Russian top brass ponder Nato invitation: Moscow's military leaders must decide whether to co-operate with the West or withdraw into isolation and confrontation, writes Christopher Bellamy

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The Independent Online
AS PRESIDENT Bill Clinton was explaining Nato's Partnership for Peace initiative to the Russians last week, the Russian General Staff's think- tanks were pondering how to revise their military doctrine.

The choice was stark. Either Russia accepted and joined the PFP - in which case the doctrine would require some modification, possibly very little. Or it retreated into isolation, standing on the sidelines while its neighbours to the west were drawn slowly but inexorably into Nato's sphere of influence. That would mean tearing up their latest doctrine and starting again. The result could be similar to that of the last years of the Soviet Union, based on the assumption of confrontation with the West.

Nato has been waiting for a Russian to come and explain the November 1993 military doctrine since the Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, promised in December, but so far no one has. Andrei Kokoshin, a deputy minister of defence and one of Russia's few civilian defence experts, is the most likely candidate. Nato sources are confident the briefing will take place as soon as the Russians can make it. But many of their concerns may, in any case, be imaginary.

Nato preoccupations include 'what the Russians mean by the 'near abroad' ', the attitude to Russians living in former Soviet republics and questions on nuclear issues.

The Nato analysts may be seeing complexities that are not there. Soviet and Russian military doctrine has never been a secret. The latest Russian doctrine is a common- sense document. It addresses Russian security concerns both within Russia and on the edges, including Russians - defined as 'Russian speakers' - living outside Russia.

It places great emphasis on international agreements, including co-operation between countries' armed forces, as a means of preventing or containing conflict: exactly what PFP, which the Russians have been invited to join, tries to do. The Russian doctrine specifies 'widening partnership and working together on all sides, building trust in the military sphere'. The prevention of war requires 'political-diplomatic, international legal, economic and other non-military means, and collective action for peaceful friendship'.

There is great stress on international law. Russia will, the doctrine concludes, respect 'the UN Charter and international social and legal norms and principles'.

The rub comes right at the end. The doctrine calls for the 'liquidation of military blocs', in addition to 'the removal of war and armed conflict from human life and comprehensive disarmament'. So although Nato's PFP invitation, issued on Monday, fulfils many of the Russian objectives, the fact that it was issued by a huge, successful military alliance that has stated its intention to expand, poses problems. It is therefore possible that excision or revision of the phrase about abolishing military blocs could overcome the difficulty. However, it is unlikely to be that simple.

At one point, the propositions also stress co-operation with other states in the military sphere, 'especially members of the CIS and states of central and eastern Europe'. As originally envisaged, this suggests Russia extending its influence west rather than Nato extending its influence east but, if those other states are co-operating with Nato, why should Russia not, in turn, co-operate with Nato by co-operating with them.

The doctrine was written by two colonels, Anatoly Klimenko of the strategy department of the Central Military- Scientific Research Institute and Pyotr Lapunov of the Department for Force Structure Development, working for Lieutenant-General Sergei Bogdanov in the Russian General Staff.

Militry doctrine, from its emergence in the 1920s until the break-up of the Soviet Union, was defined as a system of views on the character of a future war and the preparation of the state to fight it. It was overwhelmingly concerned with only one kind of war: the big war, literally 'future war', which had the ring of the 'Third World War'. From about 1988, it was redefined as a system of views on the prevention of war. And that thought pervades the latest Russian military doctrine. Extraordinarily, there was little consideration of small wars or 'low intensity conflict'.

Colonels Klimenko and Lapunov realised the Third World War preoccupation was silly. The world has become a far more complicated place since the end of the Cold War, and the latest doctrine is full of references to smaller conflicts, within Russia and on its borders, as well as support for UN peace-keeping operations. It covers the use of Interior Ministry troops and Border Guards as well as the armed forces.

It is revolutionary, and in setting out a few clear principles for peace-keeping operations is ahead of formalised thinking in the West. But the Russian and Soviet military has always been ahead of the game on theory, if sometimes stumbling in practice.

Armed conflicts, the new doctrine says, can take 'a wide range of forms, from irregular enemy formations versus limited Russian military contingents to large groupings at the operational and strategic levels on both sides . . . from light small arms to the most modern armaments and military technology, including high precision weapons.'

The main purpose of the Russian armed forces is 'localisation of foci of tension and curbing military action at the earliest possible stage . . . the most rapid normalisation of the situation, the restoration of law and order, guaranteeing security for society, giving necessary help to the population and the creation of conditions for regulating the conflict by political means.'