Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Russia Rattles Its Nuclear Sabres

November 17, 2004
Russia developing new nuke missiles
By MIKE ECKEL

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia is developing a new nuclear missile system unlike any
weapon held by other nuclear powers, President Vladimir Putin said
Wednesday in remarks that may serve as a signal to the United States as it
pushes forward with a missile defence system.

Putin gave no details about the new system and it was unclear whether
Russia's cash-strapped armed forces could even afford an expensive new
weapon. But he told the top leadership of Russia's armed forces that the
system could be deployed soon.

"We are not only conducting research and successful tests on
state-of-the-art nuclear missile systems, but I am convinced that these
systems will appear in the near future," he said. "Moreover, they will be
systems, weapons that not a single other nuclear power has, or will have,
in the near future."

ITAR-Tass indicated the new system could be a mobile version of the
Topol-M ballistic missiles, which have been deployed in silos since 1998.
But Alexander Pikayev, a senior analyst with Moscow's Institute for Global
Economy and International Relations, said Putin seemed to be referring to
the new Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile, a solid fuel missile
that underwent its first test in September.

Russian officials said earlier that the Bulava could be both a sea-based
and land-based version and could be equipped with warheads capable of
penetrating missile defences, he said.

"Putin apparently wanted to boast the success of his military reform
effort . . . to both the military and the broad public," Pikayev told The
Associated Press. "His statement also intended to show that Russia is
regaining its status as a great power which can't be ignored."

If the Bulava proves capable, it would show that Russia has succeeded in
modernizing its missile forces despite a shortage of funds, he said.

"It will ring the bell for the Americans, forcing Washington to reassess
its estimates," Pikayev said.

In Washington, officials reacted cautiously to Putin's remarks, with White
House press secretary Scott McClellan saying it wasn't news to the Bush
administration.

"We are very well aware of their long-standing modernization efforts for
their military," McClellan said.

McClellan suggested that close ties between Bush and Putin makes alarm
unnecessary even if they don't completely eliminate Washington's concern.

"We have a very different relationship than we did in the Cold War," he
said. "The fact that we do have a good relationship enables us to speak
very directly to our Russian friends."

Putin has made clear that increased funding for and reforms of Russia's
armed forces, which declined after the breakup of the Soviet Union, were a
priority. In the past year, Russian defence officials have also made
several announcements about new weapons.

Col.-Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, currently chief of staff of the Russian armed
forces, said in March that the military had tested a "hypersonic flying
vehicle" able to manoeuvre between space and the Earth's atmosphere.

Earlier this month, Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said a mobile version
of its Topol-M ballistic missile could be test-fired soon and that
production could be commissioned in 2005. Topol-Ms have a range of almost
10,000 kilometres and reportedly can manoeuvre in ways that are difficult
to detect.

News reports have also said Russia is believed to be developing a
next-generation heavy nuclear missile that could carry up to 10 nuclear
warheads weighing a total of 4.4 tonnes, compared with the Topol-M's
1.32-tonne combat payload.

Most observers viewed the earlier announcements about "hypersonic flying
vehicles" as Moscow's retaliation to the U.S. missile defence plans.

After years of vociferous protests, Russia reacted calmly when Washington
withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 in order to
develop a nationwide missile shield. But Moscow has since complained about
Washington's plans to build new, low-yield nuclear weapons.

Other analysts said Putin's statement appeared to be as much for show as
for military strategy.

"This is intended for the internal audience, an attempt to say that things
are great, that defence is growing stronger and not falling apart as it
actually is," independent military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said.