In March 2019, Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation, presented a new military doctrine to the country’s leadership, according to which Russia’s response to military threats is “a set of preemptive measures to neutralize threats to the security of the state”. The terms of the Cold War era have been returned to the document: the United States and its allies are presented as “the probable enemies”, “aggressors” ready to attack at any time. For the first time in many years, the necessity for preparing not for hybrid warfare and regional conflicts, on which Moscow has relied on recent years, is substantiated.
So what is behind the text of the new Kremlin defense doctrine?
Western experts agree that Russia is preparing a legislative framework for the start of a new full-scale war. This opinion is supported by both European and American experts. Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan are the minimum program. The maximum program is control over the Baltic countries, the creation of instability zones in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and further zones in Germany, France, and the Central and Southern EU countries.
Russia’s preparation for a new war is well under way. In the western direction, there is an active power projection, currently there are more than 2.5 thousand bodies of troops and military units, totaling more than 400 thousand troops, which far exceeds the total number of the neighbors’ armies, along with four armored infantry battalions of NATO in Poland and Baltic countries (up to 4 thousand). Recently, the quality of general purpose forces has significantly improved, the number of high-accuracy subsonic cruise missiles has increased, hypersonic weapons are being put into service, armored and artillery weapons are being updated, new combat airplanes and combat helicopters, surface ships and submarines, reconnaissance equipment are being received. This direction is equipped with Iskander systems (SS-26 Stone) and Samarkand RES systems, which range is classified data (but experts believe that they can leave all troops in Europe without communication, “blind” all targeting systems and the GPS navigation system). The Iskander’s stated range is 500 kilometers, but experts note that nuclear-tipped missiles created for this system are capable of hitting targets at a distance of 2500 kilometers or more (similar missiles, but without nuclear charges, were launched from the Caspian Sea against Syria, and the intercontinental “Topol-M” (SS-27 Sickle B) generally flies 12,000 kilometers). With an estimated speed of 2.1 km/s, Iskander will need 2 minutes to cover the distance to Warsaw. Thus, there are 20 nuclear power plants and 139 chemical enterprises in Europe within a radius of destruction.
Russia also relies on a land component. This is confirmed by the increased number of exercises with a large-scale troop shift by air and rail to create main attack forces in certain areas within a limited period (in recent years, not tens of thousands, as before, but hundreds of thousands of servicemen take part in). Increased mobility will allow to attack enemies and to capture a significant territory before enemies could create an effective defense and the allies could come. And given the speed of decision-making by NATO member countries, one may wait the help for a long time. The US support may turn out to be even later, since the US has in Europe only two combat-fit brigades and one rotational brigade, and it will take time to shift forces across the Atlantic. At the same time, we should not forget about the capabilities of forces of the Baltic and Northern fleets of the Russian Federation, as well as of the strategic aviation of the Russian Aerospace Forces. According to NATO experts, blocking of the Baltic Straits will significantly reduce the responsiveness of NATO to military challenges in the Eastern Europe and the Atlantic.
Western experts and military specialists assign the key role to the so-called Suwalki Gap in their scenarios of a hypothetical conflict between Russia and the Alliance. Here, according to their prognosis, is the highest threat of Russian military offensive operation towards the Kaliningrad enclave from the Belarus territory to the joint between Lithuania and Poland.
General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, Commander, U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe draws attention to the fact that even the current military doctrine of Moscow allows use of nuclear weapons as one of the most effective approaches of warfare.
The provision on the right to use of nuclear weapons in the new Russian Doctrine implies their use not only in response, but in a “case of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional arms, when the very existence of the state is threatened.” General Scaparrotti believes that Russia’s work on modernization of nuclear weapons is not just an attempt to intimidate the West. The Russian strategy on the use of such weapons implies actions under the “fait accompli” principle, that is an effectuation of geopolitical interests through actions that bypass international law.
Experts from the analytical center of the Warsaw Institute for Strategic Initiatives believe that in case of a conflict between the Russian Federation and NATO, Moscow can immediately use tactical nuclear weapons to gain initiative. This will give Kremlin a chance at least to make beneficial peace, if not to win. Having gained local military advantage, Putin may blackmail Europe with huge losses, seeking redivision of influence areas.
Russia’s preparation to conduct of large-scale warfare in Europe is proved out by Putin’s declaration (November 2017) of preparedness to transfer all large enterprises of the Russian Federation, regardless of ownership, to warfare footing and military production.
In addition, in April 2019, the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Russia approved the Strategy for the Pharmaceutical Industry Development until 2030, which has been developing since 2018 and which addresses the need to ensure the state’s drug security due to the threat of military “conflicts of varying intensity”, which requires accumulating a strategic supply of domestically produced drugs responding the “anticipated severity and gravity of losses”.
Current Russian developments (whipping up the sentiments of “besieged fortress” and enhanced preparation of the country’s industry for transition to warfare footing) suggests that Kremlin is preparing for a hot phase of confrontation with the West, the probable terms is 2024–25, the end of Putin’s presidency.
Due to the lack of a secure way to transit power and plunging ratings, war becomes the only way for the current Russian leader to avoid the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity (political persecution and murder of political opponents, support for terrorism, crash of MH17, use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria), support of dictatorial regimes, illegal arms trade, organization of drug trafficking in Europe, energy blackmail etc.
The question is — whether the international community would keep expressing varying degrees of concern or they would act with determination and adequately to the situation?