Russia’s Geopolitical Priorities and Armed Forces
№1 2004 January/February

Russia consistently advocates minimizing the role of military
force in addressing international problems and reducing the
function of the armed forces to deterring wars and armed conflicts.
However, recent developments in the world have motivated Russia’s
military-political leadership to amend its vision concerning the
role and place of its military policy and military assets. A
sufficient military potential and, above all, modern and effective
armed forces are becoming a prerequisite for Russia’s successful
and smooth integration into the newly constructed system of
international relations.


An analysis of new global tendencies in the world will help
better understand Russia’s foreign-policy interests and the role
and place of its armed forces.

First, within the global system of military-political relations
the top priority is the necessity to counter the challenges
aggravated by the processes of globalization. These challenges
include the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their
delivery vehicles; international terrorism; demographic problems
and ethnic instability; the activities of radical religious
communities and groups; illegal drug trafficking and organized
crime. The nature of these challenges precludes the ability of
individual states to effectively combat them on their own. This
factor has sharply increased the importance of international
cooperation between security organizations, including the secret
services and armed forces.

Second, countries have now begun to implement military force
within the framework of international operations beyond the realm
of traditional military-political organizations and institutions.
Increasingly, military force is being used by the temporary
coalition of states. This practice is likely to be used on a
broader scale in the future. Russia continues to insist on the
strict observance of international law in forming such coalitions
and will join them only when it is necessary to meet its national

Third, countries now give more priority to their economic
interests, as opposed to political or military-political interests.
Moreover, the economic interests of individual states often form an
increasingly intricate relationship with the interests of large
transnational companies. Formerly, military force was used to
counter a direct threat to security, while now it is increasingly
employed to defend economic interests. This factor objectively
broadens the sphere for employing military

Fourth, terrorism in individual countries has merged with
international terrorism, thus making attempts to divide terrorist
activities into categories of national and international senseless.
This refers both to the political assessment of terrorist threats
and to the use of force to neutralize them. Therefore, the share of
responsibility of the armed forces – in particular Russia’s
military – in countering terrorism has markedly increased.

Fifth, non-state agents of international relations now play a
greater role in determining the nature of foreign-policy priorities
of various countries. Non-governmental organizations, international
movements and communities, interstate organizations and informal
“clubs” have a broad – and often conflicting – impact on the policy
of individual states.

The above tendencies supplement, and sometimes modify, the
processes in bilateral political relations and in traditional
interstate organizations.

Another major aspect that determines the alternatives that
Russia must choose for the development of its armed forces is the
nature of Russia’s relations with the more important institutions
within the present system of international relations.

Russia seeks an active role within the major international
organizations in order to meet various aspects of its
foreign-policy interests.

Russia views the United Nations and the UN Security Council as
major factors for ensuring global stability. Reducing their role –
for example, through the new practice of using armed forces by the
decision of individual states – is a very dangerous trend which may
pose a serious threat to Russia’s political and military-political
interests in the future.

The development of relations with the Commonwealth of
Independent States is a foreign-policy priority for Russia. Our
nation seeks to continue strengthening the potential for
coordinating military-political activities of the CIS countries
within the frameworks of existing structures and institutions,
above all, the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Russia will
continue working for the CSTO to become an effective interstate
organization that will have a stabilizing impact on the general
military-political situation in the CIS and adjacent regions.

Russia’s relations with NATO are regulated by the 2002 Rome
Declaration. Russia keeps a close watch on NATO’s ongoing
transformation and hopes for complete removal of direct and
indirect anti-Russian elements from the military plans and
political declarations of its member states. However, if NATO
remains a military alliance with an offensive military doctrine,
Russia will have to adequately revise its military planning and
principles regarding the development of its armed forces, including
its nuclear forces.

Russia is prepared for the continued development of constructive
and mutually advantageous cooperation with the European Union,
provided it unconditionally recognize Russia’s territorial
integrity and respect its right to combat all manifestations of
international terrorism.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization plays an important role in
ensuring stability in Central Asia and the Far East. The further
strengthening of this organization’s political and
military-political potential will help form a zone of peace and
stability in southeast and in the Far East directions. This will,
in turn, rule out (or make unlikely) the emergence of a large-scale
military threat there.

If the development of the military-political situation in those
regions takes an unfavorable turn, Russia will have to regard them
as a potential source of military-political instability.

Russia attaches special importance to its relations with the
United States. We hope for broader and diversified cooperation with
the U.S., which includes ensuring global and regional stability, as
well as strengthening the regime of non-proliferation of weapons of
mass destruction and their delivery vehicles. Russia will consider
compromise decisions on any international problems on the basis of
the strict observance of international law and the mutual respect
for national interests.

 So, an analysis of the global political trends shows that
the fast-changing and controversial international situation, marked
by the evolution of some key international institutions, causes
Russia to reassess the threats to its security and to set new
priorities for its military program, which would meet Russia’s
international status and resources.


Presently, there are three types of threats – external, domestic
and transnational – which the Russian armed forces are assigned to
neutralize. Meanwhile, even traditional external threats are
acquiring new aspects. These include interference in Russia’s
internal affairs by foreign states or organizations supported by
them, instability in neighboring countries caused by the weakness
of their governments, and several other aspects which are
relatively new for Russia’s military planning. The Russian armed
forces now play an increasingly significant role in countering the
threat of WMD development by individual states, coalitions of
states and political movements, as well as their access to the most
dangerous types of weapons.

External threats require that the Russian armed forces perform
various kinds of tasks in various regions of the world. One should
not absolutely rule out the preventive use of force, if this is
required by Russia’s interests or its allied commitments.

The more important domestic threats, which the armed forces are
assigned to neutralize, include:

  • attempts to change the constitutional system by force and the
    violation of Russia’s territorial integrity;
  • the formation, arming, training and functioning of illegal
    armed groups;
  • illegal arms, munitions and explosives trafficking on the
    territory of the Russian Federation;
  • large-scale activities of organized crime, threatening
    political stability on the scale of individual entities of the
    Russian Federation;
  • the activities of separatist and radical religious or
    nationalist movements.

Special mention should be made of transnational threats which,
although appearing domestic, are actually external.

These include:

  • activities of organizations on the territory of Russia that are
    connected with the international terrorist community;
  • the training of armed groups on the territory of other states
    for actions on the territory of Russia or its allies;
  • transnational crime, including smuggling and other illegal

The need to counter transnational threats to Russia’s security
will be a growing factor in military planning. The armed forces
will participate in neutralizing domestic and transnational threats
jointly with other security forces on the basis of the Constitution
and legislation of the Russian Federation. In this difficult period
for Russia, it would be irresponsible to limit the activities of
the armed forces only to the external aspect. The Chechen
experience has taught us a lot. It is in Chechnya where Russia,
countering a threat in the form of an internal insurgency,
confronted aggression by international terrorist organizations.

It is necessary to take special account of a possible
re-emergence of nuclear weapons as a real military instrument. This
is an extremely dangerous tendency that is undermining global and
regional stability. Even a modest lowering of the threshold for the
employment of nuclear weapons would still demand that Russia
rebuild its troop control system, as well as the principles for the
combat employment of its troops.

At present, none of the existing conflicts beyond Russia is
posing a direct military threat to its security. However, it is
necessary to foresee any situation that may arise in the

In the foreseeable future, Russia’s military planning will be
determined by several uncertainty factors, i.e. conflicts or
processes, which may develop into factors that would essentially
change the geopolitical situation in regions of priority for
Russia’s interests, or create a direct threat to its security.
These factors include the situation in some CIS countries and
adjacent regions. Modern military planning must also take account
of the experience gained in the armed conflicts of the late 20th
and early 21st centuries. This experience requires giving up
habitual stereotypes.

Recent years have not been marked by the domination of any one
particular type of armed conflict. This means that combat training,
operational planning, and defense procurement must be as flexible
as possible. It is also obvious that the former concept of
conventional wars, both limited and large-scale, is undergoing
dramatic changes. Therefore, one must be prepared for classical
combat actions, as well as for combating terrorism. Most of the
recent conflicts developed on a limited territory, within one
theater of operations, yet they involved large-scale use of force
located beyond. This factor requires an ability not just to defend
against outside aggression, but also to transfer military
operations to the enemy’s territory.

It is perfectly clear that the course and outcome of armed
actions will be determined mainly by air and sea operations, while
the ground forces will consolidate the successes and ensure the
achievement of the desirable political goals. Those who still
believe that attacks by tank spearheads can be decisive in modern
warfare are entertaining outdated ideas.

It is also clear that victory will belong to the side that will
be able to integrate all information flows functionally, while
being able to amend combat employment plans in real time depending
on the changing situation. Therefore, the operational structure of
the military forces must include the following components: a
reconnaissance center; an automated, highly protected troop and
weapon control system; and most importantly, an aerospace force
performing both reconnaissance and strike functions.

The characteristic features of modern wars and armed conflicts
necessitate the formulation of new tasks for the Russian armed
forces. These tasks must take into consideration recent changes in
the military-political situation in the zones of Russia’s
interests, as well as possible trends in the development of the
principles of warfare.


The Russian Armed Forces are assigned the following four major

1. Containment of military and military-political threats to
security, including the assurance of strategic stability and
territorial defense of the country.

2. The furthering of economic and political interests. These may
include operations involving the armed forces by decision of the
Russian president.

3. Peacetime military operations, including the fulfilment of
allied commitments, as well as peacekeeping operations under a UN
or CIS mandate. Russia is now considering the establishment in 2004
of a permanent independent peacekeeping brigade within the Ground

4. The employment of military force to neutralize military
threats, including in conditions when weapons of mass destruction
are used.

The above tasks require the following capabilities for the
Russian armed forces:

  • being able to successfully fulfill tasks in two armed conflicts
    of any type simultaneously, as well as conducting peacekeeping
    operations independently or as part of a multinational force (this
    would be applicable in peacetime and in emergencies, with the armed
    forces retaining the strategic deterrence potential and performing
    their missions by means of permanent readiness units without
    additional mobilization measures);
  • in the event of an aggravated situation, the ability to ensure
    strategic deployment and check its escalation by means of strategic
    forces and maneuvers of permanent readiness units;
  • in wartime, being able to rebuff an aerospace enemy attack by
    means of the forces available, and, upon full-scale strategic
    deployment, to perform tasks in two local wars simultaneously.

So, the geopolitical requirements for Russia’s development,
together with the nature of national security tasks set to its
armed forces, make it possible to formulate the main priorities for
developing the Russian army and navy, considering their present


Since the time when the Russian Federation became a sovereign
state, its armed forces have traveled down a long and difficult
road. As it is with the nation, the military has been radically
reformed to meet geopolitical changes, as well as those changes
associated with Russia’s new statehood. Even before the reform of
the country’s socio-economic structure was completed, its political
leadership launched sweeping quantitative and qualitative changes
in the armed forces. Since then, serious results have been
achieved, despite numerous problems.

First, there has been formed a legislative basis for the armed
forces’ development, together with the basic elements of a system
for political and public control over their activities.
Additionally, there has been formed a system for the army’s and the
navy’s interaction with other security organizations in the

Structural changes have been made to increase the effectiveness
of military command. The Russian Armed Forces now have a new
structure which better meets the present-day requirements.

The strength of the Russian Armed Forces has been undergoing
reductions, and this process is mainly over. Admittedly, the
reduction process has been rather painful as it was large-scale: in
1993, the strength of the Russian Armed Forces was 2,750,000

The economic crisis of the last decade hit the armed forces as
well, yet they successfully survived it.

No more major reductions are planned for the armed forces. Their
strength has been reduced to a defense sufficiency level which
corresponds to about one million troops.

The recruitment system has been drastically changed in favor of
contract-based recruitment of soldiers and sergeants, now being
introduced on an ever-increasing scale.

Prerequisites have been created for introducing a modern social
security system for servicemen, although some acute problems, such
as housing, have yet to be resolved.

On the whole, the dramatic changes in the Russian Armed Forces
brought about by their restructuring within the framework of the
military reform were carried out. They helped solve the problem of
the armed forces’ survival and enabled the military leadership to
focus entirely on military construction issues.

Russia’s military-political leadership and Defense Ministry face
a new major task, which is, working out a concept for the further
development of the national armed forces.

The new concept was introduced at an October 2, 2003 meeting of
Russia’s military-political leadership and the top command of the
armed forces. It was presented in a doctrinal document entitled The
Vital Tasks of the Development of the Russian Federation Armed

Now we have all grounds to say that the Russian Defense Ministry
has a clear vision of its priorities in developing the army and the
navy. These priorities stem from Russia’s place and role in the
present system of international relations and from the new approach
to military planning which now must be built on real national
security requirements.


Preserving the potential of the strategic deterrence forces. The
main objective of Russia’s strategic deterrence policy is
preventing any kind of pressure or aggression against this country
or its allies. Deterrence will be based on Russia’s ability to
retaliate and inflict damage that would counterbalance potential
aggressors’ objectives. In any case, no one should doubt that
Russia will employ its entire potential to guarantee the protection
of its sovereignty, territorial integrity and other vital national
interests of itself or its allies.

Increasing the number of permanent readiness units and
integrating them into groups of forces. The formation of groups of
forces with unified control, capable of fulfilling combat missions
in their peacetime composition, is a long-term objective of
military construction. These groups of forces should be formed on
the basis of experience gained in the combat employment of troops.
The core of such groups of forces must be permanent readiness

Permanent readiness units include those that are capable of
fulfilling combat missions in peacetime and wartime without
additional mobilization. Permanent readiness forces are formed in
all of the strategic sectors. Their composition is different yet
adequate to the degree of threats to Russia’s national security.
Increasing the number of permanent readiness units and forces and
enhancing their long-distance airlift capability are major
priorities in developing Russia’s armed forces over the next few

Increasing contract-based recruitment for the armed forces. The
introduction of contract-based service in the armed forces is not
an end in itself but a means for increasing the combat readiness of
the armed forces. This objective is set in the federal program
Transition to Contract-Based Recruitment in Some Military Units and
Forces, adopted for 2004-2007. At the same time, the implementation
of this program for the partial transition of the military to
contract-based service does not rule out the preservation of the
already prepared mobilization reserve.

Improving the operational and combat training of troops. The
operational and combat training of the Russian Armed Forces must
make the latter capable of countering military and other threats to
Russia, ensuring the defense of the country, while adjusting them
to new trends in the nature of warfare and warfare methods. It must
be flexible enough to accommodate itself to all operational
missions, as well as to the specific theaters of operations and
peculiarities of the potential enemy.

Recent years have ushered in major advances in the improvement
of combat training quality. In 2003, the number of exercises and
other combat training events in all branches of the armed forces
was almost double the 2002 figure.

The Defense Ministry’s draft budget for 2004 earmarks almost 16
percent of all funds for the improvement of the combat training
system. Exercises to be held next year will focus on enhancing the
mobility of heterogeneous forces and checking the possibility of
inter-theater regrouping. Russia must proceed from the assumption
that in a majority of potential armed conflicts its armed forces
will face an enemy force composed of different types of units,
including those using guerrilla tactics, acts of sabotage and even

Another important aspect of military reform is the integration
of the various supporting units and other troops of Russia’s armed
forces through a transition to an interdepartmental system of
technical and logistical support. The main goal of this transition
will be enhancing the effectiveness of technical and logistical
support for all military units on the basis of their integration
into the respective bodies of Russia’s security ministries and
agencies, as well as the rational employment of facilities and

The timely armament of the troops with modern weapons and
military equipment will be impossible without optimizing the
defense procurement system to bring it into line with modern
requirements. Twenty general customers of armaments and military
equipment have now been established for the Russian Armed Forces
(compared to 57 in 1997, and 29 in 1999). To reduce the number of
ordering organizations, it has been decided that there will exist
only one in each branch and arm of the armed forces.

To centralize the orders and supplies of armaments and military
equipment for the Defense Ministry and other agencies possessing
military units, the Russian president issued Decree 311 on March
11, 2003, to establish the State Defense Order Committee at the
Defense Ministry.

Improving the military training system. The modernization of the
armed forces requires the constant upgrading of the officers’
professional knowledge and skills. The military training system
must be reformed. One of the reasons is the partial transition to
contract-based service for sergeants and rank and file. Officers
must be able to effectively command their subordinates who may have
a broad background and a high educational level.

To solve the difficult problems pertaining to military training,
on May 27, 2002, the Russian government adopted a federal program
named The Reform of the Military Training System in Russia in the
Period Until 2010. This program provides for the establishment of
an interdepartmental system for training military specialists for
the Russian armed forces and other military units and agencies of
the country.

The training of future officers at the military departments of
civilian colleges and universities, with their subsequent mandatory
recruitment for service in the armed forces, will be continued as a
promising practice.

The training of reserve officers at military departments of
civilian educational establishments is an issue requiring special
consideration. The number of reserve officers trained at the
military departments exceeds the actually required number by ten
times. Also, the number of military departments training military
specialists in numbers exceeding the Defense Ministry’s actual
demand has increased unfoundedly. Obviously, it is necessary to
raise the issue of payment for work inside of the military
departments, proceeding from the actual fulfilment of their plan
targets. This approach must either stimulate the preservation of
military departments or necessitate their reduction due to their

Improving the social security system. Apart from increasing
money allowances for servicemen, the Defense Ministry’s social
policy focuses also on the housing problem.

Naturally, this problem cannot be solved within a year or two.
The present system of providing servicemen with housing needs to be
radically changed. The state must not only increase allocations for
housing construction, but also immediately introduce an
Accumulation Housing Program for servicemen.

The Defense Ministry’s fund for providing living quarters to its
servicemen now comprises only 98,000 apartments, while the amount
of living quarters required for each officer to have a guaranteed
place to reside while he serves in the army is approximately
450,000 apartments.

According to estimates, the problem of providing servicemen with
living quarters will be fully solved by 2012-2015. The solution of
this problem will require the construction of new apartments and
the rebuilding of barracks and other premises; however, this number
will be reduced due to the planned reduction of the armed

This situation, which now seems to be at a dead-end, can be
resolved only through the early formation of a quarters fund, the
continuation of the State Housing Certificates program adopted for
2002-2010, and the implementation of the Accumulation Housing
Program for servicemen. This program, now being prepared by the
Defense Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the Ministry for
Economic Development and Trade, provides for the accumulation of
budget funds on each serviceman’s bank account in an amount that
will enable him to buy housing of his own in any region of Russia
after 20 years of service. To encourage him to continue serving in
the army beyond that term he will be paid bonus

The Russian government has approved a plan for drafting
regulations and taking measures for the transition to the
accumulation system. The transition to the accumulation system will
ensure social justice and confirm in practice that servicemen are
citizens with a special state status.

Improving the system of lifting morale in the military and
cultivating patriotic feelings in Russian citizens. Success in
battle is always achieved not by materiel but people, and the
fulfillment of combat missions depends on their morale. Therefore,
the morale of personnel and the maintenance of high military
discipline have always been, and will continue to be, major tasks
of Russian military commanders of all levels.

High morale does not appear at once. It is the result of a
deliberate and purposeful impact on the views, intellect, moral
state and psyche of the servicemen.

Despite the massive influence of all negative factors in the
armed forces, their personnel remain one of the most law-abiding
groups inside Russian society. The crime rate among servicemen is
half the average rate of the Russian Federation.

*  *  *

Russia’s leadership and the Defense Ministry have a
well-conceived program for developing and enhancing the armed
forces’ effectiveness, based on a realistic understanding of the
state’s capabilities and tasks facing the country while it is
integrating into the modern system of international relations.

We view the use of military force only as a forced measure and a
last resort, which should be used only when all the other
opportunities have been exhausted. Russia’s interaction with
various international institutions considerably facilitates the
implementation of its foreign-policy objectives, but it does not
fully guarantee its security. Only highly effective armed forces
can give such guarantees.

Today we can say with confidence that the period of crisis
development of the Russian military is over. Problems that arose in
the past should be viewed as inevitable developmental difficulties.
The main objective now is modernizing the military organization
within the framework of the above development priorities.

 In the 21st century, Russia’s armed forces must correspond
to the status of this great power.