RUSSIA has renounced a long-standing Soviet policy pledging no first use of nuclear weapons in a war, Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev told reporters yesterday.
According to a new military doctrine unveiled by General Grachev, Russia reserves the possibility to use nuclear weapons against any aggressor, including non-nuclear states allied with a nuclear power.
The Russian military leader also pointedly exempted from the list of potential targets the 157 countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), including the US. The formula, Russian observers say, is clearly meant to put pressure on the neighboring former Soviet republic of Ukraine that has so far refused to give up totally the former Soviet nuclear weapons based on its territory and sign the NPT.
The Russian military is eager to shed declared defense policies of the Soviet era, many of which Western governments asserted were more myth than reality. While renouncing old aims, the Russian Army is also taking up new, perhaps equally ambitious goals. But in post-Soviet Russia, the economic means to carry out these ambitions are shrinking. ``We cannot ask for additional financing,'' Grachev admitted.
The pledge of no first use of nuclear weapons was a long-standing tool of Soviet propaganda, particularly in Western Europe, where it was used to promote demands for the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons based there. The United States, along with other Western nuclear powers, has always reserved the right to use nuclear weapons to respond to a massive Soviet conventional attack on Europe, or elsewhere.
Grachev sharply asserted Russia's policy change, arguing it only put Russia in line with other nuclear powers.
``Is there any other policy in France? Is there any other policy in the United States?'' Grachev asked rhetorically. ``At that time, it was the Soviet Union. Now it is Russia. They are two different states.''
Russian policy now mirrors that of the US in stating that while it does not envision military use of nuclear weapons, they are ``a means of deterrence against the launching of aggression against the Russian Federation and its allies.''
The doctrine, sections of which were read out by Grachev but which will not be published in full, states that Russia will not use nuclear weapons against any state that is a member of the NPT, except in case of an attack on Russia and its allies by a country tied by treaty to a nuclear power or jointly carrying out an attack with a nuclear power.
The Russian defense minister also revealed that another previous principle of Soviet military doctrine has been abandoned - the pledge not to go beyond the country's borders in repelling an attack. The new document, which defines the broad political and military policies of Russia, ``now ... clearly states the armed forces will carry out both defensive and offensive operations,'' he said.
The assertive tone was evident in several other key aspects of the new doctrine, which was adopted at a meeting of the government's Security Council on Tuesday. As outlined by Grachev in a briefing for a small group of Russian and Western reporters yesterday, the doctrine includes:
* The formation of rapid deployment troops for use in local and regional wars that are now considered the main and growing threat to Russian security.
* An expanded role for the Russian Army in peacekeeping operations, in cooperation with the United Nations and in the former Soviet Union, and their deployment at overseas bases.
* Use of Russian troops to help police and Interior Ministry forces quell internal conflicts.
The doctrine also drops an earlier pledge to reduce the size of the Russian Army to 1.5 million men, leaving the door open to a far larger force.
Grachev did not hesitate to strongly express his views on two other key issues: the potential membership of Russia and its former Eastern European satellites in NATO, and the withdrawal of Russian troops from the former Soviet Baltic republics.
Russia is not now considering membership in NATO, Grachev said. ``Why does this military-political alliance have to have new members? And against whom is it aimed?''
Grachev warned that the Russian troops remaining in the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia will not be fully withdrawn until those countries respond to Russian protests over the treatment of the large Russian minority in those countries. ``I, as minister of defense, want to link the pullout of troops with the social protection of the Russian-speaking population,'' he said. ``Why do they have to be second-class citizens?''
The new doctrine appears to reflect the growing strength of the Russian military in the aftermath of the events of early October when troops were used to quash the armed uprising led by Vice President Alexander Rutskoi and parliament chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov. According to Russian press reports, the government was pressing in the discussion of the new doctrine for inclusion of a clause allowing a repeat of that role.
The military has been reluctant, however, to be dragged into internal conflicts. The new doctrine rules out their use to halt ``mass disorders.''
But it says individual Army units can be used to help Interior Ministry troops ``in localizing regions of conflict, ending armed clashes, and separating the warring sides, as well as for protection of strategic facilities.''