Putin attended yesterday’s missile test together with Defense Minister Marshal Igor Sergeev and strategic missile forces commander General Vladimir Yakovlev. The test, which was said to have been successful, involved the launching of a Topol-M ICBM from the military testing grounds in Plesetsk, in the Arctic north, across some 3,400 miles of Russian territory to a target on the Kamchatka peninsula. It was the ninth such test of the Topol-M (designated the SS-27 by NATO), which is Russia’s latest generation missile and is intended to replace the six different types of aging ICBMs currently deployed by the Strategic Missile Troops (AP, Russian agencies, December 14; International Herald Tribune, December 15).
Last week Russia deployed ten new Topol-Ms in the Saratov region (AP, Itar-Tass, December 10). That matched a similar deployment in the same region in December of last year, and brings to twenty the number of Topol-Ms which the Russian missile forces have in service. The new missile carries a single warhead and is small enough to be transported on a mobile launch pad. It is also reported to be capable of evasive maneuvers and, according to Russian sources, would thus be able to foil any missile defense system which the United States might deploy.
The Russian Defense Ministry reportedly intends to step up the rate of deployment of the Topol-Ms by putting another twenty in service in the year 2000 and then deploying thirty new ones per year starting in 2001 (Izvestia, December 11). Despite all the recent talk in Moscow of the need to build up the country’s strategic forces, that schedule corresponds to plans made public sometime in the middle of last year, and would still leave Russia with only about 350 launchers by the year 2010–well under the current figure of 756. The service life of most of Russia’s other strategic missiles will have expired well before that date, though Russian military sources have suggested that the Defense Ministry is exploring ways to extend the life of the older missiles in the event that differences over the ABM treaty torpedoes current arms control talks.
Indeed, in his remarks yesterday, Putin also warned the United States anew against trying to modify the ABM accord as a way of proceeding with the deployment of a national missile defense system. He repeated Russian claims that Moscow is prepared to undertake military countermeasures–which will be “more economical” than the U.S. missile defense system itself–if Washington goes in that direction (Russian agencies, December 14). His remarks come only a day after the Russian Duma refused an eleventh-hour appeal by the government to consider ratification of the START II strategic arms reduction treaty (Reuters, Itar-Tass, December 13). Russian lawmakers have frequently cited U.S. efforts to amend the ABM accord and to develop a missile defense system as a key factor in their decision to refuse to consider ratification of START II.
VOLLEBAEK GETS POTEMKIN TOUR OF CHECHEN WAR ZONE.