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Putin Boasts About Russia's Missiles

Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted Tuesday that Russia has new missiles capable of penetrating any missile defense system and said he had briefed French President Jacques Chirac on their capabilities.

"Russia has tested missile systems that no one in the world has," Putin said. "These missile systems don't represent a response to a missile defense system, but it doesn't matter to them whether that exists or not. They are hypersonic and capable of changing their flight path."

Putin said the new missiles were capable of carrying nuclear warheads. He wouldn't say whether the Russian military already had commissioned any such missiles.

Also at Putin's annual news conference:

  • He denied rumors that he will take up the reins of the world's biggest gas producer, the state-controlled monopoly Gazprom, upon leaving the Kremlin. Putin is constitutionally barred from running for a third term in presidential elections in 2008 and speculation has been rife about his possible successor and what he will do when he leaves office.
  • Putin said his government had no plans to monopolize the oil and gas sector but supported the creation of strong state-controlled firms, with foreign strategic investors and shareholders. "The weather in the world energy sector is made by big international companies ... large, powerful, as a rule multinational companies," he said. "We, too, must develop in this direction."
  • Putin said he knew nothing of plans by Russia's diamond mining monopoly Alrosa to buy out Norilsk Nickel, the world's biggest producer of nickel and palladium, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. Alrosa is the world's second-biggest diamond miner after South Africa's De Beers.
  • Putin made a pitch for Russian international uranium enrichment centers to help ease international concerns over proliferation, especially in Iran. The European Union and United States have backed Russia's proposal to enrich uranium for Iran as a possible way out of the impasse. Iran's top nuclear negotiator visited Moscow last week to discuss the proposal and said it needs more work.

    The Russian president said he had shown the working principles of the missile system to Chirac during a visit to a Russian military facility. "He knows what I'm talking about," Putin said.

    In April 2004, Chirac became the first Western leader to visit Russia's top-secret Titov space control center of the Russian military space forces — the control point for all of Russia's satellites, which is also involved in launches of Russia's intercontinental ballistic missiles.

  • Putin said that the new Russian missiles were capable of changing both the altitude and the direction of their flight, making it impossible for an enemy to intercept them since "a missile defense system is designed to counter missiles moving along a ballistic trajectory."

    Putin and other Russian officials have boasted of the new missiles in similar comments over the past few years, but they haven't identified them or given any further details other than about their ability to change their flight path on approach to a target.

    Military analysts said Russian forces experimented with a maneuvering warhead during a missile launch several years ago, but voiced doubt about Russia's ability to deploy such weapons anytime soon.

    Analysts said the new warheads, designed to zigzag on their approach to targets, could be fitted to new land-based Topol-M missiles and the prospective Bulava missiles for the Russian navy, now under development.

    Russia opposed Washington's 2002 decision to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to deploy a national missile defense shield, saying the 30-year-old U.S.-Soviet pact was a key element of international security. Putin called the decision a mistake that would hurt global security but not threaten Russia.

    The ABM treaty banned missile defense systems on the assumption that the fear of retaliation would prevent each nation from launching a first strike — a strategy known as mutually assured destruction.

    Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Tuesday that Russia would commission new early warning radars to replace those located in the former Soviet republics. The new radars will "provide an earlier warning on launches of all missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as tactical and cruise missiles," Ivanov said, according to Russian news reports.

    The Russian military has used Soviet-built early warning radars located in Azerbaijan and Ukraine, and it has been involved in rent and other arguments over the issue. Ivanov said the commissioning of new radars will allow Russia to stop using them.