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What Russia’s National Security Strategy Has to Say About Asia

For the first time since 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin has updated the National Security Strategy (NSS).

On July 2, Putin signed an Executive Order “On the National Security Strategy.” In a pile of Russian state concepts and strategies, NSS is a key policy document in the security realm, which, according to the law on strategic planning, must be adjusted at least once every six years. Like the U.S. National Security Strategy, it is based on an analysis of external and internal security threats, and lists national interests and strategic priorities in the field of domestic and foreign policy.

The range of the challenges to Russia’s stability addressed in the NSS is wide, from hard security to biosecurity. Curiously enough, the previous strategy foresaw the COVID-19 pandemic, or a similar occurrence: Among the global threats noted in 2015 was the “spread of epidemics, many of which are caused by new, previously unknown viruses.”

The 2021 NSS mirrors Russia’s deteriorating relations with the West, which is mentioned in the text exclusively in negative terms. The current document notes the desire of Western powers to maintain their hegemony in global politics, deliberately erode Russian “traditional values,” and even reconsider Russia’s role and place in world history. The intensity of the confrontation is so high that it significantly narrows the room for maneuver in Russia’s relations with the collective West. Thus, the foreign policy section of the NSS has been greatly reduced. Detailed provisions on Russia’s relations with the United States and the European Union have entirely disappeared in the 2021 version (unlike the previous NSS, which even contained a clause on a possible cooperation with NATO).

Against this background, Moscow’s relations with the two major Asian powers – China and India – are viewed more from pragmatic positions and designated as one of Russia’s foreign policy priorities. At the same time, the drafters of the NSS do not explicitly mention either China or India when talking about Russia’s struggle with the West for moral leadership and competition for the creation of an attractive ideological basis for the future world order. Thus, the RIC (Russia-India-China) triangle is seen in the Kremlin through a regional rather than a global lens.

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As highlighted in the strategy, the partnership with Beijing and New Delhi is necessary for Moscow to create reliable mechanisms in the Asia-Pacific region, to ensure regional stability and security on a non-bloc basis. The 2021 NSS consistently mentions the Asia-Pacific region, which suggests that Russia at the highest level rejects the concept of the Indo-Pacific – or, more specifically, its U.S.-centered version.

This more nuanced and selective approach to the Indo-Pacific in general was demonstrated by Putin during the Q&A session at the 16th Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in October 2019. When asked about the “Japanese concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific strategy,” the Russian president stated that it would make sense to “pool the efforts of the already established agencies, organizations and even concepts” aimed at creating a large Eurasian partnership.

As pointed out in my recent co-authored paper, Putin effectively put the “Indo-Pacific development strategy” on par with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and other multilateral institutions. At the same time, many Russian official statements reject the military component of the Indo-Pacific…

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