Today, Russia's military chief of staff, General Yuri Baluyevsky, said that Russia will launch preemptive nuclear attacks to defend itself. ("We do not intend to attack anyone, but we consider it necessary for all our partners in the world community to clearly understand ... that to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia and its allies, military forces will be used, including preventively, including with the use of nuclear weapons")
The policy isn't new: Russia has said it would use nukes first since 2000.
What is a bit unusual is that an official specifically mentioned nuclear weapons. Russian leaders usually aren't quite that open.
The Associated Press story, following journalistic custom, quotes experts to express opinions. Apparently, we're supposed to see Baluyevsky's remarks as a re-statement of Russian policy: a policy born out of concern over the threat of western aggression.
- Retired General Vladimir Dvorkin
("He was restating the doctrine in his own words")
- Alexander Golts
("Baluyevsky's statement means that, as before, we cannot count on our conventional forces to counter aggression ... as before, the main factor in containing aggression against Russia is nuclear weapons")
- Pavel Felgenhauer
("We threaten the West that in any kind of serious conflict, we'll go nuclear almost immediately")
This is 2008, though, almost a decade into the 21st century, and a little over sixteen years since the Cold War ended. (I'm marking the end of the Cold War as the dissolution of the Soviet Union: December 25, when Boris Yeltsin called the White House, or December 31, 1991, when the Kremlin's hammer and sickle came down for the last time.)
I suppose that Russia may believe that "western aggression" is a real threat. The Associated Press may see the global situation in Cold War terms, too.
However, I think that at least some Russian leaders may recognize that they've got a problem a little more immediate than invasion by capitalistic, imperialistic, warmonger Yankee aggressors.
The Russian government has been helping Iran with their "civilian" nuclear program. People over there must have a pretty good idea of how much, or how little, it would take for the Ayatollahs to start building nuclear bombs.
Although Russia doesn't share a border with Iran, there's nothing but Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea, or Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan between Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran. If I were a Russian, and responsible for that nation's security, I'd be concerned that the Islamic leaders of Iran might decide that it was time for Russia to convert or die.
Since Iran has a cruise missile (the X-55 LACM) with a range of 3,000 kilometers, quite a bit of southern Russia could be hit by Iran. Once Iran has the 10,000 kilometer Shahab-6 in its inventory, Muscovites would have a more personal interest in Iranian nukes.
Call me biased, but I don't assume that America and the west are always the first thing that people think about.