In a piece published on July 12 by the Russian online newspaper Vzglyad, Evgeniy Krutikov, a political scientist with military experience, claimed a recent unclassified U.S. intelligence report on Russian military capabilities stated that Russia was seeking to provoke a nuclear war.
The report in question is a military assessment released June 28 by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), titled “Russia Military Power: Building a Military to Support Great Power Aspirations.”
According to the DIA, the report is the first in a series of unclassified assessments of military threats facing the United States, and it analyzes the capabilities of the Russian military.
Krutikov wrote of the DIA report: “The conclusion reached is quite dangerous, however: ‘Moscow’s long-term goal is building a military prepared to expand the range of conflict from local war through regional conflict to a strategic conflict that will lead to a nuclear exchange.’ That is to say that Russia is deliberately provoking a nuclear war.”
In fact, the DIA report states that Moscow seeks to create a military capable of engaging in different types of conflict, including a nuclear one, if necessary. Here is the exact quote: “Moscow’s long-term goal is building a military prepared to conduct the range of conflicts from local war through regional conflict to a strategic conflict that could result in massive nuclear exchange.”
Likewise, a recent analysis of Russia’s military doctrine prepared for the European Parliament’s Sub-Committee on Security and Defense states that the focus of Russia’s military doctrine and strategy “has shifted from the accumulation of seemingly unlimited military power to devising new concepts that integrate conventional, nuclear, and unconventional elements of military power in order to build a complex toolkit for facing various contingencies.”
Moreover, the DIA report itself emphasizes that Russia is actually seeking to increase its reliance on conventional capability and deterrence as part of its military doctrine and strategy, first and foremost by developing precision strike weaponry – a capability Russia still lacks.
“One of Russia’s biggest hurdles since the dissolution of the former Soviet Union has been its need to rely heavily on its nuclear forces to deter aggression, resulting in its stated willingness for first-use of nuclear weapons,” the DIA report states. “Russia has been building its conventional force capability along with modernizing its nuclear forces to create a more balanced military. Moscow has stressed development of conventional precision-strike weapons, a critical gap in its inventory.”
Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper acknowledged as much in a piece it published on July 3. The article’s author cited the above quote from the DIA report and stated that “the DIA, on the whole, provides an objective assessment of Moscow’s growing military might.”
The DIA report further underscores the importance Russia places on developing conventional forces as part of its deterrence posture: “The concepts of readiness, non-nuclear deterrence, and unacceptable damage are closely linked in Russian thinking; Russian military leaders judge that a highly ready non-nuclear force, able to inflict unacceptable damage on an aggressor—including against its economy— at any moment, is its own deterrent.”
Russia, of course, is also modernizing its nuclear forces. But it is cognizant of the “strategic coupling” of U.S. anti-missile defense and prompt global strike capabilities as well as the limited efficiency of nuclear weapons in deterring conventional threats – factors that undermine the rationale for nuclear-based deterrence.