How the “Escalation Strategy” Evolved in Russia’s Security Policy

By Polina Sinovets

The “escalation strategy” has been a constant element in Russia’s international behavior for the last twenty years. Stemming from the well-known “escalation for de-escalation” principle that first appeared in the Russian Military Doctrine of 2000, it made the long journey from being a pure deterrence tool during the years of Russia’s (conventional-weaponry) inferiority to gaining more and more coercive functionality, especially after the Russian-Ukrainian crisis of 2014. Since then, we can observe through Russian actions its evolution from the military (mostly nuclear) sphere into foreign affairs as a coercive, military-based tool serving the Kremlin’s political goals. The relatively sudden increase in tension between Russia and Ukraine at the beginning of this year coincided with provocative moves, such as Ukraine turning off the water supply to Crimea and new U.S. President Joe Biden calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a killer. Precipitously, Moscow deployed an unprecedented concentration of troops at Ukraine’s border. Policymakers and journalists discussed the possibility of a Moscow offensive, perhaps further changing the borders of Europe. In the end, Moscow’s concerns were addressed, perhaps via the “professional” conclusion of the Biden-Putin summit in June, and Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration remained unchanged.

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