Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 195

However it came about, yesterday’s rejection by Moscow of the new U.S. offer suggests that arms control negotiations scheduled to start today in Moscow are unlikely to yield much in the way of progress. A U.S. delegation led by U.S. Under Secretary of State John Holum arrived in the Russian capital yesterday. They are to meet today with a Russian team headed by Berdennikov. There have been a number of previous negotiating sessions between the two groups, some led on the U.S. side by the Clinton administration’s main Russian affairs expert, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. Each of those previous sessions concluded with a terse statement suggesting that the two sides had failed to narrow their differences over the ABM treaty.

As if to punctuate their defiance of Washington on the eve of today’s talks, Russian missile forces yesterday conducted what they said was a successful test launching of an SS-19 ICBM. The missile, which can carry up to six warheads, was launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and–according to the strategic missile forces’ command–hit a target on the Kamchatka Peninsula. The reported object of the test was to ensure that the service life of the nearly twenty-five year-old missile could be extended (AP, Russian agencies, October 20).

Russian military leaders have warned repeatedly in recent weeks that Moscow is prepared to take any of a series of steps to counter a U.S. withdrawal from the ABM accord or American deployment of a national ballistic missile defense system. One of those possible countermeasures involves the maintenance of SS-19s in numbers over that mandated by the still-unratified START II treaty. Russia has the right under START II to keep 105 SS-19s (each armed with a single warhead) out of its current complement of 168. Yesterday’s test was presumably intended to demonstrate to Washington that Moscow can keep the aging missiles in service in the event that the two sides are unable to resolve their differences over the ABM treaty and strategic arms control more generally.