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New Russian military doctrine names NATO as No. 1 threat (+video)

New Russian military doctrine, naming NATO as the nation's number one threat, comes amid tensions over Ukraine, and what the Kremlin sees as US-led efforts to isolate and weaken Russia.

Russia identified NATO as the nation's No. 1 military threat and raised the possibility of a broader use of precision conventional weapons to deter foreign aggression under a new military doctrine signed by President Vladimir Putin on Friday.

NATO flatly denied it is a threat to Russia, and accused Moscow of undermining European security.

The new doctrine, which comes amid tensions over Ukraine, reflected the Kremlin's readiness to take a stronger posture in response to what it sees as U.S.-led efforts to isolate and weaken Russia.

The paper maintains the provisions of the previous, 2010 edition of the military doctrine regarding the use of nuclear weapons.

It says Russia could employ nuclear weapons in retaliation for the use of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction against the country or its allies, and also in the case of aggression involving conventional weapons that "threatens the very existence" of the Russian state.

But for the first time, the new doctrine says Russia could use precision weapons "as part of strategic deterrent measures." The document does not spell out when and how Moscow could resort to such weapons.

Examples of precision conventional weapons include ground-to-ground missiles, air- and submarine-launched cruise missiles, guided bombs and artillery shells.

Among other things, the paper mentions the need to protect Russia's interests in the Arctic, where the global competition for its vast oil and other resources has been heating up as the Arctic ice melts.

Russia has relied heavily on its nuclear deterrent and lagged far behind the U.S. and its NATO allies in the development of precision conventional weapons. However, it has recently sped up its military modernization, buying large numbers of new weapons and boosting military drills. It has also sharply increased air patrols over the Baltics.

Earlier this month, Russia flexed its muscle by airlifting state-of-the art Iskander missiles to its westernmost Kaliningrad exclave bordering NATO members Poland and Lithuania. The missiles were pulled back to their home base after the drills, but the deployment clearly served as a demonstration of the military's readiness to quickly raise the ante in a crisis.

Russia has threatened to permanently station the Iskander missiles, which can hit targets up to 480 kilometers (about 300 miles) away with high precision, in retaliation for U.S.-led NATO's missile defense plans. The Iskander can be fitted with a nuclear or conventional warhead.

On Friday, Moscow successfully test-fired the RS-24 Yars intercontinental ballistic missile from the Plesetsk launchpad in northwestern Russia.

The 29-page doctrine outlines top threats to Russia's security and possible responses. It is the document's third edition since Putin was first elected in 2000.

The doctrine places "a buildup of NATO military potential and its empowerment with global functions implemented in violation of international law, the expansion of NATO's military infrastructure to the Russian borders" atop the list of military threats to Russia.

It stresses that the deployment of foreign military forces on the territory of Russia's neighbors could be used for "political and military pressure."

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu responded by saying in a statement that the alliance "poses no threat to Russia or to any nation."

"Any steps taken by NATO to ensure the security of its members are clearly defensive in nature, proportionate and in compliance with international law," she said. "In fact, it is Russia's actions, including currently in Ukraine, which are breaking international law and undermining European security."

Russia's relations with the West have plummeted to their lowest level since Cold War times, and NATO cut off ties to Moscow after it annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March. Ukraine and the West have also accused Moscow of fueling the pro-Russia insurgency in eastern Ukraine with troops and weapons, accusations the Kremlin has denied.

In 2010, NATO adopted its current so-called Strategic Concept. Without specifying which countries might be on the receiving end, the document states that "deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element" of NATO's overall strategy.

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who had been critical of Putin in the past but has strongly backed the Kremlin in its dispute with the West, said Friday that Russia's actions were a response to U.S. and NATO moves.

"I think the president is right to a large extent when he draws attention to a particular responsibility of the United States," he said in Moscow.

The U.S. and the European Union have slapped sanctions against Moscow, which have deepened Russia's economic woes and contributed to a sharp devaluation of the ruble, which lost about half its value this year.

The economic crisis could challenge Russia's ambitious weapons modernization program, but so far the Kremlin has shown no intention of scaling back.

The program envisages the deployment of new nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles, the construction of nuclear submarines and a sweeping modernization of Russia's conventional arsenals.

Russia has been particularly concerned about the so-called Prompt Global Strike program under development in the U.S., which would be capable of striking targets anywhere in the world in as little as an hour with deadly precision.

The new doctrine mentioned the U.S. program as a major destabilizing factor along with NATO missile defense plans.

Russian officials have said that Moscow is working on a response to the new U.S. weapons, but have released no details.

Alexander Konovalov, a Moscow-based independent military expert, said the doctrine's mention of using precision conventional weapons as a "strategic deterrent" sounds vague, but could be a reference to new weapons.

"It may mean the development of weapons systems, which would make it impossible for NATO to plan a surprise first strike, because it would draw a powerful retaliation," he said. "It would allow (Russia) to enforce its will on the enemy without using nuclear warheads."

John-Thor Dahlburg in Brussels contributed to this report.

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