Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 198

Despite the recent bravado about Russia’s ability to counter the deployment of any U.S. antiballistic missile defense system, Russian military authorities will clearly face financial difficulties if they attempt to do so. Russia’s Soviet-era ballistic missiles are rapidly nearing the end of their service life, and efforts to prolong their effectiveness will not come cheaply. Much the same is true of the new Topol-M missiles. Russian military and government leaders have frequently talked about increasing the rate of missile production, but the Topol-M encountered considerable development problems and there is little to suggest that the Defense Ministry will manage to significantly up the rate at which they are put into service.

Indeed, recent security developments in Russia would seem to have further complicated Moscow’s ability to quickly upgrade its strategic deterrent. In particular, the war in Chechnya has revealed anew the decrepit state of Russia’s conventional forces, and there have been rumblings among some top Russian defense officials that it is time to devote less funding to the strategic forces and more to the country’s regular army. Even if the Defense Ministry gets the funding increases that are now being promised by the government, it seems unlikely that it will be in a position to simultaneously upgrade the country’s conventional and nuclear forces. The spending crunch is exacerbated by the war itself, which is costing Russia billions of rubles, and by Russia’s military commitments elsewhere, including in the Balkans.

Against this background, Moscow seems certain to step up its broader diplomatic battle against the ABM revisions Washington is seeking. The battle has in fact already begun at the UN General Assembly, where Moscow introduced a resolution last week which condemns any effort to change the ABM accord. Moscow is also linking U.S. ABM policy–and its plans to deploy a missile defense system–to the U.S. Senate’s recent rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty to make the argument that Washington’s moves are endangering international stability. Russian government sources suggested yesterday that Moscow would look to make this same case in talks with European Union members, who are themselves looking with some trepidation at recent U.S. arms control decisions (Russian agencies, October 22). According to Russian diplomatic sources in Paris, Moscow will seek to blunt French criticism of Russia’s Caucasus war in part by turning discussion instead to issues on which the two countries share common ground. Those include their common unhappiness over U.S. arms control policies (Itar-Tass, October 25). Ivanov visits France this week as part of a broader tour of European capitals.