Russia adopts a new National Security Strategy

Denys Kolesnyk 3 min read July 16, 2021 630 words

After around a year and a half of work on Russia’s new National Security Strategy (NSS), the process was finally completed on June 2 with the publication of Decree No. 400. This document, signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, replaces the old NSS in force since December 31, 2015.

The publication of the strategic document was delayed, most likely due to the presidential elections in the United States, which consequently gave rise to the need to assess the positions of the new master of the White House and to adjust certain paragraphs of the document and adapt the language.

The positions were confirmed at the Putin-Biden summit in Geneva, and two weeks later the strategy was made public, inscribing the ideological rivalry with the West, embodied by the United States.

Information security at the heart of the document

Moscow’s focus on information issues is nothing new. Moscow was one of the first countries to adopt an Information Security Doctrine in 2000, the current version of which came into force in 2016.

The new National Security Strategy devotes an entire chapter to information security - a significant departure from the previous version. However, this development was not unexpected.

The document sets out what Russia sees and presents as threats to its security. It warns against using information and communication technologies to interfere in the internal affairs of states, as well as “undermining sovereignty and violating territorial integrity”.

The document also notes the danger of cyber attacks, although the term “cyber” does not appear in the NSS, confirming once again the fundamental difference in approach between Russia and the West.

The Strategy sets out a number of tasks to protect the information security of the Russian state, ranging from improving the IT protection of critical infrastructure and increasing the security and stability of the Russian segment of the Internet - the so-called “RuNet”, to developing the forces and means of “information confrontation” (informatsionnoye protivoborstvo)*.

Traditional values versus Westernization

The document focuses on ideological rivalry, and according to its authors, “traditional Russian spiritual, moral, cultural and historical values are being actively attacked by the United States and its allies”.

The logic of civilizational confrontation runs throughout the NSS, where Russia sees itself as “under attack” from the West. Moscow sees this as “informational and psychological sabotage” against it, and sees “Westernization” as a phenomenon that “increases the threat of loss of cultural sovereignty”.

It is worth noting that ten days after the publication of the document, the Deputy Secretary of the Russian Security Council, Aleksandre Venediktov, presented his commentary emphasizing this “civilizational dimension” and informing that particular attention had been paid “to the support of compatriots abroad”. Nor did he omit the preservation of the “pan-Russian” identity and the “strengthening of fraternal ties between the Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian peoples”.

This is also in line with the article published the day before Vladimir Putin commented on the “historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, reiterating Russian historical myths and denying Ukrainian identity and even the Ukrainian state. It is not appropriate, however, to elaborate on this aspect.

Returning to the NSS, another key element that absolutely must be highlighted is the right to retaliate “symmetrically and asymmetrically” to sanctions as well as to activities involving modern information and communication technologies that Moscow reserves for itself. A drastic change of tone, which differentiates this document from the NSS adopted in 2015.

Finally, despite the bellicose tone, the Kremlin fears open conflict with the West. As a result, this NSS is a confrontational document, designed to send a message that Moscow is “ready for conflict”. We can expect increased use of cyber-attacks, Russian informational and psychological operations against Western democracies, as well as a potentially more aggressive policy in what Russia perceives as its “near abroad”.