Russian President Vladimir Putin has outlined in his new foreign policy document that the chances of nuclear or large-scale conflict are low, according to a copy of the document on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. Several changes were made to the document known as the “Concept of Russia’s Foreign Policy” which represents the official foreign policy doctrine of the Kremlin, since it was last updated in 2013, prior to the conflict in Ukraine. Issuing a decree approving all the changes on Thursday the Kremlin announced that it was “updating priority areas.” The text was updated to reflect the emergence of two conflicts with significant Russian involvement—in Ukraine and Syria; it noted that “force” had increased as a prominent factor in global affairs. However despite several reminders from Russian officials, including Putin, that Russia’s nuclear strength should not be taken lightly, the Kremlin’s new doctrine notes that “the danger of large-scale war, including a nuclear war, between the leading countries remains low.” According to the document, the risks are much higher when it comes to international “involvement in regional conflicts and the escalation of crises.” In addition, the Russian government accuses the U.S. and its allies of trying “to contain Russia and apply political, economic, informational, and other pressure undermines regional and global stability." We asked Jahangir Karami, head of Russia department at Faculty of World Studies, University of Tehran and senior fellow at IRAS, about the new Russian foreign policy doctrine and its implication on Moscow relations with regional and global powers. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Given recent developments in the world, one of key questions about Russian-western world relations is the future of the relations. Whether the ice will be melting and Kremlin start new era in its relations with Europe and the US?
“The relations of Russia and the West deteriorated after 2012 and in 2014 it was back to the period before Russian Reset and before 2009. This document is a witness to the increase of tensions and concerns, which was concerned with four matters: Ballistic Missile Defense System, enlargement of NATO, Ukraine crisis, and Syria crisis. The Russians have tried to avoid these problems or find solutions for them if they have already happened. However, many factors, including the extent of tensions, conflicts of interest, number of actors, and security games, complicate the settlement of crises. Any possible solution would involve fundamental reconsiderations in the stance of both major players, i.e. Russia and the United States.
“The Russians have always tried to create a rift between the United States and Europe, on the one hand, and the old and new European actors, on the other. Although they have been successful in some cases, overall they have been unsuccessful in this game. The main reason for which is the fundamental fear of European governments, especially young Europe, of the Russian expansionism in Eastern Europe.”
What would be Russian response if NATO wants to muscle in on the Near Abroad?
“Russia speaks explicitly of nuclear retaliation in its 2014 military doctrine. According to this document, the increasing NATO power and its global operations, which are in violation of international law, and approaching the Russian borders are recounted as threats. The document mentions the use of nuclear weaponry and reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in retaliation of nuclear or any other WMD attacks on Russia and its allies, and also to use of conventional weapons in case of a non-nuclear invasions against the Russian Federation, if it threatens the government's existence. Hence, the document mentions the right of retaliation and counteraction.
“It also mentions that a nuclear war is unlikely, however, the NATO Ballistic Missile Defense System does threaten the security of Russia and that regional crises are increasing. This does not contradict with the cooperation of Moscow and Washington on their common international challenges like countering terrorism and controlling weapons of mass destruction. In fact, immediately after recounting the threats of NATO, it talks about partnership or including the West for resolution of mutual problems. This is the sign of the pragmatism and non-ideological political philosophy of Russia and its play within the system.”
How Moscow deep involvement in the Middle East affected its new foreign policy doctrine? Do you think that it would be satisfactory to Iran?
“Kremlin got involved in the conflicts of Middle East in order to prevent the dangers of extremism and terrorism and to maintain the regional balance. To do so, it is following a strategy of inclusive cooperation and balanced relations with regional governments, maintaining regional balance between regional actors, and finally taking advantage of military operations, which aim to combat the spread of terrorism and the deterioration of regional balance against its allies. Military presence was not directly mentioned in this document. But it explicitly includes combating terrorism, protecting the territorial integrity of Syria and resolution of Syrian crisis through international dialogue.”
Is there any mention about Iran in the strategy? And if so, how does the language differ compared with the previous strategy?
“Iran is specifically mentioned regarding three specific cases in this document. This is the first time that development of comprehensive cooperation with Iran
has been introduced. More importantly is the part about the Caspian Sea and collaboration of five littoral countries. These points were absent from former documents. About the JCPOA it says that Russia follows the policy of cooperation with Iran in all aspects and tries to uphold the nuclear deal with Iran in accordance with decisions of IAEA Board of Governors, helping it on all levels. The related UN Security Council Resolution 2231 was adopted on July 20, 2015. Hence, there is a positive view of Iran in this document.”
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