Russia's `New Doctrine'

A 23-PAGE document leaked in Moscow to Isvestia earlier this month outlines an expansive new Russian military doctrine. Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev's renunciation of the old Soviet ``no first use'' policy on nuclear weapons got the most play in the Western press. But General Grachev also outlined a role for the Army in Russia's ``near abroad'' - the former Soviet empire - and said the Army would for the first time be free to enter domestic disputes in Russia.

The new doctrine is not cause for instant alarm. It is partly the posturing expected from generals suffering from lack of funds and smarting from a general retrenchment. Dropping the nuclear no-first-use policy simply puts Russia in line with similar policies in the West. As Secretary of State Warren Christopher noted in recent hearings, Grachev ``obviously has a morale problem on his hands.''

But as sentiment builds in parts of Moscow for the old empire, including dangerous talk about a reincorporated Ukraine, it would be unwise to simply dismiss this new doctrine. Grachev's announcement offers important insight into both Moscow and Washington.

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For Moscow, it shows how chaotic authority at the top has become. Much of what the Russian defense minister said, including statements about not withdrawing from the Baltics, contradicts promises made by Russian President Boris Yeltsin to US officials.

The doctrine shines a light into the Russian military mentality and suggests much of that mentality has not changed since the hammer and sickle were removed from the Kremlin.

As for Washington, US policy as outlined by Secretary Christopher and Ambassador Strobe Talbott remains firmly behind Boris Yeltsin and democratization. In general, this is the right path. Yet a new military doctrine, and Mr. Yeltsin's recent canceling of elections, suggest Washington must not get too comfortable in its assumptions. During the cold war it was considered wrong, naive, or misguided to talk about the possibility of change and reform in the Soviet Union. Yet they came. Just so, the pendulum must not now swing so far in the other direction that US officials neglect potentially disturbing developments, covering them over with a belief that a tide of ``democracy'' will correct corruption and lust for power.

The White House should back Yeltsin strongly and visibly. But it must also follow through on the implications of a new and decidedly undemocratic military doctrine.

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