Nuclear shift exposes Russia's military weekness

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The Independent Online

Russia's presidential Security Council has approved the final text of the nation's new military doctrine, adopted in response to a perceived growing threat from NATO and from Islamic militants.

The doctrine, which would replace the one adopted in 1993, broadens the Kremlin's authority to use nuclear weapons - a shift that reflects the tremendous weakness of Russia's conventional forces, military experts say.

A draft of the military doctrine was adopted by the Security Council in February after it was introduced by then-acting President Vladimir Putin. The government said it wanted to put some finishing touches on the document before it is signed by Putin and becomes law.

Putin, who chaired Friday's Security Council meeting, said the draft doctrine had been finalized over the past few weeks. He said he would probably sign the document later Friday.

"Today we should put an end to this work," he said.

The new doctrine would allow Russia's leaders to use all existing forces, including nuclear weapons to oppose any attack if other efforts fail to repel the aggressor.

"Russia does not take upon itself an obligation to never use nuclear arms first," Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said when commenting on the new doctrine last month.

The previous doctrine stated that Russia would use nuclear weapons only in cases when its national sovereignty was threatened.

When Putin introduced the doctrine, he said it was prompted in part by NATO's new concept allowing it to make military decisions without approval of the U.N. Security Council.

Many Russians see the Western military alliance as a growing threat, particularly because of NATO's eastward expansion and the airstrikes against Yugoslavia.

Relations between Russia and the United States have also soured over a number of disputes, including Washington's desire to amend the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to protect itself from rogue states like North Korea.

Russia claims that pulling back from the treaty risks upsetting the strategic nuclear balance and could unleash a new arms race.

Besides NATO, Russia is also worried about the threat of Islamic militants, who are battling Russian troops in rebel Chechnya and are feuding with the governments of several former Soviet republics in Central Asia, Putin and other officials have said.