During the current Ukrainian crisis, when Russian intentions are opaque, it may be useful to recall significant clauses from the most recent (2010) version of “The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation.”
The document is best known because in it, for the first time, Russia reserved the right to first use of nuclear weapons in a conventional conflict “when the very existence of the state is under threat.” Presumably, that is not a danger in the current situation—but it signals a muscular stance toward military policy.
The 2010 Military Doctrine offers this overall strategic assessment:
7. World development at the present stage is characterized by a weakening of ideological confrontation, a lowering of the level of economic, political and military influence of certain states (groups of states) and alliances and an increase in the influence of other states with ambitions for all-embracing domination, multipolarity, and the globalization of diverse processes.
[D]espite the decline in the likelihood of a large-scale war… in a number of areas military dangers to the Russian Federation are intensifying.
(“Military dangers” is a term of art in the Doctrine. It is an “aggregation of factors” that could ripen into a military threat; a “military threat” is “characterized by the real possibility of an outbreak of a military conflict.” Thus, a military danger is two steps back from an actual military conflict–it is the danger of a threat of military conflict.)
What are the military dangers that the Russian military sees “intensifying”? The main ones relevant to the current Ukraine crisis are:
8. b) the attempts to destabilize the situation in individual states and regions and to undermine strategic stability,
which Russia may well think is the U.S. and E.U. policy toward Ukraine in recent months, and
i) the presence (emergence) of seats of armed conflict and the escalation of such conflicts on the territories of states contiguous with the Russian Federation and its allies;
k) the emergence of interethnic (interfaith) tension, the activity of international armed radical groupings in areas adjacent to the state border of the Russian Federation and the borders of its allies, the presence of territorial contradictions and the growth of separatism and violent (religious) extremism in individual parts of the world.
Additional perceived military dangers include moving “the military infrastructure of NATO member countries closer to the borders of the Russian Federation, including by expanding the bloc.” Military dangers also include external interference in the internal affairs of Russian allies. (Obviously, Russia does not include its own interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine.)
20. The Russian Federation considers it legitimate to utilize the Armed Forces and other troops in order … to ensure the protection of its citizens located beyond the borders of the Russian Federation in accordance with generally recognized principles and norms of international law and international treaties of the Russian Federation.
In fact, one of the “main tasks of the Armed Forces and other troops in peacetime” is “to protect citizens of the Russian Federation outside the Russian Federation from armed attack.”