On the Fundaments of the Russian Federation’s State Policy in the Field of Nuclear Deterrence

Many Western Russian specialists wrote about this document, including myself. This piece is of special importance, since it was written by Major General Sterlin, the head of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces and Colonel A.L. Khryapin, the chief researcher at the Center for Military-Strategic Studies of the Military Academy of the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces for an internal audience, mostly to the Russian Armed Forces troops. This means it is the official position of the Armed Forces and any analysis must take it into the consideration. My comments are in green.

The highest priority of the state policy of the Russian Federation in the field of national security is to ensure nuclear deterrence as the basis for strategic deterrence

Major General Sterlin A.E., Head of the Directorate of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Honored Military Specialist of the Russian Federation

Colonel Khryapin A.L. – Chief Researcher at the Center for Military-Strategic Studies of the Military Academy of the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces, Doctor of Military Sciences

Krasnaya zvezda, August 7, 2020, p. 3

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The growing negative trends in the world, accompanying the process of the formation of a new system of global and regional security, contributes to the creation of prerequisites for the activation of current (as well as emergence of new) threats to the military security of the Russian Federation, which may develop into military conflicts of various scales and intensity.
The most important postulate of ensuring the military security of our state is the guaranteed deterrence of any potential enemy, as well as part of a coalition, from unleashing military aggression against the Russian Federation and (or) its allies. It is based on the combat capabilities of the domestic Armed Forces (primarily nuclear forces) to inflict “unacceptable damage” on the aggressor in any, even the most critical conditions of the situation (retaliation strike).

That is why the top priority of the state policy of the Russian Federation in the field of military and national security in general is to ensure nuclear deterrence as the basis for strategic deterrence.

The official views of the Russian Federation on nuclear deterrence in modern conditions were publicly declared on June 2, 2020 in the “Fundaments of the state policy of the Russian Federation in the field of nuclear deterrence” (hereinafter – the Fundaments). It should be emphasized that the appearance of the document of this level in public space occurred for the first time in the entire history of the Soviet Union – and the Russian Federation as its legal successor.

There isn’t anything really new in this document. It is an amalgamation of other documents. The Military Doctrine is still a better document reflecting the views on nuclear deterrence.

Being the document of strategic planning in the field of military security, the Fundaments define the dangers and threats, in order to neutralize which nuclear deterrence is carried out, the basic principles and subjects of deterrence and, most importantly, the conditions for a possible transition to the use of nuclear weapons.

The publication of the Fundamentals caused a wide response in foreign and domestic media and came as a surprise to most experts in the field of nuclear weapons, whose opinions diverged on a number of key provisions of this document.

For example, the media of the United States and its NATO allies emphasize the “aggressiveness” of Russia’s policy, its desire to “justify the creation of its new strategic weapons,” “lower the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons,” and split the bloc’s ranks. In order to intimidate its NATO allies, especially on the eastern flank, the United States credits Russia with a non-existent concept of “escalation for escalation.”

The concept exists and was discussed in many Russian publications. Two good examples are: V.V. Kruglov and M.E. Sosnovskiy, “On the role of nonstrategic nuclear means in nuclear deterrence,” Military Thought, no. 6 (1997); V.I. Levshin, A.V. Nedelin, and M.E. Sosnovskiy, “On the employment of nuclear weapons for the de-escalation of military actions,” Military Thought, no. 3 (1999). A fair question is if is it doctrine or not.

More balanced publications by “neutral” specialists speak of Russia’s desire to give international legitimacy to Russian initiatives in the field of nuclear deterrence amid aggressive American steps to build up strike weapons and break the system of international arms control treaties.
At the same time, a number of Western experts and most domestic experts note the timeliness of the document’s appearance and Russia’s desire to curb the arms race unleashed by the United States, the militarization of space, the modernization of the American missile defense and the demolition of the international security system. They view the declaration of conditions for a possible transition to the use of nuclear weapons as a warning about the futility of “force pressure” on Russia and its readiness for armed defense of its national interests.

For an objective assessment of Russia’s approach to nuclear deterrence, it is necessary to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the military-political conditions under which our state took a truly unprecedented step and for the first time in the history of possession of nuclear weapons published its vision of its role and place in the overall national security system.
The 2018 US Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) identifies the following key provisions that have a significant impact on nuclear deterrence:

– for the first time since the end of the Cold War, Russia has been declared an adversary of the United States with all the ensuing consequences;

– the possibility of the preventive use of nuclear weapons has been declared;

– it is planned to radically re-equip the nuclear forces, including the creation of new modern sea-based cruise missiles and ultra-low-power nuclear weapons.

Well, because the Russian have been doing this too, especially following the concept of 6th Generation Warfare. General Gerasimov openly stated this is a clear objective of the Russian Armed Forces in some speeches.

At the same time, nuclear weapons with the creation of such ammunition, in fact, become “weapons of the battlefield”, which, of course, will lead to a decrease in the threshold for their use.

Some people argue that, during the Cold War, Russian commanders considered nuclear weapons just another weapon. I really don’t remember the source, but remember this discussion. It might not be true.

Almost simultaneously with the adoption of the new nuclear doctrine in the United States, the concept of missile defense development with a number of new provisions was adopted:

– the main focus of the global missile defense system is to neutralize missile threats of all types, primarily from Russia and China, therefore, deployed components, including the European missile defense system, are initially directed against Russian strategic missiles;

– the creation of strike weapons of the missile defense space echelon is declared, that is, there is a return to the 40-year-old Strategic Defense Initiative program, within which the widest range of such means was considered: kinetic miniature interceptors, space lasers, space platforms with weapons based on new physical principles;

– it is planned to recreate airborne laser weapon systems, including those based on a heavy-class unmanned aerial vehicle;

– a new line of interception of ballistic missiles is introduced, the so-called “zero” echelon of missile defense, when the impact on ballistic missiles is carried out not in flight, but at launch positions, that is, a strike is performed at launchers in the positional areas of missile divisions, at aircraft at home airfields and missile carriers in naval bases.

It should be emphasized that the introduction of the zero echelon of missile defense erases the line between offensive (strike) and defensive weapons.

The destabilizing factors should include the creation of space forces in the United States in 2019 and their readiness to deploy strike weapons in space, since in accordance with the Defense Space Strategy of the US Department of Defense, announced in June 2020, space has been declared a theatre for conducting military operations.

In our opinion, all these steps by the American leadership are aimed at implementing the Global Strike concept with the use of promising strike weapons, including hypersonic ones, but with only one proviso – that all these weapons can also be nuclear.

Russia too. The question is to develop the technology.

It all came together – all the steps taken by the United States in the field of strategic weapons over the past two decades are links in one chain and are aimed at achieving military-technical superiority of the United States in order to maintain its global leadership in the world and ensure, as it seems to them, victory in possible future wars over any country in the world, primarily over Russia, including due to its economic weakening by being drawn into another arms race.

We must not forget about the US allies in the NATO bloc either. Taken together, NATO has a significant advantage over Russia in systems of strategic non-nuclear weapons and general-purpose forces, which in the context of the bloc’s expansion and its approach directly to the borders of Russia forces our state to respond to existing military threats and threats to its security.

In order to bring the Russian position on nuclear deterrence to the attention of the global community and the military-political leadership of the states – potential adversaries, there were declared a number of conceptual provisions set out in the Fundaments.

1. Once again, it has been doctrinally confirmed that the “nuclear policy” of the Russian Federation is purely defensive in nature.

This is not a mere declaration, but the cornerstone of the general policy of our state, on which strategic deterrence has been and is being built. Russia is not going to attack anyone, but will take all steps to neutralize any aggression against our country. This approach reflects a strategy of active deterrence and can be described as “active defense”. At the same time, Russia is making and will make all the necessary efforts to reduce the nuclear threat.

2. Nuclear deterrence is aimed at ensuring that the potential adversary, including the coalition, understands the inevitability of retaliation in the event of aggression against Russia and its allies – inflicting unacceptable damage on it in a retaliatory strike.

In its essence, nuclear deterrence is a specific form of the reflexive policy of our state, carried out by influencing mainly the military-political leadership of a potential adversary through the conviction of the inevitability of negative consequences for him as a result of the guaranteed use by the Russian Federation of forces and means of nuclear deterrence.

3. The core of nuclear deterrence is the combat capabilities of nuclear forces of various basing, therefore, maintaining the nuclear potential at a level sufficient to ensure deterrence is one of the priority tasks of our state.

At the same time, the minimum sufficiency of combat-ready forces and means is stated, capable, due to the rationality of their structure and composition, methods of use, as well as high combat readiness, to ensure the infliction of unacceptable damage to any potential enemy in any development of the military-political and strategic situation.

This means that Russia will not be drawn into a grueling nuclear arms race; priority is given not to quantitative, but to their qualitative composition.

4. It was emphasized that the main military threats, to neutralize which nuclear deterrence is being carried out, emanate from the collective West and are associated with the build-up of general-purpose groupings near the borders of the Russian Federation. These groupings, among other things, are armed with means of delivering nuclear weapons, with the deployment of systems and means Missile defense, strike weapons for various purposes and basing, including space.

5. Two groups of states are identified as subjects of nuclear deterrence:

– individual states possessing nuclear and (or) other types of weapons of mass destruction or significant combat potential of general-purpose forces that consider the Russian Federation as a potential adversary, as well as military coalitions (blocs, alliances) with the participation of these states;

– states that provide their national territory for the deployment of strategic offensive weapons (cruise and ballistic missiles, hypersonic aircrafts, attack unmanned aerial vehicles), strategic anti-missile defense systems, radar stations of the nuclear missile strike warning system, nuclear weapons and (or) others types of weapons of mass destruction of other states that can be used against the Russian Federation and (or) its allies.

The point here is, in clear words, Poland and the Baltic States.

The first group of states does not raise questions, while the highlighting of the second group is a warning to the leadership of these states that they have to think very well before giving permission to deploy strategic offensive weapons of other states on their territory.

6. The above principles of nuclear deterrence are well known and determine the main directions of our state’s policy to ensure deterrence. This also applies to the centralization of control, the constant readiness of forces and means, and the rationality of their structure and composition.

Compliance with international obligations in the field of arms control is a priority for Russia. Our state has always respected and will abide by all the international obligations it has assumed.
The continuity of measures to ensure deterrence means that all measures of a military and non-military nature are carried out in a comprehensive manner within the framework of the nuclear deterrence mechanism in peacetime, during the period of an imminent threat of aggression and in wartime at all stages of the emergence and development of a military conflict, up to the beginning of the massive use of nuclear weapons.

The adaptability of deterrence to military threats presupposes the choice of certain deterrent measures (actions) depending on the existing and emerging military threats to Russia’s security, which are determined on the basis of a comprehensive analysis of the military-political and strategic situation in the world and military dangers for Russia in the short, medium-term and long-term perspective.

7. For the first time in a public space, conditions have been declared that determine the possibility of Russia’s use of nuclear weapons.

The first condition is related to the receipt of reliable information about the launch of ballistic missiles attacking the territory of Russia and (or) its allies. The very fact of a ballistic missile launch will be recorded by a missile attack warning system.

At the same time, there will be no possibility to determine the type of its equipment (nuclear or non-nuclear). Therefore, any attacking missile will be positioned as a nuclear-armed missile. Information about the launch of the missile in automatic mode will be communicated to the military-political leadership of Russia, which, depending on the prevailing situation, will determine the scale of the response actions of the nuclear forces.

Conditions on the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction by the enemy, on the impact on critical targets of Russia, on aggression with the use of conventional weapons should not raise questions from experts.

If the question is posed about target setting of aggression against Russia, which has a significant nuclear potential, one can give a concrete answer – the destruction of Russia as a state.

Thus, in the Fundamentals, Russia has outlined “red lines”, which we do not advise anyone to cross. If a potential adversary decides to do this, then the answer will no doubt be overwhelming.

At the same time, the specification of response actions (where, when, how much) will be determined by the military-political leadership of Russia, depending on the situation.


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