• Position : Coordinator, Nonproliferation & Russia Program – Junior Research Fellow, Yaderny Kontrol edtor
  • Affiliation : PIR Center
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The Security Index Occasional Paper Series came out with a paper "Retaliation Inevitable: Explaining the Updated Russian Nuclear Doctrine" by Sergey Semenov


MOSCOW. JULY 6, 2020. PIR PRESS. The Security Index Occasional Paper Series came out with the report "Retaliation Inevitable: Explaining the Updated Russian Nuclear Doctrine" by Sergey Semenov.

On June 2nd President Putin signed an executive order, which approved the Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence. Even without considering the contents of the “Basic Principles”, it would not be an exaggeration to say that it is a development of major importance since it is the first time in Russian history that such a detailed nuclear policy planning document is released publicly. The previous version of the “Basic Principles” was signed into force in 2010 together with the 2010 Military Doctrine and was classified, which enabled some American experts to speculate on the secret Russian nuclear policy being different from the official doctrine.

The present occasional paper seeks to provide a comprehensive analysis of the key provisions of the documents and put them into perspective.

Key findings:

  • The “Basic Principles” are a step in the right direction since from now on the expert community has something to proceed from in the debate on the Russian nuclear policy. The need for such a document codifying the guidelines for nuclear deterrence policy is clearly visible from the portion of the U.S. 2018 Nuclear Posture Review dealing with Russia. Since there was no detailed official nuclear doctrine, the room for misinterpretation was exploited (deliberately or not) by those sticking to the idea of Russian aggressiveness in the nuclear realm. 
  • The advocates of the “escalate-to-deescalate” strategy will certainly regard this article as a corroboration of their claims. The counterargument is the beginning of Article IV positing that “state policy on nuclear deterrence is defensive by nature... guarantees protection of national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the State”. In other words, Russia may indeed consider using nuclear weapons to deescalate the conflict, but only in case it was attacked first, and it is unable to preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country with conventional means.
  • Article XV lays forward the principles of nuclear deterrence – first and foremost compliance with international defense and arms control agreements. It appears that this not just lip service to arms control – the Russian strategists firmly believe that deterrence benefits from predictability. As one of former heads of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces Staff noted at a PIR Center event speaking of the possible demise of the New START Treaty, the military vividly remembers the hot days of the Cold War when an American pre-emptive strike was expected and does not want this experience to repeat.
  • The unclarities of the document might be mitigated through a series of briefings on the Russian deterrence policy (both nuclear and non-nuclear) as well as through the P-5 dialogue on nuclear doctrines. Without a substantial discussion within the P-5 framework the document`s contribution to the consolidation of strategic stability may be limited.