MOSCOW – Russia’s armed forces chief said on Saturday Moscow could use nuclear arms pre-emptively if under serious threat, his comments marking no change in defense policy but underlining a renewed military confidence.
Interfax news agency quoted Chief of Staff Yuri Baluyevski as saying also that Russia, rebuilding defenses under President Vladimir Putin after the decline of the immediate post-Soviet years, must guard against “excessive militarization” of society.
He said Russia was not going to attack anyone.
“But we believe all our partners in the international community should understand clearly and have no doubts that in order to protect its and its allies’ sovereignty and territorial integrity, Russia will use its armed forces, including nuclear weapons, and it can do it pre-emptively,” he told a scientific conference in Moscow.
In Soviet times, military doctrine stated Moscow would not use nuclear arms first in any confrontation with the West. With the decline of its conventional forces in the 1990s, Moscow dropped this element of its policy.
President Vladimir Putin, who signed a new doctrine into force in 2000 as acting president, must step down after an election in March likely to be won by his choice of successor, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Western analysts will be looking for any changes of nuance in defense and other policy, though Putin is expected to maintain strong influence.
Moscow is currently at odds with the West over U.S. plans to develop a missile defense shield it fears could make it vulnerable to U.S. missile attack. It also resists Western moves that could lead soon to the breakaway of the Kosovo region of Russian ally Serbia.