Russia's national security strategy (2021) – Strengthening confrontational sentiment and siege mentality


By Yuri Kogan | August, 2021

Vladimir Putin and the Russian military's commanders
Photo:| CC BY 4.0


The National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation approved by President Putin on July 2, 2021 (hereinafter: the 2021 strategy) is a fundamental document that outlines Russia's national security policy in its broadest terms, including fortifying its capabilities both domestically and externally. The document aims to define and underscore the challenges that Russia is expected to address in the long range, while protecting its strategic values and priorities against attempts to limit its actions or even jeopardize them by external players, such as "the United States and its allies".


Historically speaking, this document replaces another by the same name from 2015, which, in turn, is the revised version of the one approved in 2009 and was the first to be so entitled. A previous document, entitled The National Security Concept of the Russian Federation and approved in January 2000 by Vladimir Putin as acting President of the Russian Federation, was the revised version of the 1997 document approved by President Yeltsin.


The 2021 strategy is being published against a backdrop of rising tension between Russia and the West, manifest, inter alia, by treading on the brink of military friction in the Black Sea area, as recently demonstrated in two separate incidents between the British (HMS Defender) and Dutch (HNLMS Evertsen) military sea vessels of the Russian coast guard and combat aircraft when the former traveled through waters defined by Russia as its own territorial ones by virtue of its annexation of Crimea. The 2021 strategy continues and even heightens the confrontational approach reflected by the 2015 strategy, shifting from concepts of a "global competition" between Russia and the West to perceptions bordering on express hostility toward the West, which, at times, even crosses this line.


The document conducts an oppositional examination into Russia's place vis-à-vis the West, which is striving, according to the strategy's authors, to create global hegemony at Russia's expense while placing its national interests and the values underlying its society at risk, as well as weakening the mechanisms set by international organizations.


For the first time ever, in a fundamental strategic policy document, the 2021 strategy mentions the need to protect Russia's spiritual and religious values against the explicit threat posed by the United States "and its allies".


Unlike the 2015 strategy, areas such as internal affairs, the economy and society are higher on the list of national security challenges than external security. The section on "non-military" challenges to Russia's integrity and sovereignty includes the West's and multinational societies' use of economic sanctions and "unfair competition" in an attempt to limit Russian actions and deny it its place on the international arena, as well as the use of information technology tools designed to encourage divisiveness and undermine Russian society's unity and cohesiveness.


In reference to the military challenges, the 2021 strategy mentions the growing feasibility of a military conflict while emphasizing the threat posed by NATO to Russia and its allies. According to the Strategy, this threat stems from NATO's ongoing growth in power in regions near Russia's territorial borders, considered by Russia to be its areas of influenced often referred to as ‘near abroad’, and the continued development by the U.S. of global missile defense systems.


For the first time, cyberspace as a medium is addressed separately as an arena for subversive military activity against Russia in a manner that reinforces the narrative of a multifrontal siege on Russia in various areas – military, economic, social and value-based – that has been mentioned by President Putin in his speeches on numerous occasions.


The 2021 strategy outlines ways in which Russia could address the challenges and threats it faces due to actions by "destructive external elements". These are based on strengthening Russian economy and society by tightening the central government's hold on all areas of Russian life, limiting the use of the U.S. Dollar as a currency in Russia's foreign trade activities, and increasing Russia's collaboration with India and China, while making no mention whatsoever of the cooperation with the West included in previous versions of this document.


The policy outlined also contains an explicit threat when stating Russia's right to respond to threats by "hostile external elements" to its territorial integrity, independence, and national interests, including with regard to the economic sanctions regime imposed on it, whereby it may take both symmetrical and asymmetrical steps against such elements.


A review of the development of Russia's national security policy between 2000 and 2021 as formulated in its national security strategy documents and approved by the various Putin governments indicates that it is a "Putin Doctrine" characterized by a gradual strengthening of the oppositional vector vis-à-vis the West at the expense of the vector of cooperation, to the point of eliminating the latter altogether, while underscoring Russia's struggle to maintain its independence and role as a major actor on the global arena under the United States’ and its allies' continuous threat.






Authored by Yuri Kogan, a research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS), Reichman University.  



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