The Weekly Standard: The Putin Doctrine in Action

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Unlike American presidential doctrines, Russian doctrines tend to go unnoticed by the western media or are often dismissed as propaganda. This is curious, as the Russians, and before this the Soviets, are not known for hyperbole in geopolitics as they are in the ideological arena. For example, the Brezhnev Doctrine, which condemned Eastern Europe to Soviet domination was brutally enforced by the Soviet military and KGB. Now there is a Putin doctrine that counters the Obama Doctrine in every way.
Vladimir Putin, Russia

As the Obama doctrine is a tortured pathway of penance, contrition, and risk aversion designed to manage the decline of the United States abroad, the Putin doctrine is a decisive, calculating attempt to imperialize Russian foreign policy in order to re-establish Russia as a strategic and economic hub of power. Announced in the Russian media in 2008, the Putin Doctrine is a clear repudiation of NATO expansion and American influence abroad, combining a multi-pronged strategy to reduce western appetite for an anti-ballistic missile system, engage in coercive diplomacy regarding energy, create a wedge between NATO partners, and use the old Soviet method of using arms control and reduction agreements to achieve Russian national interests. The Putin Doctrine aims to reassert Russian regional hegemony, and uses a nationalistic Orthodox Church and nineteenth-century Tsarist policies as well as old Soviet grand strategy to justify a return to an imperial path, backed by a massive military modernization campaign, including in the area of nuclear weapons.

Perhaps the best case study of the Putin Doctrine is in Syria. He outmaneuvered the president of the United States with his formula to “get rid of” Syrian chemical weapons. This blunted the international criticism of Bashar al-Assad, made Putin look diplomatic and worldly, muted recognition of the massive deaths caused by Assad’s conventional arms, and in the event didn’t even require Assad to get rid of all the chemical weapons that Assad had and continues to use. This was step one. We now are observing step two: the Russian reentry into the Middle East in force.

From 1955 onward, Soviet and then Russian foreign policy relied on Syria for two pillars: it gave Moscow the ability to project power via their naval base in Syria into the Mediterranean, and it gave Russia a beachhead in the region for broader foreign policy goals. This is now enhanced by the Russian additions to the airbase at Latakia. The Russians will be patient and methodical, but they have begun by sending in around nine T-90 battle tanks, 15 howitzers, 35 Armored Personnel Carriers, 200 marines. Satellite images also show Russia is intensifying its military presence through construction at two Syrian military facilities near the Mediterranean coast. Advanced combat aircraft such as the SU-25 and the flying tank Hind helicopter, and the SA-22 air defense system, are in the works, if not already deployed. It’s hard to see that this particular type of military hardware is going to be utilized for the stated goal of Putin, that of fighting the Islamic insurgents.

General Lloyd Austin, commander of US Central Command, recently said regarding the Russians, “We really don’t know what their intentions are.” But it is obvious to anyone looking at Russian actions what their intentions are.

The Russians have replaced the United States in the northern tier of the Middle East and cast themselves as the saviors against Islamic extremism. The next step will be to actively use Russian ground and air forces to enter the battle selectively. There are reports of the Russians preparing to join a counter-offensive with the Syrian 4th Armored Division. The final step will be a permanent and large Russian military presence in Syria. This will be the Russian geopolitical beachhead to project power into the entire region. This was the fundamental reason for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. But unlike Afghanistan the Russians can achieve this goal today, with a fraction of the cost in money, lives, and time. A presence in Syria also puts them in proximity for their future relations with the Iranians. This is the kind of event that signals a geopolitical shift.

The question now is: How far will we allow the Russians to proceed in successfully implementing their doctrine? What will it take for America to act?