The Kremlin decided to scare the US with the “Patrushev doctrine” and animations of Russia’s “miracle weapons”, and Washington finally did take fright and embarked on a real arms race.
Today, one can cite with quite a degree of certainty the names of president Putin’s inner circle, those who make the most important political decisions. The four men especially close to him are Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Security Council; Aleksandr Bortnikov, the director of Federal Security Services; Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s former chief of staff and currently his special representative; and Sergey Naryshkin, director of the Foreign Intelligence Service.
The main characteristics of this group are as follows. First, it has always existed. Furthermore, all its members have shed Dzerzhinsky’s overcoat, and all belong to the same “corporation”. Most importantly, they are united by a single great ambition: to seek revenge for what is considered the 20th-century’s greatest geopolitical catastrophe, the disintegration of the USSR. In this group, Nikolai Patrushev holds a special place.
In January 1992, a group of Leningrad City Council members led by Marina Salye undertook a special investigation into Vladimir Putin’s issue of export permits for raw materials including oil, timber and rare metals. It was recommended that Anatoli Sobchak remove Putin as head of the Committee for External Relations of the mayor’s office. The prosecutor’s office submitted its findings to the state security governing board in Leningrad, headed by Sergei Stepashin. Nikolai Patrushev was directly involved in examining the material. The outcome of the investigation was that the prosecutor’s office found no criminal activity. Thus began the careers of Sergei Stepashin and Nikolai Patrushev, which would lead them to the highest echelons of state institutions.
Escalation of Confrontation by Increasing Nuclear Tensions
In an interview in Izvestia on 14 October 2014, Patrushev—by then secretary of the Russian security council—announced that Russia’s new military doctrine, which was being drawn up under his direction, would include the option of pre-emptive nuclear strikes in regional and local conflicts. On 26 December 2014 president Putin confirmed a new draft of the doctrine, in which the previously existing wording concerning nuclear weapons had been carried over unchanged. It seemed that Patrushev’s proposal had not been accepted.
However, since 2015 nuclear blackmail has become one of the central instruments of Russian foreign policy. One should keep in mind that the military doctrine is a document meant for journalists. However, what is of ultimate importance is Russia’s defence plan for 2016–20, which is kept completely secret (even from the military itself), and which includes specific determinations for the use of the military, including in the Western Military District, as well as the option of using nuclear weapons in various circumstances.
The so-called Patrushev doctrine is, in brief, the escalation of confrontation by increasing nuclear tensions. Let us suppose that Russia provokes a military conflict with one of the Baltic states. Recognising the advantage of NATO’s regular forces, it delivers a low-intensity nuclear strike and calls on its enemy to cease fire and capitulate.
Such a threat by Putin has been carefully analysed by the Pentagon. This led to the so-called Pompeo doctrine, the major standpoints of which were set out in the 2018 US National Defense Strategy, confirmed by James Mattis, the then US defence secretary. In April 2018, Matthew Kroenig, an analyst who had previously served in high-ranking positions in the CIA and the Department of Defense, stated in a report which, inter alia, addressed the nuclear strategy of “escalate to de-escalate”, that NATO would have four options in such a situation: to capitulate; to continue a war strictly limited to conventional forces; to respond with a limited nuclear strike; and to initiate full-scale nuclear war. Kroenig suggested that the third option be added to NATO’s official military doctrine.
In February 2020 the Pentagon announced that the US had created and adopted a new type of nuclear weapon: W67-2 low-intensity (about five kilotons) warheads for submarine-launched Trident II (D5) intercontinental ballistic missiles. At the beginning of 2020 the Ohio-class nuclear-missile-armed submarine USS Tennessee left Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia to patrol the Atlantic Ocean.
Experts confirm that only one or two of the 20 Trident II missiles—which are on all 14 Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines—are equipped with W67-2 warheads. These missiles may each carry one or more warheads. The remaining 18 missiles on submarines continue to carry the 90-kiloton W76-1 and 455-kiloton W88 warheads. In standard set-up, every such missile can carry up to eight warheads.
At the end of February, the US organised exercises at a military base in Nebraska in the course of which an exchange of “limited” nuclear strikes with Russia was modelled. Pentagon chief Mark Esper was present. The scenario included an extraordinary situation in Europe in which conventional war had broken out with Russia, which then decided to use a low-intensity nuclear weapon against an asset in a NATO member state. In the exercises, the US imitated a nuclear strike in response.
The need to adopt W76-2 weapons was explained in February 2018 in the US Nuclear Posture Review. It was reported that nuclear weapons could be used during “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks”, especially if these involved the infrastructure, population or control centres of the US itself or its allies. Such a clearly articulated option of responding with a limited nuclear attack was intended to deter Moscow from initiating a nuclear strike.
After conferring with Vladimir Putin, Patrushev reported on 22 November 2019 that additional modifications might be made to the military doctrine. Heads of the Russian armed forces were told to present their reports on the structure and development of weapons by 1 July 2020.
It is widely believed that special attention should be paid to the presentation by Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff, at the annual general assembly of the Academy of Military Science in March 2019, particularly the phrases “strategy of active defence” and “strategy of limited action to defend and promote national interests beyond Russian territory”. However, Gerasimov does not use the expression “waging limited nuclear war”. This year Russia is planning to amend its secret defence plan for 2021–25, and it is possible that this will include the “Patrushev Doctrine” as well as the new nuclear terminology.
Continuously Accelerating Arms Race
Corrections to the military doctrine are being made in the context of a continuously accelerating arms race.
Mikhail Budnichenko, director of the shipyard Sevmash, reported that in 2020 it would deliver the Yasen-class nuclear submarine Belgorod, equipped with the Poseidon underwater attack drone, to the navy.
In 2018 the US Office of Naval Research announced the development of Project CLAWS, an autonomous underwater weapons system which, thanks to artificial intelligence, is capable of making independent decisions to attack without human intervention. During the next two years the submarine will undergo testing, and by 2023 it should be included in the US arsenal. In fiscal year 2021 (beginning 1 October 2020) the total cost of developing this nuclear weapon will be some 26 billion dollars.
In other words, the Kremlin decided to scare the US with the “Patrushev doctrine” and animations of Russia’s “miracle weapons”, and Washington finally did take fright and embarked on a real arms race.
The calculating reader will now grab a pencil and start adding things up. The GDP of the United States is 21.5 trillion dollars; Russia’s is 1.6 trillion. The US defence budget is about 750 billion dollars; Russia’s is 10 billion. US exports of high technology total 156 billion dollars; Russia’s 10 billion. One can do several things with these numbers—add them or subtract them—but the result will be the same: 1991. This is the year the “Cold War” ended—or, to use Putin’s words, the year of the 20th century’s greatest geopolitical catastrophe. Granted, to get perfect and unarguable results, one should add in Putin’s “geopolitical audacity” (Crimea, Ukraine, Syria …) as a factor. But this will not really change the final result, though it adds a bit of flexibility to the calculation procedure.