiles were removed because a
compromise had been struck that reassured both nations’ core national interests.
Krushchev promised to remove the missiles, if his more important national interest, the
sovereignty of Cuba, was guaranteed by a U.S. pledge of non-invasion. There is also an
indication that the U.S. agreed to the eventual removal of nuclear missiles in Turkey that
similarly threatened Russia’s security. In this example, the U.S. effectively applied a
strong military deterrent to roll back Russian aggression, while assuring Russian core
interests of sovereignty and security. Most importantly, to reach an understanding, the
two leaders had to actively engage in a dialog to resolve this crisis and agree that
mutually assured nuclear destruction was not in either nations’ interests . 5 Engagement
and the flexing of a deterrent strength while properly reassuring an adversary’s core
national interests are themes that will reemerge in a modem U.S. strategic approach to
5 Allison, Graham, and Philip Zelikow, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (Second
Edition) (New York: Longman, 1999), 267-272.
CHAPTER 7: U.S. STRATEGIC APPROACH
There are two competing international relations worldviews that dominate much
of the discussion over the modern U.S. strategic approach to Russia. These different ways
of looking at the international environment are at the heart of many of the
misunderstandings between the two nations. The first worldview is Realism, which in
short believes that states will first and foremost act in their own national interests. In
doing so they will act predictably in the international environment as they engage in
actions that increase their power. Realism traces its source back to Hobbes, whose well
known quote was that man’s natural state was anarchy, that ‘life was nasty, brutish, and
short,’ and for this reason, a strong government is necessary . 1 A well-known theory of
Realism is the balance of power, which states that as one nation rises in power, other
nations of lesser strength will band together to balance against them. This theory also
prescribes that power itself is relative, in that as one nation gains power it is at the
expense of another . 2
The second worldview prevalent in international relations is Liberalism, which is
not to be mistaken with liberal politics. Liberalism is founded in the conviction that
international institutions foster a greater interdependence between nations and can thus
lessen the likelihood of war. More importantly, the belief is that power is absolute, so that
as one nation gains power it does not have to be at the expense of another . 3
Many of the think tanks and policy centers subscribe to one view or the other in
their approaches to solving current international relation problems between Russia and
1 Dr. Gregory Miller, lecture Introduction to International Relations Theory, 25 Aug 2015.
the U.S. The suggestions from those in the Realist worldview is that the U.S. must isolate
Russia and strengthen its military deterrent. 4 Conversely, the recommendations from the
Liberalist worldview is that the U.S. should engage diplomatically with Russia, increase
Russia’s involvement in international organizations with the U.S., and reduce the U.S.
military strength that is perceived as threatening to Russia. The problem is that these
opposing solutions do not account for the distinctive ways that Russia, the U.S., and its
European allies, all see themselves and approach international relations. These three
stakeholders have unique strategic cultures and different worldviews that requires a
blended solution to ensure stability for the region. 5
Historically, the U.S projects a Liberalist worldview throughout its founding
documents and National Security Strategy. In these documents the U.S. champions
democracy for all, the universal nature of American values, and economic freedom, and
then espouses the benefits of international cooperation through organizations and treaties.
However, in practice, much of the world sees the U.S. acting just as often in its own
national interests, displaying a more Realist worldview. This perspective holds that the
U.S. is interested in maintaining its primacy and power in the world of diplomacy and
economics, and only joins in treaties or organizations that are in its national interests. An
example of this dichotomy would be the U.S. refusal to submit its citizens to the
4 Carafano and others, ‘‘U.S. Comprehensive Strategy Toward Russia.” Heritage Foundation, December 9,
(accessed January 25, 2016).
5 Igumnova, Lyudmila, “Russia’s Starategic Culture Between American and European Worldviews. ”
Journal of Slavic Military Studies Vol 24, Issue 2 (2011): 254-273.
N=60849619&site=ehost-live&scope=site (accessed December 20, 2015).
international criminal courts, while still espousing the universal values of human rights
and justice that the court is supposed to protect . 6
Russia is different; it projects itself internationally and acts with a Realist
worldview. It perceives power as relative and believes that as the U.S., EU, and NATO
have increased their power, it has come at the expense of Russian power. Likewise, if
Russia is to regain power, it would be at the expense of these same entities. Russia also
feels that its security is threatened by these specific entities, which is why it identifies the
U.S., EU, and NATO as the targets for any rebalancing of power.
Fueling Russia’s insecurity is its perception that the U.S. says one thing, but does
another. Therefore, it does not trust the U.S. and does not believe the U.S. will respect its
national sovereignty. Additionally, the Russian’s believe they have tried the “western
way” of liberal democracy, but were not fully supported or accepted by the west, and thus
they fell into the chaos and decay that accompanied a rise in crime across the nation and
take over by the oligarchy. It is this perceived betrayal and lack of trust that underpins
Russia/U.S. and Russia/westem European relationships. Additionally, because of this
negative experience, the U.S. and Europe must now accept that Russia is not going to
become a liberal democracy anytime soon. They are also not going to join the European
Union and help create a post-modem era for that region. Russia has historically
approached the international environment with a Realist worldview, and that will not
6 Evans-Pritchard, Blake and Simon Jennings, “US Takes Cautious Approach to ICC.” Institute for War
and Peace Reporting, May 6 2010. https://www.globalpolicv.org/us-un-and-international-law-8-24/us-
opposition-to-the-icc-8-29/49067.html (accessed October 20, 2015).
This idealization of a post modem European era is precisely what defines the
Eurpean Union’s Liberalist worldview as it approaches Russia and the region. 7 Centuries
of conflict among European nations appears to have been quelled by European
unification and integration. Traditional Westphalian “sovereign rights [of states, has
been] gradually transferred to supranational institutions.” 8 The result is that the EU
perceives it has achieved greater collective security through increased economic
interconnectedness and the sharing of power through military and diplomatic
international organizations. The EU’s shared beliefs of multilateralism, non-military
solutions to conflict, and democratic and humanitarian values, all define their Liberalist
worldview. As the U.S. refines its strategic approach to the region, it will need to find a
way to blend its own competing worldview with that of Russia and the EU to create a
balanced solution for regional stability.
The U.S. must understand that there are three paths that can be taken. The
Liberalist path the U.S. has been on is one that has allowed Russian aggression and
expansionism to go unchecked. The opposite Realist path will most likely lead to a new
cold war and all that such a war would bring with it; regional tensions, conflict over the
arctic, conventional military build-up, increased espionage and cyber conflict, and even
proxy wars. An increase in tension could then lead to a renewed nuclear arms race,
especially since Russia does not have the resources to create the kind of conventional
capability that it would need to credibly confront the United States the way the Soviet
Union once did. In fact, all indications are that a conventional build up from the West
would further push Russia into behaving much like the West did to counter the build up
7 Igumnova, “Russia’s Starategic Culture Between American and European Worldviews. ”
8 Igumnova, “Russia’s Starategic Culture Between American and European Worldviews. ” 255.
of the Soviet Union; it would rely on and strengthen its nuclear arsenal to counter the
conventional inequity. 9 The fact is, that over the last decade, many of the U.S. and
European approaches to Russia have served only to push Russia towards seeking a
stronger relationship with countries in the East. 10 If the U.S. is truly worried about a
rising China that is both ideologically and culturally different in its views on universal
human rights and values, then why push Russia into seeking China as a partner? 11
Instead, by pursuing a third path, that blends the deterent strength respected by a Realist
nation, with diplomatic engagement and the fostering of greater economic and diplomatic
interconnectedness associated with European Liberalism, would serve to make Russia,
the U.S., and the EU more secure, while furthering U.S. national interests.
This blended approach is not unique. For the U.S., power has long come from its
hard sources; a strong military and economic engine. However, the U.S.’s hidden source
of power and influence in the world has been its international appeal and universal
support of prosperity and freedom for all; i.e. its soft power. Teddy Roosevelt’s corollary
“speak softly, but carry a big stick” was about the nation peacefully engaging and
negotiating with adversaries, while keeping the stick in hand as a credible threat, though
not holding it over their heads. Recent worldwide discussion about the decline of the U.S.
economic and military power has given off the perception that a vacuum of power is
9 Adamsky, Dmitry, “If War Comes Tomorrow: Russian Thinking About Regional Nuclear Deterrence.”
Journal of Slavic Military Studies Vol 27, Issue 1 (2014): 164-188.
N=94856644&site=ehost-live&scope=site (accessed Sep 10, 2015), 166-167.
10 Wang, Wan, “Impact of Western Sanctions on Russia in the Ukraine Crisis.” Journal of Politics and Law
Vol 8, No 2 ( 2015). http://www.ccsenet.org/iournal/index.php/ipl/article/view/45567/25287 (accessed
December 15, 2015)
11 Gay, John Allen, “Russia’s Ukraine Invasion: an opportunity for America?” The Diplomat, April 16,
2014. http://thediplomat.com/2014/04/mssias-ukraine-invasion-an-opportunitv-for-america/ (accessed
October 20, 2015).
beginning to develop. The reality is that the U.S. is not going anywhere and continues to
grow more powerful. However, the real message that the United States should emphasize
is its belief that this growth does not come at the expense of others, i.e. that power is
absolute and not relative. Other nations can grow stronger without affecting U.S.’s
perception of its own strength and power. The U.S. should revive Teddy Roosevelt’s
corollary, and “speak softly, but carry a big stick.”
Instruments of Power
The U.S. strategic approach to Russian revanchism should include demonstrating
a credible deterrent strength, but with an assurance of sovereignty and security for all of
the region, to include Russia. The contemporary approach of U.S. deterrence seeks only
to provide assurances of security to its allies and by doing so it neglects the nuance of
Christensen’s theory of deterrence, as described in the previous chapter. Reassurances, to
Russia, must be built into deterrent threats, so that Russia will not fear being deprived of
its core national interests if it complies with the U.S. and NATO’s demands. 12 The U.S.
can deter future Russian aggression first and foremost by recognizing Russia’s core
national interests, providing a credible assurance of their protection, while also
possessing a credible threat to these interests to ensure compliance. The U.S. can respect
Russian sovereignty and assure Russian security by continuing the defensive posture of
NATO as a guarantee for European peace U.S. DIME efforts should focus on reassuring
Russia about these core interests, while showing the capability to hold these intersts at
risk if required om order tp deter Russia from its more aggressive and destabilizing
12 Christensen, Thomas J., “The Contemporary Security Dilemma: Deterring a Taiwan Conflict” The
Washington Quarterly 25:4 (Autumn 2002), 77.
The perception of some adversaries is that the U.S. speaks softly, claims to carry a
big stick, but does not have the will to use it. This statement questions the credibility of
U.S. threats and undennines a key requirement of deterrence theory. The U.S. lost some
of this credibility when it confirmed that Assad crossed the red line and used chemical
weapons on his citizens, and then did nothing about it. 13 The U.S. has similarly
diminished its credibility from a Russian perspective, as the U.S. is seen as having
violated the sovereignty of several nations over the years, despite the legal basis used by
the U.S. for these interventions. The important diplomatic actions needed, include
calming real Russian fears that they will be the next nation invaded, either overtly or
covertly, i.e. an assurance of Russian sovereignty. Additionally, The U.S., in conjunction
with NATO, should assuage Russian security fears through a cessation of NATO
expansion, while working to persuade Russia that the nature of their aggression is what is
driving nations to pursue NATO membership. So, by continuing its aggression, Russia is
actually defeating its own vital national security interests by pushing more nations
towards joining NATO.
Diplomatic steps can focus on areas of mutual interest, as described in the review
of Russia’s NSS and Military Doctrine, to engage with Russia on the equal terms they
desire; Anti-terrorism, transnational crime, humanitarian assistance, etc. There are
numerous U.S. Strategic approach proposals that suggest isolating Russia on almost
13 Fisher, Max, “What is Obama’s red line on chemical weapons and what happens if Syria crosses it?” The
Washington Post, April 25, 2013.
weapons-and-what-happcns-if-svria-crosses-it/ (accessed October 20, 2015).
every diplomatic front, to include reviewing all U.S. interagency exchanges with Russia
and working to remove or suspend Russia from participating in many international
organizations. 14 However, these proposals to isolate Russia internationally would be
counterproductive at this juncture and an unacceptable course of action to our European
allies. International isolation would eliminate opportunities to strengthen regional
interconnectedness of economies and could lead to military confrontations that, unlike the
Cuban Missile Crisis, would then lack a diplomatic outlet to avoid escalation. It is also
counterproductive for the U.S. to avoid its leadership role in the ongoing multilateral
discussions seeking to solve the conflict in Ukraine. Additionally, the U.S. should remain
an active leader in finding long term solutions for Syria. The U.S. should leverage
Russian involvement in Syrian talks to start a dialog on Ukrainian solutions, as these two
critical issues are important national interests for both nations involved. Reaching
solutions in Syria should be understood as a first step towards nonnalizing the
Russia perceives a direct threat to its national sovereignty. The expansion of
NATO to its borders, rhetoric against Putin’s regime, and the regime’s perception that
westerns are meddling in Russian internal affairs are cause for their gravest concerns.
Russia believes NATO’s defensive reactions to the Crimea annexation, with increased
forward military posturing and an increased exercise regime could be a prelude to a
NATO invasion of Russia. The U.S. strategic messaging should emphasize the
importance of borders and the sovereignty of all nations in Europe to include Moldova,
14 Carafano and others, “U.S. Comprehensive Strategy Toward Russia.”
the Baltics, Poland, and Russia. The U.S. should also reopen and explore Russia’s UN
proposals for cyber norms. This is a topic that could futher cooperation between the
nations and should be explored through additional research.
While the diplomatic and infonnation instruments seek to assure protection of
Russia’s core interests, the U.S. also needs to display a credible strength. It needs to
reverse the perceived power vacuum created in Europe following the U.S. re-balance to
the Pacific strategy. The NATO Wales Summit agreement that holds nations to their 2%
military spending obligation is the right response, but since the agreement allows nations
up to ten years to get there, it is not immediate enough. 15 The balance of power void, real
or perceived, requires an immediate shift to cover the gap. The recent stop gap
announcements by the U.S. to inject greater military power into Europe is a good first
step, but falls short. The U.S. military presence in Europe has drawn down from its
300,000 personnel high during the Cold War to 35,000 troops. 16 The increase of
equipment and rotational presence, that is being suggested for 2016, is merely a band aid
fix compared to the steps that must be taken to provide a long term deterent solution. 17
Therefore, the U.S. should consider renewing the expansion of the European missile
defense system, pennanent forward basing of troops in Poland, and an increased naval
presence and the creation of strategic basing closer to the Arctic. These are all prudent
measures given the offensive threats emanating from not just Russia, but other states as
15 NATO, “Wales Summit Declaration" NATO Press Release, September 5, 2014.
http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official texts 112964.htm (accessed January 4, 2016).
16 Judson Judson, Jen and Aaron Mehta, “US Army Pivots to Europe.” Defense News, February 14, 2016.
(accessed February 14, 2016).
well, like Iran and even North Korea, when it comes to ballistic missile defense. The type
of equipment and capability that should be re-introduced into Europe is a topic that could
be further explored. The exploration would be wise to consider the destabilizing effect
that purely offensive capability would have on the region. Russia is already fearful for its
security and the introduction of too much offensive capability could lead to a security
dilemma, where an anns race could further destabilize the region.
The projection of military power must be accompanied by a believable assurance
that it is indeed defensive in nature and for the promotion of sovereignty of all nations,
not just NATO. Additionally, the military power must focus on building NATO partner
capacity and U.S. military to Russian military exchange. The exchanges and dialog
should focus on common interests and concerns; international terrorism, transnational
crime, and WMD proliferation. These actions should include an invitation for the Russian
military to observe humanitarian assistance and counter-terrorism exercises as a first step.
As exchanges and dialog grow, the U.S. could eventually seek to invite Russia to observe
NATO defensive exercises and gain a U.S. or NATO invitation to similarly observe the
Shanghai Cooperation Organization exercises. This military transparency and
cooperation has been at the heart of why NATO has brought security to a European
region that once fought wars between states for hundreds of years culminating with
World War II.
Both Russia and China seek an alternative vision of global governance and
development, especially western backed economic institutions like the International
Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Economic sanctions against Russia are pushing
them further towards that model and integration with the east instead of the west. In
2014, Russia signed a $400 billion energy deal with China in an effort to pivot away from
the EU. Additionally, indications are that the pain from the economic sanctions as felt in
certain European countries is loosening the resolve of those imposing the sanctions since
Europe used to get 30 percent of its natural gas from Russia. 18 With Europe highly reliant
on Russia for energy and fairly well integrated with Russia’s economy prior to the
conflict, the sanctions will not be able to last much longer, and the U.S. and Europe will
lose their leverage. Progress in Syria with the promise of reengagement on Ukraine could
be the right carrot and stick approach to tie the loosening of sanctions to.
18 Carafano and others, “U.S. Comprehensive Strategy Toward Russia”
CHAPTER 8: CONCLUSION
Over the last decade, Russia’s increased aggression towards its neighbors has
raised fears for the continued stability of the European continent. Cyber attacks in
Estonia, war against Georgia, the annexation of the Crimean peninsula, and the support to
Ukraine’s eastern rebellion and Assad’s failing regime in Syria, are all actions consistent
with Russia’s undeterred pursuit of its national interests. As the chapter on Russian
history and strategic culture revealed, aggressive expansionism has often gone hand in
hand with the rise of strong autocratic Russian leaders. These leaders have often
leveraged certain unifying identities, such as Christian Orthodoxy, Pan-Slavism, and
Russian nationalism, as they seek to rally the Russian people’s support in pursuit of
security for the nation and as a means to suppress discontent in their pursuit of power.
President Putin’s rise to power and continuing grip over the nation only serves as a
confirmation that Europeans have held false hopes for Russia to quickly become a liberal
democracy and to integrate into the greater European Union.
Russia seeks its own course. As its strategic documents reveal, Putin does not
want Russia to become yet another European Union or NATO nation, or a pawn to
western dominated institutions, or worse, a lone outlier, as the nations on Russia’s
periphery join these institutions. He seeks to expand Russian influence over its former
Soviet spheres through alternate international organizations and economic and military
alliances. Instead of integrating Russia into western institutions, the growth of these
institutions towards Russia’s borders have caused Russia to act out of fear. This fear is a
primal instinct rooted deeply in Russian strategic culture and in its continual quest for
security from its perceived enemies. This quest often puts Russia at odds with the U.S.,
NATO, and the European Union. Russia’s continued pursuits could lead it into additional
conflicts with the U.S. and Europe over key issues like ethnic Russian populations
throughout Eastern Europe, the growing interest in the Arctic access and resources, and
the suppression of democracy in Russia.
In the chapter on deterrence theory, Christensen illuminated examples from the
past where Russia has been successfully deterred from pursuing its objectives that were at
odds with the U.S. His theory proposed that deterrence is effective only if a credible
threat is accompanied by a credible assurance. This thesis elucidates that sovereignty and
security are two of Russia’s core national interests and that assuring these interests is
what Russia values the most. The U.S. must be capable of both putting these interests at
risk and assuring their protection, as a way to deter Russia from pursuing objectives that
are counter to the U.S. interests.
Contemporary reactions to Russian aggression advance the notion that the U.S.
and its NATO allies should diplomatically and economically isolate Russia while
increasing the alliances’ hard power projection to contain and deter further aggression.
Yet, deterrence theory postulates, and history shows, that a pure application of military
power, without the proper diplomatic outlets and assurances in place, could lead to an
undesired escalation of conflict. Instead, by pursuing a strategic approach to Russia that
blends deterent strength, that a Realist nation understands, with the assurance of their
core national interests, that they need, the U.S. and its European allies, could achieve
greater stability and security for Europe.
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LtCol Craig M. Nieman, joined Air Force ROTC and was commissioned into the
USAF in San Antonio, Texas in May 1997. He was selected for Joint Undergraduate
Navigator training Pensacola, Florida and F-15E Weapons Systems Officer training at
Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, graduating in Jun 2000. He has completed
numerous F-15E operational and training flying assignments at Mountain Home AFB,
Idaho and Seymour Johnson AFB, as well as a Joint Staff assignment at Yongsan, South
Korea. He has completed two flying deployments in support of operations in southwest
Asia and has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal, amongst
others. Craig has earned a Bachelor’s degree in History from Trinity University, a Master
Degree in Business from Trident University and is a graduate of Anny Command and
General Staff College. LtCol Nieman, just completed Command of Air Combat
Command’s Training Support Squadron, Langley AFB, Virginia. He is married to the
former Jennifer “Gigi” Jordan of Garland Texas and they have four sons, Calvin, Isaac,
Nicholas and Daniel; ages 13 to 7.