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Russia Sees Major Threats from NATO, US

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow, Dec. 18, 2014.
Russian President Vladimir Putin holds his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow, Dec. 18, 2014.
Russia Sees Major Threats from NATO, US
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Russia is changing the way it deals with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, also known as NATO. Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a new military doctrine -- a statement of government policy. The doctrine is said to answer the threat Russia says has resulted from NATO’s expansion and military buildup at its border.

NATO has strengthened its military force in Eastern Europe over the past year because of Russia’s support for rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Russia says this increased activity in and near Eastern Europe is, in its words, a “violation of international law.”

People who have seen the wording of the new doctrine say it appears to deal with the United States. The doctrine criticizes what it calls “acts contrary to international law aimed against the sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity of states.” It says these are threats to “international peace, security, global and regional stability.”

The document also criticizes the West’s new anti-ballistic missile systems. The United States and some of its allies have expanded anti-missile systems in recent years. Russia has opposed the expansion. It says the missile systems weaken international security and affect the nuclear balance of power.

NATO’s reaction

A NATO official told VOA that the alliance is not a threat to Russia or any nation. The official said any moves by NATO to protect its members are clearly defensive and do not violate international law. The official said Russia is violating international law and weakening European security with its decision to support anti-government forces in Ukraine.

The official said NATO wants a good relationship with Russia. But the official said that is only possible if Russia obeys international law -- “including the right of nations to choose their future freely.”

Isolated Russia a threat to Baltic states

Karl Altau is the managing director of the Joint Baltic American National Committee. He says the new doctrine is more evidence that President Putin is seeking to gain a stronger hold on power in Russia. Mr. Altau says the doctrine will isolate, or separate, Mr. Putin and his government from other countries. He says the statement and Mr. Putin’s threats against countries he considers enemies are designed to intimidate or frighten Western nations and pressure them not to take action. Mr. Altau also says the doctrine is designed to increase the support of the Russian people for their country. He says Mr. Putin’s government has been directing propaganda towards the Russian people.

Mr. Altau says the new doctrine is dangerous for its neighbors, including the Baltic countries. He says the Baltics and other European countries, were “absolutely correct” in believing that Russia would work hard to become powerful after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Altau says Mr. Putin’s aggressive military moves affect not just Europe. He notes that for months, Russia has sent military airplanes on training exercises thousands of kilometers from their home bases. He says Russia is now more willing to consider using nuclear weapons either in answer to an attack or as an aggressive move. He says that is extremely dangerous.

Political rights in Russia

Eric Shiraev teaches international relations and political psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Professor Shiraev has written about relations between Russia and the United States. He says Russia has spent almost three years preparing the new military doctrine. But he says not much of it is new. He says it claims there is a reduced threat of nuclear war, but adds that Russia faces increased threats from other conflicts.

Professor Shiraev says strong governments are supposed to write military doctrines. But he says it would be very difficult for Russia to enact the new doctrine.

He says the document suggests there are threats to the Russian government from within the country. He says some officials will use the new doctrine as a reason to further limit political rights in Russia.

Timing of the new doctrine

Longtime observers of Russia are noting the importance of the decision to release the doctrine now. The release came almost a year after conflict began in eastern Ukraine. The unrest followed protests in the capital, Kiev. The demonstration forced Ukraine’s president into exile in Russia. Since then, Russia has taken control of the Crimean peninsula. And Russian-supported rebels have clashed with government troops in eastern Ukraine.

Last month, the pro-Western parliament in Ukraine approved a law that ended the country’s policy of neutrality. Some Ukrainians hope this will lead to European Union and NATO membership for the country.

Russia quickly reacted to the vote. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the move was, in his words, “counterproductive.”

NATO has increased its military presence in Eastern Europe over the past year because of Russia’s support for rebels in eastern Ukraine. The Russian government continues to deny it supports the rebels.

I'm Bob Doughty.

VOA correspondent Isabela Cocoli reported this story from Washington. Christopher Cruise wrote it for VOA Learning English. George Grow edited the story.


Words in this Story

doctrine n. a statement of government policy, especially in international relations

buildup n. an increase in something that occurs as time passes

sovereignty n. a country's right to govern itself

territorial integrity n. the principle under international law that nation-states should not attempt to support secessionist movements or border changes in other nation-states.

isolate v. to put or keep (someone or something) in a place or situation that is separate from others

intimidate v. to make someone afraid; to threaten

counterproductive adj. not helpful; making the thing you want to happen less likely to happen

What is your opinion of Russia’s new military doctrine? Do you believe NATO threatens Russia or do you think Russia is seeking to dominate Europe? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.