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|Moscow prepared to stage pre-emptive strikes
Sydney Morning Herald
While taking pains to play down possible new nuclear threats to NATO, the Kremlin has made it clear it is prepared to use pre-emptive strikes against perceived threats and will continue to mobilise Russia's vast nuclear arsenal to deter a new generation of low-level instability on its borders.
A wide-ranging new doctrine for Russian military preparedness, presented to NATO generals in Colorado Springs, Colorado, last week, states that large-scale war with the US or NATO has for the first time "been excluded from the spectrum of the most probable conflicts".
Yet it warns that Russia must be prepared for a growing number of conflicts - such as the US-led war in Iraq - waged outside the authority of the United Nations, and wars increasingly motivated as much by economics or the interests of what it termed "big transnational companies" as by national security.
Terrorism and instability in the former Soviet states along its borders are seen as Russia's greatest military peril, and Kremlin officials have emphasised that the kind of pre-emptive strikes upon which the US has relied in Iraq - the subject of substantial criticism from Moscow - are potential tools for the Russian armed forces as well.
The Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov, told a recent meeting of the Russian military leadership in Moscow: "The specifics of contemporary external threats require that the Russian armed forces be able to perform various duties in various regions of the world. We cannot absolutely rule out pre-emptive use of force if this is dictated by Russia's interests or its commitments to allies."
Russia raised alarm bells in the West last week when it warned that Moscow would expect NATO to follow through on present trends towards co-operation - a signal that Russia still worries about NATO expansion on its borders, particularly with the invitation to former Soviet states in the Baltic to join its ranks.
"If NATO remains a military alliance with today's offensive military doctrine," the Russian policy says, "a radical restructuring of the Russian defence planning and of the principles of the Russian armed forces development, including altering of Russia's nuclear position, will be required."
Mr Ivanov told NATO generals last week that Russia did not see the North Atlantic alliance as an aggressor. A senior Russian military official said in Moscow that Russia's "top priority task is to preserve peace and prevent a nuclear war".
"But if there's an aggression against Russia, the Russian Federation reserves the right to carry hostilities over to the territory of other countries, because it is clear that defence does not resolve all issues," he said.
He said it "would be incorrect to talk about a new nuclear policy of the Russian Federation".
Yet at a meeting in Moscow to unveil the doctrine President Vladimir Putin noted that Russia still had a large reserve of UR-100 NU land-based heavy strategic missiles, each capable of carrying several nuclear warheads, which have an "unmatched" ability to defeat missile defence systems.