MOSCOW President Dmitry Medvedev approved Friday a new military doctrine identifying NATO expansion as a national threat and reaffirming Russia's right to use nuclear weapons if the country's existence is threatened.
The doctrine identifies the expansion of NATO to Eastern Europe and U.S. plans to create an anti-missile shield in Europe as concerns for national security, although it also states that the likelihood of a nuclear conflict has abated.
As Russia's conventional troops lack modern equipment and undergo a painful reform aimed at creating professional armed forces, Moscow relies on its nuclear arsenal as a last resort, the document, published on the Kremlin website, says.
But the new guidelines do not follow through on the idea floated last year by the chief of Russia's Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, of allowing the use of nuclear weapons in regional conflicts.
"Some clever people won over those who wanted to scare everybody with Russian nuclear weapons," said military analyst Alexander Golts.
Russia fought a five-day war with Georgia in 2008 and according to the doctrine could still face new security threats from regional conflicts and local wars.
The doctrine says that one of the "main external threats of war" comes from NATO's expansion east to Russia's borders and pinpoints the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, missiles and states with nuclear weapons as a separate danger.
"The creation and deployment of strategic anti-missile systems that undermine global stability," is also named as a threat.
Russia's Foreign Ministry Friday said it was concerned by Romania's approval of the deployment of U.S. interceptor missiles as part of a missile shield to protect Europe and demanded clarification of the plan.
The Romanian deployment is part of a revamped U.S. missile defense approach taken by President Barack Obama after he scrapped a plan for a radar site and interceptor rockets in the Czech Republic and Poland that was opposed by Russia.
The publication of the doctrine comes as Russian and U.S. negotiators continue to try to finalize agreement on a new bilateral pact cutting stocks of strategic nuclear weapons.
They failed to meet a December deadline for a new treaty to replace the landmark Cold War-era START pact but both sides say they hope to sign a new deal in the near future.
(Editing by Alison Williams)