Recent conflicting statements by two of Russia’s highest-ranking officers cast some doubt on what has long been taken as fact in the West: that Moscow is protected from missile attack by a cordon of nuclear-armed interceptor missiles. The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty allowed both the Washington and Moscow to have up to 100 such missiles protecting a single location. While the Americans decommissioned their ABM defenses, the Soviets retained the ring of ABM missiles they had first deployed around Moscow in the late 1960s.
In the 1980s, a new, modernized system called A-135 was developed. It had a sophisticated new radar center at Puskino/Sofrino just northeast of Moscow, and replaced the vulnerable above-ground early ABM missiles with two new silo-based weapons: the long-range SH-11 (NATO code-name Gorgon) and the shorter-range SH-08 (Gazelle) missiles. The Gorgon, with its megaton nuclear warhead, was designed to intercept incoming ballistic missiles in space some 300 kilometers out. The speedy Gazelle — with an estimated 10 kiloton warhead — would pick up missiles missed by the Gorgons as they entered the atmosphere. The Moscow Industrial Area ABM Defense System (A-135) was accepted on alert duty by presidential edict of February 17,1995.
Now it seems that perhaps it was only the radar-warning portion of the system that was placed on alert and not the nuclear-tipped missiles themselves. Last week the commander in chief of the Strategic Rocket Forces — Colonel General Vladimir Yakovlev — said that the system needed some minor modifications, After these were completed, however, the "nuclear umbrella" over Moscow would once again be opened. Yesterday, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev closed that same umbrella, saying that "there is not now and never will be a nuclear umbrella above Moscow." (Russian media, February 20, 24)