The large-scale exercises of the Russian Air Force and Airborne Forces, conducted on March 15-19, can be considered the main military event of the last few days. More than 20 transport aircraft, airborne regiment, division of S-300 air defense missile systems and some other units participated in the exercises. S-300 systems were delivered by aircraft to Ashuluk testing ground (Astrakhan region) , where they performed firing practice. Overall 1,700 paratroopers and 180 vehicles participated in the exercises.
Military-transport aviation pilots made more than 25 flights at An-22, IL-76 and An-12 to drop airborne units and more than 20 items of heavy armament and combat equipment. During the aerial and ground coverage of the military-transport aviation and paratroopers operations the crews of Su-27, MiG-31, Su-24 and Su-25 launched guided “air-to-surface” missiles and dropped bombs.
Although the Defense Ministry pointed out that these were the preplanned exercises, their character might be associated with the NATO expansion, aggravation of the situation in Chechnya and possible measures for destruction of terrorist training camps in the republic. Testing of aerial delivery of S-300 systems was also probably conducted to prepare for the planned transportation of the systems to Armenia and Greek island Crete. Thus, despite the low financing, the Russian Armed Forces demonstrated their combat readiness and skill in organization of combat training being strapped for cash. Of course, this is not enough, but we can do nothing about this. For example, at least 15 regimental exercises have to be organized in the Airborne Forces annually, but during the last few years because of the scarce financing only one annual demonstration exercise could be organized (The previous exercise was conducted last August in Pskov. Around 1,000 servicemen and 10 vehicles participated in it). We also need to point at another extraordinary event, which happened last week. On March 15 President Yeltsin approved “The main clauses of the Russian policy in the sphere of nuclear deterrence.” It pointed out that Russia considers its nuclear forces as the guarantee of the national security and deterrence of a probable aggression against Russia and its allies. The main goal of the Russian policy in the sphere of nuclear deterrence is provision of the guaranteed protection of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Russia and its allies, as well as creation of favorable conditions for the peaceful development of the country. This policy is not targeted against some certain countries or unions of the countries. Considering the nuclear weapons as the vehicle for deterrence of an aggression, Russia admits the possibility of its use only as the forced measure for elimination
of critical threats to the national security of the country and its allies, when all other measures failed to remove these threats.
The document also stressed that Russia is for decisive continuation of efforts of the nuclear powers, targeted at nuclear weapons reduction on the global level with the final view of these weapons liquidation.
The document was published on the eve of official joining of new members to NATO (Poland, Czechia and Hungary) and is a kind of Russia’s response to the threats on the part of the alliance, possible according in its opinion. The document does not say if Russia is to be the first to use nuclear weapons and if it will use them against the countries, which do not possess them.
Meanwhile, we remember how in May 1997 former Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and his former deputy Boris Berezovsky, explaining the project of the Concept of the National Security (which was then being developed), announced that the document conditions the possibility to be the first to use nuclear weapons for Russia. Without seeing the document yet, some mass media and politicians tried to argue about this thesis, saying that this almost means return to the “cold war” times.
So far we do not see any return to the “cold war” times. The Concept literally states that “Russia reserves the right to us all available forces and weapons at its disposal, including the nuclear ones, if as a result of an armed aggression a threat appears to existence of the Russian federation as an independent state.”
We can see that the Concept does not speak directly about the right of the first nuclear strike, but it is easy to make a conclusion that such a strike is possible, if there is an aggression on the part of foreign countries, threatening the Russian state. The US, claiming the sole leadership in the world, preach the same thesis, but in a stricter form. For example, at the end of 1997, a few weeks before signing of the Concept, US President signed a direction, defining the use of nuclear weapons by the US. It can be used against the countries, which might use chemical or biological weapons against American troops. It is known that Russia possesses chemical weapons. Russia still remains a great power due to its nuclear forces. They currently form the basis of the military power of the state, which was specially stressed in the “The main clauses of the Russian policy in the sphere of nuclear deterrence.” And Concept of National Security. Meanwhile we need to admit that after approval of these documents work on creation and structuring of the mechanism of the country’s national interests provision has been just started. Proceeding from these documents we need to develop a whole set of doctrines and programs, defining the policy and the strategy of the state in certain spheres: military doctrine, doctrines of economic and financial security, social, security, food, information, ecological securities and some others.
We do not rule out that changing of the balance of forces in the world and NATO eastward expansion may push Russia towards development of stricter documents, reflecting the principles of its national security provision. Russian generals already hinted about this. On March 16, when Czechia, Hungary and Poland officially joined NATO, two top ranking officials of the Defense Ministry at once issues severe statements. Colonel general Valery Manilov, senior vice chief of the general Staff, announced that “joining of new members to NATO generates the danger of remilitarization of the whole system of international relations, destruction of the current system of agreements in the sphere of disarming and arms reduction.”
Colonel general Leonid Ivashov, director of the Main Department of the International Military Cooperation, announced that the new military doctrine in Russia is to be approved only when NATO approves its new concept. Thus, it is possible that we can expect everything from the new Russian defense document, including the clauses in the spirit of the “cold war”. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev did not issue any firm statements yet. He occupies a balanced position and thinks that we can hardly expect a large-scale nuclear war, because strategic nuclear forces are to be the factor of deterrence and the guarantee of the country’s security provision. Thus, Russia does not have to increase conventional forces yet.