OBSERVARE
Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022)
1
THE SECURITY DILEMMA IN RUSSIA’S NEW NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY:
BETWEEN MILITARISM AND BEING A GEOGRAPHICAL PIVOT
SANDRA FERNANDES
sfernandes@eeg.uminho.pt
Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science of University of Minho (Portugal) and Director
of the Master Degree in International Relations. Ph.D. in Political Science and International
Relations from Sciences Po. Awarded the Jacques Delors Prize 2005 for research on the European
Union and Russia. Collaboration with the Portuguese Embassy in Russia. She was nominated by
the Minister of Foreign Affairs to be part of the jury for access to the diplomatic career;
responsible for the creation and coordination of the Diplomatic Career Access Course,
UminhoExec and member of the Board of the Portuguese Political Science Association (APCP).
She was Guest Lecturer within the scope of postgraduate courses in foreign universities. She was
Guest Researcher at the Centre for European Policy Studies
MARCO CRUZ
cruz.maf@ium.pt
Lieutenant Colonel of the National Republican Guard (Portugal), Professor in Armed Crises and
Conflicts at the Military University Institute, teaching Geopolitics, International Relations and
Security Studies. He participated in GNR missions in Iraq, East Timor and Bosnia and
Herzegovina (European Union-EUFOR). He is the Coordinator of the Nucleus of European Military
Studies at the Research and Development Centre of the IUM, and an expert in internal security
and criminal phenomena. Master’s degree in law and Security and Bachelor and master’s degree
in military sciences. Postgraduate diploma in Political Science and International Relations and is a
Ph.D. student in International Relations in the specialty of political studies. He is a researcher at
the Research and Development Centre of IUM, and author and co-author of several publications
in the areas of Geopolitics and Security Studies.
Abstract
The article analyses the new Russian Security Strategy as a formulation of Russia's “security
dilemma”, both in terms of interpretation and response (Booth and Wheeler 2007). Very
focused on the transformation of the world order, resulting from changes in the International
System, within which the powers seek to strengthen their positions in the global structure,
the strategy increasingly foresees the use of the military instrument as a way of guaranteeing
and imposing national interests, which are reflected in different domains and regional areas.
Exploring the strategic relations with China, in economic and political terms, Russia also seeks
to strengthen its status as a global power, through the expansion of geographic space and
areas of intervention. In its interpretation of the so-called “modern world”, very marked by
the rivalry between the US and China, it seeks to assume itself as the geographical pivot of
that same relationship. The National Security Strategy therefore is a roadmap for Russia's
ambitions, assessing the motives, intentions and capabilities of the "others" and identifying
the "rational" and "legitimate" ways of responding to its "security dilemma". Whereas it is
possible to confirm that the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 materialized the
elements present in the strategy, the effects do not seem to coincide with the objectives
sought by Moscow.
Keywords
Russia; Security Strategy; security dilemma; geographical pivot; militarism
How to cite this article
Fernandes, Sandra; Cruz, Marco (2022). The security dilemma in Russia’s new national
security strategy: between militarism and being a geographical pivot. In Janus.net, e-journal
of international relations. Vol13, . 1, May-October 2022. Consulted [online] on the date of
the last visit, https://doi.org/10.26619/1647-7251.13.1.1
Article received on January 11, 2022 and accepted for publication on April 1, 2022
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022), pp. 1-18
The security dilemma in Russia’s new national security strategy:
between militarism and being a geographical pivot
Sandra Fernandes, Marco Cruz
2
THE SECURITY DILEMMA IN RUSSIA’S NEW NATIONAL SECURITY
STRATEGY: BETWEEN MILITARISM AND BEING
A GEOGRAPHICAL PIVOT
1
SANDRA FERNANDES
MARCO CRUZ
Introduction
In the 21st century, in contrast to the 1990s, Russia embarked on a path of international
(re)ascension, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin. The Russian-Georgian war of 2008
and the annexation of Crimea in 2014 marked a turning point in Moscow's modus
operandi in asserting its interests. These include not only areas of direct strategic interest
in its “near abroad”
2
, but also in more distant regions, such as the African continent and
South and Central America (Gurganus, 2018).
Since the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia's foreign and security policy has
evolved according to its relationship with the West and with the main Western powers.
During the Cold War, this relationship was one of strategic rivalry, through the search
and dispute of influence space, both in political and military terms (Gaddis, 2007).
Moscow's intention to bring it closer to Western states and organizations even included
the possibility of its integration into the Atlantic Alliance itself (Thorun, 2009). Initial
support for the war on terror after the 9/11 attacks also illustrates this approach (Cardier,
2015: 160). After the phase of relative convergence, President Putin’s leadership broke
with this cooperative course, resurrecting the perception that it is necessary to reverse
the position of weakness of the Russian nation, “having lost Eastern Europe, the USSR
lost its most important defence zone and suffered a huge geopolitical blow” (Dugin, 2016:
70).
1
Article translated by Carolina Peralta.
2
The term “near abroadappeared for the first time in 1992, being considered a geopolitical “label” among
Russian politicians in the context of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It refers to the near abroad, that
is, to the former Soviet republics, which have since become independent sovereign countries. The term
recognizes the new independent status, but despite this, it keeps countries under Russian influence, given
that these countries continue to belong to the former Soviet family (Toal, 2017: 3).
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022), pp. 1-18
The security dilemma in Russia’s new national security strategy:
between militarism and being a geographical pivot
Sandra Fernandes, Marco Cruz
3
Putin made this perception explicit in key speeches in 2005 and 2007, identifying the
implosion of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century, the
aggressiveness of the enlargement policies of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)
and the European Union (EU) to post-Soviet states, and the criticism of the hegemony of
the United States (US) in an international order that is multilateral (Putin, 2005; 2007).
The role of Russian leadership has been crucial for relations with Western powers, with
two distinct type-views: one that places Russia as a European power, that is, closer to
Western normative frameworks; and another that defends Russia’s centrality in Central
Asia, occupying the “heart” of the Heartland (Mackinder 1943: 595-605) and, in this way,
seeking Russian autonomy in relation to Western actors, including strengthening
partnerships with Asian countries (Krickovic & Pellicciari, 2021: 89-90).
The change in Russia’s path was based on economic prosperity and materialized mainly
in the Russian-Georgian war of 2008, and in the so-called colour revolutions that led to
the overthrow of rulers in Georgia and Ukraine, closer to the Kremlin (Nygren, 2008: 30;
Sakwa, 2015: 65). The previous leaderships of the Ukrainian and Georgian governments
were replaced by politicians whose ambition was to approach and eventually be part of
Euro-Atlantic institutions, aiming to benefit from the economic support and development
of the EU and the security “umbrella of NATO. This geopolitical framework has changed
relations between Russia, the EU and NATO (Casier, 2016: 18-19; Mendras, 2015: 85).
From Moscow's point of view, as during the Cold War period, Western countries sought
to subjugate Russia, removing vital spaces of influence from it, not only encircling it
(Crowley, 2018), but removing the buffer zone between Russia and the West (Haas,
2010: 3).
This article aims to analyse the new Russia’s National Security Strategy (RNSS) of July
2021 (RF, 2021). This document is the main strategic document of the State, to which
the military doctrine and the concept of its foreign policy are subordinated. As a result of
the changes it announces within the international system, the new strategy contrasts
with the previous version published in 2015 (RF, 2015) and identifies the main trends
and opportunities for Russia in the “modern world”. Based on the concept of “security
dilemma sensitivity” formulated by Booth and Wheeler (2007)
3
, we argue that the
document under analysis informs about the role of fear in Russian attitudes and
behaviours. Thus, our main objective is to identify how Moscow responded to its
“interpretation dilemma” by defining what the motives, intentions and capacities of
others are.
Although in rhetorical terms, the new RNSS also indicates how Russia solved its “response
dilemma” by listing the rational ways to respond to its security dilemma. The “special
operation” that the Kremlin launched on Ukraine on 24 February 2022, condemned as a
war of aggression by the West, embodies the Russian response to its interpretation of
the security dilemma.
3
The authors define the concept as follows: an actor's intention and capacity to perceive the motives behind,
and to show responsiveness towards, the potential complexity of the military intentions of others. In
particular, it refers to the ability to understand the role that fear might play in their attitudes and behaviour,
including, crucially, the role that one's own actions may play in provoking that fear” (Booth and Wheeler:
7).
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022), pp. 1-18
The security dilemma in Russia’s new national security strategy:
between militarism and being a geographical pivot
Sandra Fernandes, Marco Cruz
4
Based on the recent changes that the Kremlin has made in its external relations, the
article thus identifies the extent to which these dimensions are translated into the new
RNSS. Although the document unequivocally expresses the deterioration of relations
between Russia and the “Western countries”, our analysis seeks to understand to what
extent and in what way the changes established in the RNSS include elements of Russian
geopolitical thought (Fernandes and Ageeva, 2021) and ruptures confirmed by the
current war in Ukraine. These elements include a move away from European cooperation
options; a challenge to Western leadership in the global order in the sense that there are
multiple centres of power (multipolarity); the search for partnerships in Asia and a new
Russian foreign policy identity on a Eurasian scale.
Using qualitative methodology based on the content analysis of the RNSS, we analysed,
firstly, how the Westis approached in that same document, in terms of actors and
issues, in order to highlight the dynamics of cooperation and of conflict that Moscow
reveals. Secondly, to question Russia's ambition to be a Eurasian actor, we identified
elements of global ambition compared to elements of a regional predisposition. Finally,
still in order to assess the articulation of Russian Eurasianism in the RNSS, we assessed
Moscow’s objective of being a “geographical pivot” in a world that Russia perceives as
not being centred in the West but composed of several centres of power.
1. The West as “Other”: Defending Russian Interests and Culture
The RNSS identifies the US and its main western allies as the main threat to Russia's
interests, underlining NATO's (and EU's) enlargement policies as the main element of
interference in its “near abroad”. It is also in the West that the main threats “to internal
political unity and stability” and to its values and principles originate (RF, 2021: 4). In
addition to the emphasis given to climate issues, the economy and technology, the new
strategy seeks to challenge the hegemonic order dominated by Western countries,
demanding a more relevant role for Russia, which is in line with its international weight
in military, geographical, technological and legal terms, namely its status as a permanent
member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
As far as NATO is concerned, the organization and its allies remain a military threat to
the Russian Federation and its main partners, in particular those that are part of the
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). In this context, the construction of nearby
military bases are highlighted as threats to Russian sovereignty, referring to the military
exercises and the installation of nuclear weapons “against the Russian Federation” carried
out (RF, 2021: 12).
In addition to pointing to the West, albeit indirectly, as being behind the computer attacks
that Russia has been experiencing, in the view of the new strategy, some actors threaten
Russian values - spiritual, moral, historical and cultural. The States are joined by
transnational companies, non-governmental actors, religious entities and extremist and
terrorist organizations. As in other moments in its history, the so-called westernization
of Russian culture is seen as a threat to its sovereignty, as it seeks to “falsify Russia and
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022), pp. 1-18
The security dilemma in Russia’s new national security strategy:
between militarism and being a geographical pivot
Sandra Fernandes, Marco Cruz
5
its world history, distort historical truth and memory”
4
, thus inciting interethnic and
interreligious group conflicts that weaken the State itself.
In order to “protect Russian values and spirit from external interference, fourteen
actions are identified, with emphasis on the information and research domain, where the
promotion of state information programmes and research centres that carry out the
scientific dissemination of documents related to Russia and its history, in the “educational
space” (physical and virtual) is defended (RF, 2021: 36-38). In religious and cultural
terms, the fostering of projects in partnership with different entities, in particular with
the (Orthodox) church, inside and outside Russian territory, is advocated. The most
relevant aspect of the activities, however, comes from point 7, which emphasizes the
“reinforcement of the cultural sovereignty of the Russian Federation and the preservation
of the unity of its cultural space (RF, 2021: 36).
This “defence” of Russian culture makes it possible to expand the space of Russian
intervention far beyond its physical borders. Russian-speaking communities and Russian
entities that carry out activities abroad are one of the bases of power. In addition to the
countries of its “near abroad”, the Western Balkans stand out, in particular Serbia and
Bosnia and Herzegovina, countries where the Kremlin maintains a strong political
influence, as a result of its historical and cultural proximity (Cruz, 2021). At the beginning
of 2022, Serbia, through its President, announced the acquisition of military weapons
from Russia, antitank weapons, tanks and drones (Stojanovic, 2022). Serbia has been
one of the main centres of Russian investment, in economic, information, military and
political terms (Blank, 2021). On the Bosnian side, the political support given by Moscow
for the secession of the Serbian Republic (Republika Srpska), declared several years ago
by the President of this region, Milorad Dodik, is intended, first of all, to keep Bosnia
away from approximation and integration in NATO (Gotev, 2019) and in the EU.
Furthermore, with the proximity it seeks to have with Bosnian political leaders, in
particular the Serbian and Croatian side of the tripartite presidency (which also includes
a Bosnian-Muslim representative), Russia intends to maintain its influence (Jagiello,
2021), exploring the ethnic divisions to create instability (Mujanovic, 2017), in a region
considered of great geostrategic importance for the EU (RFE, 2021; Kamath, 2021).
With this new strategy, relations with the West in general, and with the US in particular,
are not articulated with cooperative projects, mainly due to Western threats in areas of
Russian interest. The fight against the risks associated with the westernization of the
country in political, economic and cultural terms, is assumed as one of the fundamental
pillars for the Russian identity. In addition to allowing the prioritization of exclusive
national dimensions, the maintenance of the western reference as the “other”
5
(Zevelev,
2016: 8) - a matrix considered essential from the theoretical perspective of the
construction of identities (Wendt, 1994: 385) (Shelling, 1960: 19) also promotes internal
4
Over the years, the theme related to historical issues has been crucial for the different Russian rulers, so it
is not an issue in the current Russian leadership. Just recently, Vladimir Putin accused Western historians
of wanting to downplay Russia's role in World War II, saying that the Soviets were primarily responsible for
the Nazi defeat. Radchen (2020) claims that the Russian president wants to rewrite history.
5
The relationship between the “I” and the “other” evidences the idea that identities can be based on
difference, thus being created through a relational context (Delanty, 2005). In foreign policy, the distinction
between the in and the out group forms the basis for the formulation of political identities, defining who the
"we" are, in contrast to the external groups, that is, the "other", which can be implied or explicitly excluded
from the national community (Bruter, 2003: 1150).
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022), pp. 1-18
The security dilemma in Russia’s new national security strategy:
between militarism and being a geographical pivot
Sandra Fernandes, Marco Cruz
6
cohesion and legitimizes the political governance in place. On this particular point, the
RNSS maintains the guideline of the 2015 strategy (RF, 2015), deepening the
divergences with the West.
In military terms, relations with NATO are a central priority and concern for Russia,
resulting not only from the installation of anti-missile systems and nuclear weapons close
to its borders, but also from the successive policies of enlargement of the Alliance to the
East. In response to the recent tensions created in the Donbass region (Ukraine), Putin
unilaterally proposes a “new security agreement” with the US and NATO, which
guarantees the non-inclusion of Ukraine in NATO in the future (Ministry of Foreign Affairs
of the Russian Federation, 2021).
The RNSS identifies a wide range of threats to Russia's national security, both internally
and externally. The document’s definition of what it considers to be a “threat to national
security” is very comprehensive, encompassing “the set of conditions and factors that
directly and indirectly create an opportunity to limit the interests of the Russian
Federation (RF, 2021). The scope of the notion of National Security, in addition to
establishing the link between the internal and external domains, that is, the indivisibility
between the two domains, identifies the relationship between the different types of
threats. With regard to terrorism and security issues in general, including threats
originating from disinformation and propaganda campaigns, there is a concern on the
part of the Kremlin to protect its power internally, giving legitimacy to measures and
restrictions imposed by the political power. The narrative used in relation to the West
and the threat that Western values entail, and which are placed alongside others such as
terrorism and extremism, materialize this same intention of legitimation.
The most relevant aspect in terms of threats concerns the way in which threats
originating in the West are understood, in physical terms, but especially in virtual terms.
The RNSS finds a central pillar of threats in cybernetics, thus reinforcing the subjective
nature of its assessment. The enlargement of Russian borders, in the identified space of
cultural sovereignty (RF, 2021: 36), in order to include States considered strategic from
its near abroad, aims to obtain legitimation in domestic and international terms in the
issues of protection of Russian-speaking communities, which are, according to Moscow,
“discriminated and judicially accused” (RF, 2021: 6). In the annexation of Crimea, in
addition to historical issues, the argument used by Putin to intervene was to guarantee
the security of the Russians, who represent the majority population in that territory
(Putin, 2014).
2. A global ambition, with a strong regional focus
Similar to the strategies of the great powers, the RNSS gives Russia a global position,
using all the instruments at its disposal: political, military, technical-military, diplomatic,
economic, and informational. In this section, we identify Russia's active intervention in
regional terms and the reinforcement of its role in global terms, reinforcing the aspects
that effectively give it this position capacity. The strengthening of Russian civilization, in
contrast to the West, and the country's global ambition mitigate Russian weaknesses in
different areas, particularly in economic terms, occupying the 11th position in world
terms, with the Russian economy representing only 1.95% of the global economy (World
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022), pp. 1-18
The security dilemma in Russia’s new national security strategy:
between militarism and being a geographical pivot
Sandra Fernandes, Marco Cruz
7
Barometer, 2021a), and with regard to population, taking the ninth position in the world
(World Barometer, 2021b).
In political terms, Russia’s geography enhances connections to all continents through
different forums (political and economic), in particular the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India,
China and South Africa), and States with a strong historical connection to Russia and the
former Soviet Union (Central and South America and Africa). As a result of this
connection, economic and military relations are favoured, through the sale of arms and
military support, in terms of cooperation, the installation of bases and the development
of military capabilities. In addition to state-owned companies, this proximity also favours
the intervention of Russian companies in the various markets.
6
The RNSS also refers to Russia's global dimension through the UN, in particular in the
permanent seat at the UNSC. The reference to the principles of the UN Charter, as a
model for regulating the world order, intends to “call” Russia to participate in the main
global issues, thus reinforcing its weight with the main powers. The appeal made to
multilateralism, as a way of reducing tensions, seeks to claim a new global order, where
Russia, together with other powers (China), seeks to assume a prominent role and have
global institutional weight. In addition to its role in the UNSC, Russia’s ambition includes
strengthening its participation in UN Peacekeeping Operations (RF, 2021: 40).
In military terms, Russia's global claim is mainly made by its capability and strategic
deterrence. The RNSS underlines Russia’s need to maintain its leading position in terms
of technology, weapons and its entire industrial complex linked to this capability. Despite
advocating maintaining levels of nuclear deterrence, the Strategy continues to give
primacy to international understanding as a way to reduce the risks associated with its
use (RF, 2021: 5, 11-12, 39). Being currently considered the first power with the greatest
capacity in numerical terms, with 6257 warheads (FAS, 2021), both in technological
terms, followed by the US, the Russian nuclear capacity gives it this weight among the
great powers.
7
In the military-technical vector, Russia sees itself as a leader on a global
scale. A large part of Russian investments is sold to third parties, sometimes sacrificing
the strengthening of the military capabilities of its Armed Forces. Currently, there are
weapons and technology sold by Russian state-owned companies that are not available
to the Russian military (Connolly & Sendstad, 2017). This sale expands Moscow's
influence on a global scale, particularly in markets in politically closer countries. This is
how the Kremlin's ambition to guarantee not only technological leadership, but also, as
mentioned in the RNSS, strategic autonomy must be understood (RF, 2021: 13).
Despite the elements of global image mentioned above, the RNSS is mainly dedicated to
Russia’s ambition in regional terms, the Russian “near abroad”, which encompasses the
States that are part of the CIS. It reflects the main security concerns, including how
Vladimir Putin will consider the use of all means, including the military. For this region,
several activities and measures are proposed, including the use of kinetic resources,
6
In addition to state-owned companies, mainly linked to the energy and armaments sector (Luzin, 2021),
the role that the Russian private military security company Wagner plays in the foreign policy of the Russian
state is highlighted, increasingly reinforced in several countries, namely Libya (Stronski, 2020), Ukraine,
Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, and Mozambique (Katz, B. et al., 2020).
7
According to data from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) (2021), Russia and the US hold about
91% of nuclear weapons worldwide. As far as strategic nuclear weapons are concerned, the two countries
are on par (the US has 100 more of these weapons, out of a total of 1700.
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022), pp. 1-18
The security dilemma in Russia’s new national security strategy:
between militarism and being a geographical pivot
Sandra Fernandes, Marco Cruz
8
strengthening cooperation with the CIS States, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and with
international institutions, namely the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), the Collective
Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Union of Russia and Belarus (RF, 2021: 39-
42).
The strategic centrality of the post-Soviet area is revealed in the tasks identified in
paragraph 101, dedicated to Russian foreign policy (RF, 2021: 39). Of the 25 proposed
actions, eight explicitly concern States in this area, while others can also be applied to
this region. Besides the political, informational and cultural connection, the military
aspects, the sale of weapons and technology and multilateral technical-military
cooperation are also highlighted here.
In turn, in regional terms, the link to China, along with India, is seen as fundamental,
exploring the economic and technological aspects of this relationship, both in the bilateral
framework and in the multilateral framework offered by the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization
8
. In addition to issues related to the international order, political relations
between Moscow and Beijing have economic issues as a central pillar. Since 2002, when
the turnover between the two was 8 thousand million dollars, there has been an increase
in trade, to the point that in 2018 the turnover was around 110 thousand million dollars
(Larin, 2020). On the Russian side, exports are mainly related to the energy, technology
and agriculture sectors, while China is a relevant partner in the supply of manufactured
products, as well as in the investment sector (Hill, 2021). In political terms, the alignment
of Moscow and Beijing reinforces their positions in relation to the change of the
international order, seeking to replace US hegemony and unilateralism. In military terms,
Russia is one of the main Chinese partners, providing support in the training and sale of
material and technology. Together with India, the two states receive around 56% of all
Russian arms exports (Connolly & Sendstad, 2017: 11). Joint exercises between the
Chinese and Russian Armed Forces, such as the Vostok military exercises (2018),
reinforce strategic and operational proximity.
In addition to the bilateral aspects, relations between Moscow and Beijing are also
implemented at multilateral level. At the UN level, there is an alignment between the two
regarding the US leadership role in the organization. In March 2021, foreign ministers
called for a meeting with the permanent members of the UNSC, in order to discuss the
main focuses of turmoil, with the Russian minister referring to the destructive way in
which the US has acted in international terms (Reuters, 2021). In the diplomatic sphere,
the solidarity between Moscow and Beijing was expressed in the Chinese silence
regarding the Russian invasion of Crimea (Ismail, 2019). This stance has also been visible
in the current war in Ukraine, as in addition to Beijing refusing to use the term «invasion»,
it has also framed this conflict as Russia's response to NATO's policies of enlargement to
Eastern Europe (Liu, 2022). China abstained from the Security Council the day after the
start of the Ukraine conflict, in the resolution condemning the invasion (UN, 2022).
8
A Eurasian political, economic and military organization founded in 2001, whose headquarters are in Beijing.
It comprises eight states (Kazakhstan, China, India, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and
Uzbekistan), four observers (Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia), six dialogue partners (Armenia,
Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey) and three guests, two organizations (ASEAN and CIS)
and one State (Turkmenistan).
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022), pp. 1-18
The security dilemma in Russia’s new national security strategy:
between militarism and being a geographical pivot
Sandra Fernandes, Marco Cruz
9
On the western stage of the Eurasian continent, Russia’s intervention is mainly focused
on areas of traditional influence whose geographical proximity and security challenges
are seen by Moscow with great concern. In addition to political and economic support for
partner states, as a way of limiting the ability of other foreign powers to intervene (RF,
2021: 5, 26), the Russian strategic document points to the threats of NATO enlargement
and the construction of military bases in the vicinity of Russia, its allies and partners (RF,
2021: 11). In the field of cooperation regarding information, it is with partner states that
Russia proposes to work, including the use of information and communication
technologies (RF, 2021: 23). Still in relation to this regional priority, Russia is willing to
“support allies and partners (...) in matters related to security and defence, and in
neutralizing attempts to interfere (by external actors) in its internal affairs”. (RF, 2021:
40).
The post-Soviet area (RF, 2021: 42) is, therefore, the region where most of the vital
Russian objectives are identified, particularly in the field of security. Thus, Belarus,
Ukraine and Moldova stand out as a buffer zone (Toucas, 2017) (Tabachnik, 2019), that
is, as a kind of sanitary cordon in relation to the West, and, to a lesser extent, the
Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and
Bulgaria. In addition to the military instrument, Russias intervention also includes the
information one, through disinformation and propaganda campaigns, including using the
local media. This combination of civil and military, material and virtual instruments
reinforces Russia's hybrid intervention capabilities in different regions, particularly in its
“near abroad”.
In regional terms, Russia has also taken advantage of a large part of the opportunities
generated by the lack of capacity and understanding of Western powers to act in certain
geographical spaces, seeking to support factions opposite to those supported by Western
powers in several States. Depicting the increase in tensions and conflicts in the post-
Soviet space, the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and the Korean peninsula, the
RNSS associates this widespread regional instability as a source for the development of
international terrorism and extremist activities (RF, 2021: 12). The centrality that these
types of threats have in Russia’s strategy, in internal (RF, 2021: 35) and international
(RF, 2021: 41) terms, including the risks associated with the use of nuclear, chemical
and biological weapons by these actors (RF, 2021:17), seek to legitimize Russia’s
influence and intervention in areas where these greatest risks and threats are identified.
Syria and Afghanistan are two examples of the way the Kremlin has guided its foreign
policy, in the sense of limiting” terrorism and extremist activities, and also Western
influences. Political, diplomatic and military support for President Assad's regime has kept
the Syrian leader in power. The same is true of Afghanistan, where the withdrawal of the
American and NATO military contingent has allowed Russia to have an even greater role
in the governance of that State. The Taliban's visit to Moscow, to point out that their rise
to power in Afghanistan does not pose any threat to Russia, illustrates this protagonism
(AP, 2021).
The affirmation of Russia in areas where Western powers have sought to change the
status quo, mainly through democratization-Europeanization processes, aims to reinforce
Russian identity, both internally and internationally. The West has therefore been
designated as the “other” (Maalouf, 2003: 14; Fukuyama, 2018: 45), that is, the enemy,
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022), pp. 1-18
The security dilemma in Russia’s new national security strategy:
between militarism and being a geographical pivot
Sandra Fernandes, Marco Cruz
10
for the identification and reinforcement of the civilizational framework. Although not a
new element, Vladimir Putin has, in recent years, used this factor to strengthen not only
the country's power, but also the legitimacy of his own power. His declaration, three days
before the invasion of Ukraine, regarding the non-existence of the State and the
Ukrainian people, serves this same objective, not only of hostility towards the West, but
in particular of affirmation of Russian identity (Putin, 2022) .
3. The Russian geopolitical pivot in a polycentric world order
We identified above that the RNSS considers all actions that jeopardize Russia’s interests.
This scope of the concept broadens, in geographical terms, Russia's scope of action,
seeking to obtain legitimacy (internally and externally) to act outside its physical borders.
In addition to Moscow's recognized military (land, air, naval, aerospace and cyber) (IISS,
2021; GFP, 2021) and technological (Jankowski, 2021) capabilities, the most recent
Russian interventions have been supported by Russian perception of its active role in the
current global geopolitical context and in the main world crises and conflicts, as well as
by the great powers, especially China and the US. In this regard, mention should be
made to Russian action and influence in Africa (Siegl, 2021) and in the Middle East
(Rumer & Weiss, 2019; Borshchevskaya, et. al, 2021).
Russia’s prominent role in the so-called modern world”, which is marked by the increase
in geopolitical tensions (RF, 2021: 3), is reflected in the RNSS through its proposed and
coveted contribution to the stability and security of the international system. In addition
to identifying itself as fundamental to increasing predictability in relations between
states, the document highlights Russia’s role in strengthening global confidence and
security (RF, 2021: 38).
It is in the identification of Russia as a fundamental actor for the maintenance and
resetting of the international order that the RNSS stands out the most, recognizing not
only that the Western powers will seek to maintain their international predominance, but
also that there is an increase in the number of centres of economic and political power.
Due to these circumstances, there are States that reinforce their role in regional and
global terms, even intending to change the world order itself, in its architecture,
principles and values (RF, 2021: 3). Although it does not mention it explicitly, Russia's
strategic document refers to China as the revisionist power of the new global order, with
whom it intends to develop a comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction (RF,
2021: 40).
Russia's favourable geographical position, as a Eurasian power, allows it to obtain
advantages in the context of the strategic rivalry between the US and China, seeing itself
as a geopolitical “pivot” of that relationship. In addition to economic benefits, Russia also
seeks, in this pivotal position, to achieve its own strategic objectives, namely regaining
recognition as a global power. Like the Chinese government (Romana, 2005: 301-309)
(Gaspar, 2020: 43) (Economy, 2022), Russia also aims to put an end to American
hegemony, thus contesting, both in normative and material terms, a world order that is
no longer de facto dominated by the US.