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What you need to know about Russia’s 2021 national security strategy

Source: Meduza
Artem Geodakyan / TASS

President Vladimir Putin signed off on a new national security strategy for Russia on July 3. This latest version builds upon the ideas contained in the previous strategy, which was signed into law on December 31, 2015. Even then, Putin proclaimed that Russia is surrounded by enemies who are trying to infringe upon the country using methods ranging from military pressure to the spread of extremist ideas. But the latest charter goes further still. Indeed, it recognizes an even wider range of national security threats, including (but not limited to) the online activities of transnational corporations, the “Westernization of culture,” the imposition of foreign moral values, and the destructive impact of profanity on the Russian language. Meduza unpacks what you need to know about Russia’s new national security strategy.

Building on 2015

Moscow’s 2015 national security strategy outlined the idea that the West is putting permanent pressure on Russia in order to undermine the country’s military, foreign policy, economic, and cultural achievements. 

As stated in the 2015 document: 

“The Russian Federation's implementation of an independent foreign and domestic policy is giving rise to opposition from the United States and its allies, who are seeking to retain their dominance in world affairs. The policy of containing Russia that they are implementing envisions the exertion of political, economic, military, and informational pressure on it.”

Moscow decided to deal with this pressure by:

  • Opposing the U.S. and its allies, as well as their armies and intelligence agencies, and persons who are trying to orchestrate “color revolutions” in Russia;
  • Developing the country and increasing its self-reliance.

The 2021 national security strategy takes these same ideas up a notch, outlining the necessity of:

  • Fighting not only against extremists who undermine Russia’s constitutional order, but also against those who are spreading Western influence in the country — including the West’s cultural and ethical influence;
  • Russia becoming even more self-reliant: according to the authors of the strategy, Russia should build itself a new, self-sufficient, high-tech economy with a low share of hydrocarbons in its energy production. In other words, Russia should gradually transition away from an economy based on fossil fuels and, without external help, catch up with the West in terms of technological development.

Taking on new ‘threats’

Defense

The threat of a military clash between Russia and its enemies has grown over the past five and half years, the 2021 strategy says. In particular it underscores that Russia is under increased threat due to NATO drawing closer to its borders and the development of Washington’s missile defense system is “destroying [its] system of strategic stability.” 

As stated in the document:

“The strengthening of military dangers and military threats to the Russian Federation is facilitated by attempts to exert pressure on Russia, its allies, and partners, the build-up of [NATO’s] military infrastructure near Russian borders, the intensification of intelligence activities, and practicing the use of large military formations and nuclear weapons against the Russian Federation.”

To counteract these threats, the Russian government plans to develop new means of strategic deterrence (read: to create new means of delivery of nuclear weapons), as well as increasing mobilization readiness by:

  • Preparing the economy, government agencies, and the Armed Forces to protect the state against armed attack and meet the needs of the state and the population during wartime;
  • Offering military-patriotic education and preparing citizens for military service.

Economy

The 2015 strategy reported on the Russian authorities’ successful development of the economy and introduction of the “import substitution” program. These successes, the document’s authors claimed, provoked jealousy from the West.

The destruction of imported cheese at a landfill in the Belgorod region in 2015
Rosselkhoznadzor / TASS

By comparison, the 2021 national security strategy talks less about successes and more about the world being plunged into a deep recession (contrary to the fact that as of July 2021, many of the world’s economies have generally recovered from the coronavirus crisis). Whereas previously, economic growth was considered part of the foundations of Russia’s national security, the new strategy describes growth (at a rate exceeding the world average) as (an apparently distant) goal to strive for. Indeed, it’s not the most important aim: “strengthening the country’s economic sovereignty” and economic resilience in the face of “external and internal threats” both take precedence. 

To strengthen Russia’s economic sovereignty, the government needs to:

  • Develop “the national infrastructure of financial markets, including payment infrastructure” and overcome “dependence on third countries in this sphere”;
  • Reduce foreign trade in dollars, as well as dependence on imports (including high-tech imports);
  • Increase the share of investments in the economy — without the help of foreign direct investment. On the contrary, the government is expected to “strengthen control over foreign investment in strategically important sectors.”

In addition, in the long run, oil and other raw materials shouldn’t form the basis of the Russian economy. Instead, the government needs to ensure “the restructuring of the national economy on a modern technological basis, [and] its diversification and development on the basis of the use of low-carbon technologies.”

Science and Technology

The 2021 national security strategy outlines plans to make Russia a leader in scientific and technological development, while keeping this development under state control.

The plan to achieve this includes:

  • Attracting the “world’s best scientists” to work in Russia and establishing “centers for international cooperation in the fields of science and technology” in the country. (That said, the security forces will monitor both the scientific field and the researchers working in it, to prevent Russian technologies and research developments from being “illegally transferred” abroad);
  • Having civilian science work in close cooperation with the defense complex;
  • Promoting innovation in business and research, as well as creating a “unified state system” for managing scientific, technological, and innovative activities.

Generally speaking, the main goal of Russia’s scientific and technological development is “to ensure the country’s technological independence.”

Information Security

This section of the national security strategy includes the most changes. It’s now fully in line with the “spirit of the times.”

Among other things, it says that:

  • Russia’s enemies include international tech companies that attack the country by “spreading unverified information” and blocking what the state considers socially important information.
  • “A distorted view of historical facts, as well as events taking place in the Russian Federation and in the world, are imposed on Internet users for political reasons.”
  • “The use of information and communication technologies is expanding to interfere in the internal affairs of states, undermine their sovereignty, and violate [their] territorial integrity.”
  • Internet sites contain “materials from terrorist and extremist organizations,” as well as “calls for” mass riots, carrying out extremist activities, and participation in illegal public events — “the main target of this destructive influence is the youth.”
  • Anonymity, which is ensured through the use of information and communication technologies, facilitates the commission of crimes.”
  • “The use of foreign information technologies and telecommunication equipment increase the vulnerability of Russian information resources […] to influence from abroad.”

As such, the government needs to strengthen Russia’s sovereignty in the information sphere through a wide range of vague measures, including:

  •  “The development of forces and means of information confrontation”;
  • “Improving the means and methods of ensuring information security through the use of advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence technologies and quantum computing”;
  • And “bringing reliable information about the Russian Federation's domestic and foreign policy to the Russian and international community.” 

Cultural and spiritual values

According to the 2021 strategy, traditional Russian spiritual and moral values include, first and foremost:

  • Life, dignity, human rights and freedoms;
  • Patriotism, citizenship, service to the Fatherland and responsibility for its fate;
  • High moral ideals, a strong family;
  • Constructive work;
  • Priority of the spiritual over the material;
  • Humanism, mercy, and justice;
  • Collectivism.

At the same time, “traditional Russian spiritual, moral, cultural, and historical values are being actively attacked by the U.S. and its allies, as well as by transnational corporations.” Allegedly, “they have an informational and psychological influence on individual, group, and public consciousness by spreading social and moral attitudes that contradict the traditions, convictions, and beliefs of the peoples of the Russian Federation.”

Russia plans to defend itself using the following measures:

  • Drawing up a state order on the creation of works literature and fine art, as well as cinema, theater, television, video, and online productions, and the provision of services, aimed at preserving traditional Russian culture and spiritual and moral values, protecting historical truth and preserving historical memory, and ensuring “quality control” over the implementation of this state order.
  • Protecting and supporting Russian as the federation’s state language, strengthening control over the observance of the rules of the modern Russian literary language, and suppressing public performances and the distribution through the mass media of productions that contain words and expressions that don’t meet the specified linguistic norms (including profanity). 
  • Protecting Russian society from the expansion of external ideologies and values, and destructive external informational and psychological influence. 
  • Providing spiritual, moral, and patriotic education based on historical and modern examples, developing the collective foundations of Russian society, and supporting socially significant initiatives, including charitable projects and volunteer movements.
  • Enhancing Russia’s role in the global humanitarian, cultural, scientific, and educational sphere.

International cooperation

This section remained largely unchanged. Russia still plans to protect those whose sovereignty is being encroached upon by the West: it promises its allies and partners support in “neutralizing attempts at external interference in their internal affairs.”

In addition, the Russian government plans to:

  • Provide support to compatriots living abroad in the exercise of their rights, including the right to preserve an all-Russian cultural identity;
  • Strengthen fraternal ties between the Russian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian peoples.

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Text by Dmitry Kuznets

Abridged translation by Eilish Hart

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