Letter: Russian military locked in the past

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Sir: In his article 'Russia warns Georgians' (18 September), Andrew Higgins states that Russia moves nearer to 'open intervention in the ethnic wars tormenting its borders'. This is not an isolated suggestion from Moscow. It is essential for the West to understand that this 'threat' fits into a wider concept of the intentions of the Russian General Staff which it set out in its draft military doctrine published in May 1992.

Russia still considers that it is surrounded by powerful enemies, of which the Nato alliance forms the core. The Russian Army, according to Yeltsin's nominated Minister of Defence, General Pavel Grachev, must be rebuilt from scratch, organised not according to old ideas of 'defensive sufficiency' but yet again to be able to repel aggression by its ability to advance beyond the frontiers of Russia, which it regards as dangerously close to the heartland. Grachev said that it was an error to withdraw so quickly from Germany and Poland and states that the Army will not withdraw quickly from the Baltic states.

Russia reserves the right to 'protect the rights of Russian citizens and of persons who identify themselves ethnically and culturally with Russia in former USSR Republics'. This contradicts intentions to abide by the principle of inviolability of existing borders and of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states. Russian literature now distinguishes between 'near frontiers' and 'further away frontiers'; is one to assume that the former may be violated with impunity?

The doctrine also reverts to Stalinist principles in stating that the population must be prepared and organised to fight long wars. Whilst it concedes that the threat of nuclear attack has receded, it states that Russia will not use this weapon as first strike, but in a curious passage reserves the right to use them if even conventional means are used to attack nuclear power stations and weapon sites.

The stated public intentions of the Government to reduce research and production of military hardware is contradicted by others within the military and in the (civilian) State Council on Security that it is essential to retain this capability. Analysis of the Gulf war is used to support the demand to develop and bring into service better weaponry to match that of the victorious West. This is especially sad and reactionary since the defence industries are the best placed to provide much-needed products and systems to rebuild the shattered economy of the country.

This document makes clear that the West has failed to shift Russian military thinking from its past, instinctive concepts of Western aggressive intent. The top echelons of the armed forces are now major players on the Russian political scene. Unless we succeed in changing their perceptions, all efforts to assist Russia to move toward a normal, civilised country must fail.

Yours faithfully,


Department of Mechanical


Imperial College of Science,

Technology and Medicine

London, SW7