On May 12 Russian President Dmitry Medvedev approved the latest version of the “National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation up to 2020” (Security Council of the Russian Federation, May 12).
The text of the 7,300 word document was posted on the website of the Russian Security Council and is certain to be studied by analysts in the hope of finding clues to Russian behavior in the years to come.
The National Security Strategy doctrine outlines the basic fears and assumptions shared by the current Russian leadership about the state of the world and Russia’s place in it. It addresses these concerns within the context of Russian national interests, and by doing so opens a window into the thinking of the political elite on such an important issue as its use of natural resources – above all hydrocarbon reserves – as a foreign policy tool.
During the past decade Russian leaders have frequently rejected charges made by European and American leaders that they are using energy as a weapon of foreign policy. The facts, however, point to a different conclusion. On February 4 Ukrayinska Pravda reported that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stated: “Russia enjoys vast energy and mineral resources which serve as a base to develop its economy; as an instrument to implement domestic and foreign policy. The role of the country on international energy markets determines, in many ways, its geopolitical influence.”
This thesis was not new, it found its way into the 2003 “Energy Strategy of Russia for the Period of up to 2020” which stated at the outset that: “Russia possesses great energy resources… which is the basis of economic development and the instrument for carrying out internal and external policy” (European Commission, August 28, 2003).
Putin’s views were incorporated into the security doctrine in a roundabout but nonetheless blunt manner. Paragraph 9 of the doctrine states: “The change from bloc confrontation to the principles of multi-vector diplomacy and the [natural] resources potential of Russia, along with the pragmatic policies of using them has expanded the possibilities of the Russian Federation to strengthen its influence on the world arena” (SCRF, May 12). In other words, Russia’s energy resources were once again officially acknowledged to be tools of Russian foreign policy, or as some believe, a lever for blackmail. There was apparently no further reason for denying the obvious, and the authors of the security doctrine decided to lay out Russia’s cards on the table.
Paragraph 11 lists the geopolitical battlegrounds where Russia believes that the future conflicts over energy will arise – and where, by definition, its national interests lie: “The attention of international politics in the long-term will be concentrated on controlling the sources of energy resources in the Middle East, on the shelf of the Barents Sea and other parts of the Arctic, in the Caspian Basin and in Central Asia” (SCRF, May 12).
The document portrays a somewhat apocalyptic scenario of future conflicts over energy resources. “In case of a competitive struggle for resources it is not impossible to discount that it might be resolved by a decision to use military might. The existing balance of forces on the borders of the Russian Federation and its allies can be changed.” But who will supposedly change the balance? According to the strategy, the United States Ballistic Missile Defense program is allegedly being constructed to destroy the Russian monopoly on gas supplies to Europe and therefore the U.S. remains the main antagonist.
Paragraph 47 continues the linkage between energy and Russian national security: “The sources of danger to national security could become such factors as the crisis of world and regional financial-banking systems, the intensification of the battle over natural resources, among them energy, water and consumer goods” (SCRF, May 12).
As dramatic as the new Russian National Security Strategy appears, it does not differ substantially from the previous doctrine. Furthermore, Russian security policy appears to be betting heavily on resource nationalism in order to strengthen Russia’s “benevolent” control of gas supplies throughout the Central and East European gas markets -the ultimate goal of which is the neutralization of the role played by these countries within NATO, along with the unending struggle to increase the profits for Kremlin-friendly Russian companies.
The lack of new, forward thinking, concepts within the latest Russian National Security Strategy doctrine is its major shortcoming. The latest security strategy appears more calculated to preserve the current Putin-Medvedev-Sechin-Gazprom clique, than to offering genuine answers to Russia’s security needs. It is questionable whether the strategy is workable. Some EU member states such as Germany and Italy, have apparently reconciled themselves to the possibility of long-term Russian control over their economic well-being, and are turning a blind eye to any and all of Russia’s opaque energy and pipeline deals in order to remain on good terms with the Kremlin – and maintain access to its gas pipelines.
If the framers of the Russian security doctrine have determined that the energy Balkanization of Europe is part of their strategy to keep Russia safe and transform it once again into a great power, then they are off to a good start.
Roman Kupchinsky is a former senior analyst and director of the Ukrainian service at RFE/RL. This essay originally appeared in the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor.