ISSUE 2-2017
Роман Темников
Denys Reva Roman Temnikov Aндрей Костырев Vyacheslav Rodionov
Ahmad Alili  & Victoria Bittner
Дмитрий Дубов
Alžběta Chmelařová

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles and/or discussions are those of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views or positions of the publisher.

By Denys Reva | Analyst, Republic of South Africa | Issue 2, 2017

1. An analysis of the new Foreign Policy Concept and the Military Doctrine of Russian Federation

Currently, Russia is faced with some of the most drastic international challenges in its contemporary history. Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, and Moscow’s alleged role in destabilising Ukraine after the revolution, have prompted a stark response from western countries. The European Union (EU) and the United States (US) have implemented humiliating sanctions against Russian economy and selected persons of interest in power. The G8 members have suspended Russian membership in the organisation in 2014, and Moscow was stripped of its voting rights in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in 2015. Furthermore, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) now refers to Russia as one of the primary challenges to its member-states’ security [1], and has taken proactive measures to bolster its military contingent in member states neighbouring Russia. All the while, Moscow argues that Crimea and the Ukrainian crisis are excuses for the sanctions and the pressure exerted from the US, EU and NATO. Russia seems to believe that the real intention of the Western states is to intervene in Moscow’s historic sphere of influence, infringe on its national interests, and undermine Russia’s internal stability. These developments prompt a question: how did Russian foreign policy respond to these new drastic international challenges?

This analysis is focused on the new Foreign Policy Concept (Concept) and the Military Doctrine (military doctrine) of the Russian Federation. A doctrine can be understood as a set of beliefs and values, a statement of fundamental government view that provides general rules of conducting foreign policy. [2] The Foreign Policy Concept is a foreign policy doctrine that provides “a systemic vision of the basic principles, priority areas, goals and objectives of the foreign policy of the Russian Federation.” [3] The Military Doctrine provides “a system of officially adopted state views on the preparation for armed defence and armed protection of the Russian Federation.” [4]

It is important to note that Russia is not obliged to follow any of the provisions contained in the doctrines, so the documents should not be treated as Moscow’s foreign policy and military strategies. Instead, both the Concept and the military doctrine illustrate the way Russia perceives the international system – its threats, risks, opportunities and vulnerabilities; indicates the way Russia wants to be perceived by others, and; highlights the way Moscow wants to construct its diplomatic and military relations with other international players.

The analysis is structured in the following way. The article first looks at the foreign policy Concept. The subsequent analysis is framed in terms of the differences between the 2013 and 2016 versions of the document. This comparison allows to see the changing views and attitudes of the Russian Federation towards the international system. The analysis then turns to the military doctrine to examine how the new document changed in 2014, as compared to 2010. This assessment is limited to provision within doctrine pertaining to foreign policy.

2. Understanding Russia’s new foreign policy concept

The Concept was adopted on November 30, 2016. The document is divided into five sections, together forming a comprehensive picture of Moscow’s perception of foreign policy, and Russia’s outlook on current trends in international relations. The fifth section of the document deals with the foreign policy decision making and implementation process in the Russian Federation. This part of the document is useful in terms of clarifying the bureaucratic component of the process, but offers little value for this analysis within the context of this article, and therefore will be omitted.

2.1 General Provisions

There are overall 11 objectives (as opposed to nine in 2013), key to fulfilling strategic national priorities and interests of the Russian Federation. The primary objectives of foreign policy are directed towards ensuring national security and the protection of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation; creating the environment conducive to stable economic growth and competitiveness of the Russian economy, and; consolidating Moscow’s position as a centre of influence in today’s world.

At the first glance, the general provisions section of the Concept was barely altered in the new edition of the document, although a number of changes can be noted. Since 2000, the highest priority objective of national security policy was declared “the protection of an individual, society and the state” – in that order. This phrase was entirely removed from the list of objectives in the new Concept. Following the logic of the document, “ensuring national security sovereignty and territorial integrity” became the highest declared priority in the 2016 version of the document.

Similarly, since 2000 the Russian Federation was committed to “securing its high standing in the international community as one of the influential and competitive poles of the modern world.” This is also no longer the case in the 2016 version. Instead, a new objective appeared, pledging to “consolidate the Russian Federation’s position as a centre of influence in today’s world.” [5] It stands to reason that the change is associated with the fact that Russia considers to have secured a high standing in international system, and now aims to consolidate the new status.

A number of other phrases have also disappeared. For instance, the Russian Federation is no longer committed to “putting [Russian economy] on the innovation-based development tracks.” Equally, “strengthening of the human rights and freedoms" is no longer listed as an objective of the foreign policy. Instead, Russia pledges to commit itself to “universal democratic values, including human rights and freedoms” in terms of it international humanitarian cooperation in the section three of the document.

Finally, another new objective refers to Russia’s commitment “to bolster the standing of Russian mass media and communication tools [in order to] convey Russia’s perspective on international process.” Russian media agencies have in fact long played a supportive role in Russia’s foreign policy activities. However, the inclusion of the media support as an objective of foreign policy is likely related to Moscow’s perception that the West is embroiled in ‘hybrid warfare’ using soft power against Russia and Russian interests abroad. [6] It could therefore constitute a sign of recognition of the potential that soft power could have as a tool of Moscow’s foreign policy.

2.2 Modern World and Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation

The section is more or less similar to the earlier version of the 2013. The majority of visible changes within this section relate to the changes in the international system that occurred since 2013 and had an impact on Russia, namely the annexation of Crimea and subsequent international isolation of the Russian Federation, Western sanctions regime against Moscow imposed for its alleged role in destabilising Ukraine, the rise of the Islamic State (IS), and Russian intervention in the Syrian conflict in 2015, among other notable changes.

Both 2016 and 2013 versions of the Concept heavily emphasised the changes and shifts that are underway in the international system. Similarly, both indicated that these changes are “eroding the global economic and political dominance of the traditional western powers”, and that the existent military and political alliances are no longer capable to deal with the spectrum of emerging risks and challenges within the multipolar international system. However, the 2016 version for the first time conceptually divides this world into Euro-Atlantic, Eurasian and Asia-Pacific regions, whose equal and indivisible security is said to guarantee the stability of the international system.

In terms of strengthening international security as a response to global challenges, Moscow has previously stated its commitment to “reducing the role of the use of force in international relations” and taking “confidence-building measures in the military sphere.” [7] In 2016, Moscow has abandoned these measures, and instead acknowledges that in the contemporary world the force “is becoming an increasingly important factor in international relations.” [8] The concept further highlights that political, social and economic contradictions are escalating, and uncertainty in the global political system and economy is growing – which is a stark difference to a more hopeful and optimistic tone of the 2013. Nevertheless, Russia considers the likelihood of global or nuclear war between major powers to be unlikely. Instead, Moscow anticipates that major powers will be drawn into regional conflicts.

The 2013 document highlights the destabilising role of globalisation in terms of imposing one’s hierarchy of values in international relations, citing the then ongoing processes in the Middle East and North Africa as an example of the pushback to globalisation, and a search for own identity. The 2016 Concept repeats these ideas, and takes them a step further. Now, Moscow blames the growing risks within the international system on the Western states – which is a first such direct accusation. Previously, Russia only referred to “attempts”, without specifying the source of these attempts. Moscow accuses Western states of “imposing their point of view on global processes and conducting a policy to contain alternative centres of power” in order to “maintain their positions in the world.” [9] Coupled with the process of globalisation, such interferences lead to “destruction of traditional governance and security mechanisms and the illegal spread of weapons and ammunition at an even larger scale.” [10] Pointing to the instability in Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Russia blames the West on prescribing own ideological values on states in the region in an attempt to modernise their political systems, with devastating results for the region and regional security.

Overall, the section lists a number of cross-border issues in international arena, primarily echoing the challenges outlined in 2013, namely terrorism, organised crime, illegal migration, human trafficking, and a number of others. New to the 2016 document is the emergence of the IS and related international terrorist groups that “have descended to an unprecedented level of cruelty in their violence.” [11] A common thread throughout this section is the alleged ineffectiveness of unilateral actions taken by Western states, and the danger of such actions for regional and global security. Instead, Moscow suggests consolidating global efforts through the United Nations (UN) structures, and highlights its unique role as a “permanent member of the UN Security Council and a participant in a number of influential international organizations, regional frameworks, inter-State dialogue and cooperation mechanisms.” [12] Therefore, cooperation should occur on the basis of shared common values grounded in the common moral force based on major religions.

2.3 Priorities of the Russian Federation in Overcoming Global Challenges

Moscow priorities for dealing with global challenges have barely changed from 2013. The document overall lists six priority areas in the following order: shaping a fair and sustainable world order, rule of law and international relations, strengthening international security, economic and environmental cooperation, international humanitarian cooperation, and informational support for foreign policy activities.

The first subsection underlines Moscow’s commitment to creating an international system of international relations based on international law; Russia’s commitment to the principles and provisions of the UN Charter; the need to enhance the effectiveness of the UN Security Council, and; the need to establish a network of regional organisations for collective leadership.

In the subsection dedicated to the rule of law Russia once again underline the supremacy of UN Charter. Compared to the 2013 version of the document, the new Concept takes a hard stance to “prevent military interventions or other forms of outside interference” under the guise of R2P (responsibility to protect). [13] This line could be a belated reference to the 2011 NATO-led military intervention in Libya, which was conducted under the guise of R2P, and was heavily criticised by Moscow. However, considering the timing, it is likely linked to the ongoing civil war in Syria, where Russia is playing a key role on the governmental side. It is possible that Russia is attempting to draw a red line when it comes to Syria and international law, to avoid the Libyan scenario.

In terms of strengthening international security, references to the decreasing role of force in international relations were removed from the document. Overall, the section has expanded to accommodate the challenges that were outlined in section two. Russia once again insist on the supremacy of international law and the UN Charter, and the need to work collectively through existing international and regional structures to resolve existing cross-border challenges.

The segment on dealing with international economic and environmental cooperation has largely remained the same. Russia reiterated its key role as the bridge between Europe and the Asian-Pacific Region, and the need to ensure access to global economy on equal and productive basis.

In the subsection on international humanitarian cooperation and human rights, a new entry indicates Moscow pledges to counter any attempts to use “human rights theories to exert political pressure and interfere in internal affairs of States, including with a view to destabilizing them and overthrowing legitimate governments.” [14] This echoes earlier assertion, and is likely a reference to both, a threat of humanitarian intervention by Western states in Syria to topple Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and the alleged involvement of Western states in the Ukrainian revolution of 2013-2014 that ousted the-then President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych. [15] However, this assertion could also be seen as a warning to Western states not to intervene into the domestic affairs of the Russian Federation. [16]

In terms of ensuring informational support for foreign policy activities of the Russian Federation, Moscow pledges to “ensure that the world has an objective image of the country” and to deliver “unbiased information about Russia’s perspective on key international issues.” [17] A new objective also underlines the need to increase the participation of Russian experts in debates with foreign specialists.

2.4 Regional Foreign Policy Priorities of the Russian Federation

The highest regional priority of the foreign policy remains the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) region. In the new Concept, it is evident that the status of the Republic of Belarus was elevated within the CIS. Added to Russia’s older commitment to expand integration in all areas, the new document pledges to expand strategic cooperation with Belarus. This change could be a response to the deceleration of the integration processes that started after 2014, and strained economic relations between the two allies. [18] Belarus, among other key regional allies, is also mentioned in terms of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which replaced the older Eurasian Economic Community in 2015. Strengthening and expending integration between members of EAEU became Russia’s new core priority within the CIS region.

A number of other CIS countries are mentioned separately, namely Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine. In terms of regional conflicts, Russia’s position remains unchanged. Moscow is interested in normalising relations with Georgia, but separately reaffirms its support for the unrecognised breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In the Republic of Moldova, Russia is insisting to find a solution to determine a special status of Transnistria.

Ukraine is no longer a priority partner within the CIS in the new Concept; however, Russia states its openness to developing “political, economic, cultural and spiritual ties” with Kyiv. [19] Moscow further underlines that the War in Eastern Ukraine is an internal conflict, and pledges to undertake every effort to “promote political and diplomatic settlement”. The concept does not mention the unrecognised breakaway republics of Luhansk and Donetsk – which is in line with Russia’s principal position since 2014. [20]

The relations with the Euro-Atlantic region have significantly deteriorated after the 2014, and the change in tone is evident. The 2013 Concept made reference to Russia’s historical integral and inseparable place as part of European civilization, and relations with the region were described as having a priority. Both statements have been removed from the 2016 version. Instead, this section begins by outright blaming NATO and the EU for geopolitical expansion, and for their refusal to “begin implementation of political statements regarding the creation of a common European security and cooperation framework.” [21] This, due to alleged systemic problems that have accumulated over the last century that drive the geopolitical expansion.

Region-wise, the failure of the South Stream project has likely resulted in a decrease of importance of the South-East Europe for Russia. The Balkan region had strategic importance for Moscow in 2013, but is entirely omitted from the 2016 document. Contrary, Northern Europe is maintained as the area of trust and stability.

A number of European countries are mentioned separately in relation to Moscow’s commitment to strengthen bilateral ties, namely the Federal Republic of Germany, the French Republic and the Italian Republic. The Kingdom of Spain has been added to the list of priorities for the first time, likely due to the country’s mild stance on relations with Russia. [[22]] Contrary, the Netherlands has been removed from the list of Russian foreign policy priorities in Europe. Furthermore, following BREXIT and the United Kingdom’s (UK) tough stance on the Ukrainian crisis, Moscow is no longer committed to improve relationship with the country.

Moscow relations with NATO are at the lowest point since the begging of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014. Russia maintains a critical stance towards organisation, and blames NATO for “the deepening of old dividing lines in Europe and to the emergence of new ones.” [23] Moscow further maintains a critical stance towards the perspective of NATO’s expansion, and praises the European states that are not part of NATO, noting their “genuine contribution to ensuring stability and security in Europe.” [24] However, Russian worries with regard to NATO should not be underplayed. Recent incident in Montenegro, and Russia’s alleged role in the failed coup, illustrate the extent to which Moscow is ready to go to stop NATO’s further expansion. [25]

Not surprisingly, Russian-American relations in the 2013 and the 2016 documents are presented in entirely different lights. On the one hand, the document maintains the structure and essence of the old Concept, stressing the “special responsibility for global strategic stability and international security” that the two states share. [26] Yet, Russia also warns the US against interfering in its domestic affairs. Moscow further criticises the “US policy of extraterritorial jurisdiction beyond the boundaries of international law”, “attempts to exercise military, political, economic or any other pressure”, and proclaims readiness to “firmly respond to hostile actions, including the bolstering of national defence and taking retaliatory or asymmetrical measures.” [27]

Finally, quite expectedly, the concept also now includes a reference to Syria, reaffirming Russian support to the unity, independence and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic as a secular, democratic and pluralistic State. The wording is suggestive, as it is formulated specifically to highlight Moscow’s support of Bashar al-Assad, as opposed to opposition forces who would be unlikely to retain a secular state.

3. Understanding Russia’s new Military Doctrine, and its place in Moscow’s foreign policy

The military doctrine was adopted on December 19, 2014. Even at the first glance, it becomes evident that most changes in the new foreign policy Concept, especially with regard to the negative trends in the international system and current risks within it, have been carried over from the new military doctrine.

For instance, the doctrine has radically reassessed the contemporary international system, just as the new Concept would. While the 2010 doctrine noted the weakening of ideological divide, the 2014 doctrine acknowledges growing global competition in the interstate and interregional spheres, notes tensions related to values and rivalling development strategies, and recognises the growing instability of regional and global political and economic development patterns.

The new document notes that while the possibility of an international armed conflict is low, a military threat in a number of areas is increasing. The doctrine also notes that military risks and threats are shifting into the information space and internal sphere of the Russian Federation. Overall, doctrine identifies internal and external military threats. Main external threats remain almost identical to the one’s from the 2010 doctrine, including NATO’s activities in the proximity of Russian boarders, territorial disputes with Russia and its allies, and international terrorism.

A few new external military threats were identified. For one, the doctrine refers to impermissibility of a regime change in states neighbouring Russia, including overthrowing legitimate government bodies, whose policies would threaten the interests of the Russian Federation. This very specific new statement is likely referring to the Ukrainian revolution of 2013-2014, that ousted the pro-Russian president. Moscow consistently stated that revolutions in the neighbouring states are part of the hybrid war of the West against Russia. Similarly, another new paragraph refers to the use of force in the territories neighbouring Russia, or its allies. This could be a warning against the possibility of NATO forces being stationed in Ukraine and Georgia, or to highlight a red-line with regard to potential humanitarian intervention in Syria. In terms of internal threats, the doctrine emphasises the use of information and other non-military measures implemented with the purpose to steer internal protests. In particular, the document emphasises the fragility of youth to being affected by particular information, distributed in order to undermine historical, spiritual and patriotic traditions of defending the country. Once again, the rhetoric is all too familiar, and has been previously described in relation to the two Ukrainian revolutions, as well as the revolutions in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. [28]

It is also worth mentioning that in accordance with the new military doctrine, Russia retains a right to use military force in case there is an act of aggression against its territory or its allies. Importantly, Russia also pledges to protect its citizens outside of the Russian Federation. It practical terms, it means that Russia reserves the right to intervene in neighbouring states under the pretence of protecting people with Russian passports. Furthermore, Moscow’s anticipation from the earlier of the document that the risk of a regional war involving Russia was growing could be contextualised within this new paragraph.

Overall, and in line with the changes that would later occur in the Concept, main changes in the military doctrine seem to be related to the aftermath of the Ukrainian revolution, and the Western response to the Ukrainian crisis. Since Russia perceives the revolution in Ukraine as part of hybrid warfare against itself, many new paragraphs dealt specifically with matters of foreign powers intervention in internal affairs of both, Russia, and Russian neighbours.


The analysis of the military doctrine shows that the dynamic of the general direction of the Russian foreign policy has been set, at latest, in 2014. In general, it can be said that the new Concept reaffirmed this direction. Otherwise, the new Foreign Policy Concept could be seen as an updated document based on the previous postulates and ideas about the place and role of Russia in the world. The new sections ascertain the developments that have already occurred in the international system.

Although Russia has adjusted its position on a number of issues. The modern world is still transitioning to a multipolar system, but Russia is already an important global player within it. But the world is also growing politically and economically unstable. Both doctrines are also more critical towards Western states, blaming the growing systemic instability on their attempts to restrain other centres of power, and intervening in other countries’ domestic affairs. Furthermore, the role of the factors of force is increasing, making the possibility of regional conflicts involving global powers more likely.

While the Concept primarily focuses on matters of cooperation and integration within the post-Soviet region, the military doctrine makes it clear that Russia views the area as strategically important, and would not tolerate any form of political or military involvement within the region. Russian pledge to use military to defend Russian citizens should be a worrying signal to Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia and Kazakhstan.

Overall, the growing importance of regions in international relations, and a balance of power between them, as well as the strong focus on state’s sovereignty and factors of force in international relations could all suggest that Russian foreign policy will become more in line with realism. If that is the case, we can expect Moscow to defend its interest more aggressively, and to challenge Western states in areas of strategic importance to Russia. Yet, while blaming Western states for intervening in internal affairs of other states, Russia also seems to acknowledge the soft power as one of the important avenues to achieve its foreign policy objectives. Therefore, and in line with the Concept and the military doctrine, we could see the increase of proxy-wars on the regional level involving Russia.

But for what it is, there seems to be a lack of proactive solutions to the problems that were declared by the documents. Some paragraphs, especially with regard to Western countries’ alleged interventions in internal affairs seems like a knew-jerk reaction to the Ukrainian revolution. It becomes evident from both documents that any form of a public unrest, both within Russian and in neighbouring states, would now be interpreted as part of hybrid warfare by Western states – which is not necessarily always true. Both documents note frustrations and reservations that Russia has about the contemporary international system, but offer little real solutions, other than a call to cooperate, and a generic pledge to adhere to international norms. Overall, this could be a sign that Russia reserves the flexibility in international relations, and merely wants to indicate to other players the areas of opportunity and concern. But it could equally indicate a reactive nature of Russian foreign policy, and a lack of direction in the top tiers of the government with regard to way the current challenges could be addressed.

Russia is likely to continue its foreign policy course in the CIS region, and in Syria, employing elements of soft and hard power. But Moscow is also likely to leave the initiative to Western states, for them to come to the negotiation table and make offers on the issues of common concern.

[1] North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. NATO Warsaw Summit Guide. July 2016, 22. Available at

[2] Merriam-Webster online dictionary. Doctrine. Available at

[3] The Russian Federation. Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, Presidential Decree number 640. November 30 2016, 1. Available at

[4] The Russian Federation. Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, December 26 2016, 1. Available at

[5] The Russian Federation. Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, Presidential Decree number 640. November 30 2016, 1. Available at

[6] Sputnik. Russian Military Experts to Develop 'Soft Power' Concept – Reports. March 1, 2016. Available at

[13] The Russian Federation. Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, Presidential Decree number 640. November 30 2016, 3. Available at

[14] The Russian Federation. Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, Presidential Decree number 640. November 30 2016, 6. Available at

[15] Lister, Tim. Putin's playbook in Syria draws on Ukraine and loathing for revolution. CNN, October 5, 2015. Available at

[16] Krastev, Ivan. Kremlin Overwhelmed by Fear of Revolution. The Moscow Times, June 22, 2015. Available at

[17] The Russian Federation. Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, Presidential Decree number 640. November 30 2016, 7. Available at

[18] Tamkin, Emily. What Exactly Is Going on Between Russia and Belarus? The Foreign Policy Magazine, February 6, 2017. Available at

[19] The Russian Federation. Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, Presidential Decree number 640. November 30 2016, 8. Available at

[20] Sanders, Paul. How Russia Sees the Ukraine Crisis. The National Interest, October 13, 2014. Available at

[21] The Russian Federation. Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, Presidential Decree number 640. November 30 2016, 8. Available at

[22] De Borja Lasheras, Francisco. Spain’s balancing act with Russia. European Council on Foreign Relations, July 26, 2016. Available at

[23] The Russian Federation. Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, Presidential Decree number 640. November 30 2016, 9. Available at

[24] The Russian Federation. Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, Presidential Decree number 640. November 30 2016, 9. Available at

[25] The Guardian. Kremlin rejects claims Russia had role in Montenegro coup plot. February 20, 2017. Available at

[26] The Russian Federation. Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, Presidential Decree number 640. November 30 2016, 9. Available at

[27] The Russian Federation. Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, Presidential Decree number 640. November 30 2016, 9. Available at

[28] Lipman, Maria. How Russia has come to loathe the West. March 13, 2015. Available at

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