Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 184

The new Russian government’s economics czar raised some disturbing questions about Moscow’s current economic priorities yesterday when he told reporters that Russia must build dozens of new nuclear missiles in the years to come while simultaneously modernizing its strategic control, early warning and space intelligence systems. First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov, formerly head of the Soviet state planning agency Gosplan, appeared to hearken back to that earlier era when he suggested that Russia’s security and its international standing depended upon maintenance of the country’s nuclear arsenal. “We mustn’t delude ourselves by the talk about strategic partnership with one or another country,” Maslyukov was quoted as saying. “The modern world is complex and military force still plays a part in it.”

Maslyukov urged that the government prioritize the rearming of Russia’s strategic forces. He called for the procurement of “no less than 35-45 Topol-M missiles annually beginning in the year 2000,” as well as for the acquisition over the next decade of several new strategic nuclear submarines (AP, Russian agencies, October 6). With regard to the acquisition of the Topol missiles, Maslyukov’s numbers are only slightly higher than those announced earlier by the Russian government. Only a handful of these missiles have been deployed thus far, however. The prospect that the government might meet the more ambitious schedule described by Maslyukov is especially doubtful in the wake of the country’s current economic crisis (see the Monitor, July 8).

Maslyukov’s call for strategic rearmament was based on the fact that Russia’s Soviet-era nuclear arsenal is aging rapidly and will need to be taken out of service in the coming years. According to Maslyukov, not a single missile, submarine or bomber built in Soviet times will remain in service seven to eight years from now. For that reason, Maslyukov argued that the Russian parliament should vote to ratify the START II strategic arms treaty. “If we reject the START II treaty we will lose the opportunity to influence arms control processes that have become topical in light of nuclear explosions in India and Pakistan,” Maslyukov said.

But the Russian deputy premier’s endorsement of START II was nevertheless a conditional one. In his remarks yesterday, and in a television interview broadcast on October 4, Maslyukov said that START II made sense for Russia only under three specific conditions. First, if his plan for nuclear rearming was adopted. Second, if a follow-up START III treaty ensured that the nuclear arsenal of the United States was trimmed to levels closer to Moscow’s own. And, third, if Washington observed the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. “Ratifying START II unconditionally would be a bad move,” Maslyukov said on October 4. “But not ratifying START II at all would take us nowhere” (NTV, October 4; Itar-Tass, October 6).

The substance of Maslyukov’s comments on Russia’s strategic forces would have raised few eyebrows even a few short months ago. Today, however, in the midst of a severe economic crisis–which is generating social protest at home and which has sent Russian officials off in search of new international financial aid abroad–Maslyukov’s comments seem ill timed and ill considered. That they are coming from the man tasked with coordinating Moscow’s economic policy–and at a time when Russia still lacks a program to deal with the current financial crisis–is likely to further fan suspicions among Western leaders over the new Russian government’s economic and political priorities.