Russia: New Missiles Are Unstoppable

Baikonur, KAZAKHSTAN: A Russian Dnepr (other names:RS-20, SS-18) booster blasts off the launching pad of Russian leased Kazakhstan's cosmodrome of Baikonur, 17 April 2007. GETTY

A senior Russian official said strategic and tactical missiles tested Tuesday can penetrate any missile defense system, Russian news agencies reported.

"As of today Russia has new (missiles) that are capable of overcoming any existing or future missile defense systems," ITAR-Tass quoted First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov as saying. "So in terms of defense and security Russian can look calmly to the country's future."

Ivanov spoke after the Russian Strategic Missile Forces announced the test of a new intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple independent warheads. He said Russia had also successfully tested a tactical cruise missile.

"Reminiscent of the Cold War arm's race, the Russian missile launch appears to have been intended to send a message opposing the U.S. deployment of missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk from the United Nations.

President Vladimir Putin and Ivanov, a former defense minister seen as a potential candidate to succeed Putin in elections next year, have repeatedly said Russia would continue to improve its nuclear weapons systems and respond to U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe.

The ICBM, called the RS-24, was fired from a mobile launcher at the Plesetsk launch pad in northwestern Russia. Its test warhead landed on target some 3,400 miles away on the Far Eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, a statement from the Strategic Missile Forces said.

The new missile is seen as eventually replacing the aging RS-18s and RS-20s that are the backbone of the country's missile forces, the statement said. Those missiles are known in the West as the SS-19 Stiletto and the SS-18 Satan.

Ivanov said the missile was a new version of the Topol-M, first known as the SS-27 in the West, but one that that can carry multiple independent warheads, ITAR-Tass reported.

The first Topol-Ms were commissioned in 1997, but deployment has proceeded slower than planned because of a shortage of funds. Existing Topol-M missiles are capable of hitting targets more than 6,000 miles away.

The RS-24 "strengthens the capability of the attack groups of the Strategic Missile Forces by surmounting anti-missile defense systems, at the same time strengthening the potential for nuclear deterrence," the statement said.

The statement did not specify how many warheads the missile can carry.

The new missile would likely be more capable of penetrating missile defense systems than previous models, said Alexander Pikayev, an arms control expert and senior analyst at the Moscow-based Institute for World Economy and International Relations.

He said Russia had been working on a version of the Topol-M that could carry multiple warheads, and that its development was probably "inevitable" after the U.S. withdrew from the Soviet-era Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty in 2002, preventing the START-II treaty from coming into force.

Pikayev concurred with the missile forces statement that the RS-24 conforms with terms laid down in the START-I treaty, which is in force, and the 2002 Moscow Treaty, which calls for reductions in each country's nuclear arsenal to 1,700-2,000 warheads.

Alexander Golts, a respected military analyst with the Yezhenedelny Zhurnal online publication, expressed surprise at the announcement.

"It seems to be a brand new missile. It's either a decoy or something that has been developed in complete secrecy," he told The Associated Press.

The test comes at a time of increased tension between Russia and the West over missiles and other weapons issues.

Russia adamantly opposes U.S. efforts to deploy elements of a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The United States says the system is aimed at blocking possible attacks by countries such as North Korea and Iran, but Russia says the system would destroy the strategic balance of forces in Europe.

"We consider it harmful and dangerous to turn Europe into a powder keg," Putin said Tuesday, when asked at a news conference with Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates about the controversy.

Russia, meanwhile, called Monday for an emergency conference next month on a key Soviet-era arms control treaty that has been a source of increasing friction between Moscow and NATO.

The call for a conference on the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty follows last month's statement from Putin in which he declared a moratorium on observing Russia's obligations under the treaty.

The treaty, which limits the number of aircraft, tanks and other non-nuclear heavy weapons around Europe, was first signed in 1990 and then amended in 1999 to reflect changes since the Soviet breakup. Russia has ratified the amended version, but the United States and other NATO members have refused to do so until Moscow withdraws troops from the former Soviet republics of Moldova and Georgia — an issue Moscow says is unrelated.

Putin warned that Russia could dump the treaty altogether if Western nations refuse to ratify its amended version, and the Foreign Ministry said Monday that it lodged a formal request for a conference among treaty signatories in Vienna, Austria, on June 12-15.
  • Sean Alfano

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