Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 133

To no one’s surprise, Saturday’s failed test of the U.S. national missile defense system was greeted with satisfaction in Moscow and with some gloating from top Russian military leaders. A trio of Russian generals used the opportunity to restate Russian denunciations of U.S. national missile defense planning and to accuse Washington once again of undermining global stability. China chimed in, a move which reprised joint Russian-Chinese condemnations of U.S. missile defense plans made by the leaders of the two countries in Dushanbe last week.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s London Times reported that Russia’s strategic missile troops are preparing a test launch of their own Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile (designated the SS-27 by NATO) as a response to Saturday’s U.S. missile defense test firing. The report said that U.S. and Japanese intelligence agencies are closely monitoring movements Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula for signs of a launch. The command of Russia’s Strategic Missile Troops confirmed that preparations for the missile launch are indeed underway, but it provided no information as to when or where the launch would occur (The Straits Times, July 9; UPI, NTV, July 8).

In Moscow, the three Russian generals who spoke publicly about the U.S. test were all men who have figured prominently in Russia’s earlier public denunciations of U.S. missile defense plans. Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, a notorious anti-Western hardliner who heads the Defense Ministry’s international relations department, was quoted on Saturday as suggesting that the failed test confirmed the belief of both Russia and U.S. experts who “are pretty well aware that it is impossible to create an absolutely safe [missile defense] system.” Ivashov also asserted that “Russia will always have the means to counteract any U.S. antimissile system,” and asked whether it is really worth it for the United States to invest “huge sums” of money in to the missile defense project when security in this area could be achieved “through political means.”

Another Russian general, Strategic Missile Troops Commander Vladimir Yakovlev, spoke similarly on Saturday. He told reporters that “in its present technical design, the tested national missile defense [system] will not be able to secure protection of U.S. territory, and attempts to deploy such a system will be an empty waste of money.” A day earlier Yakovlev had described the upcoming U.S. test as the “first step toward global nuclear anarchy” and as “an outrageous breach of the 1972 [Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty] agreement.” Yakovlev is a protege of current Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and has played an increasingly prominent role in Russia’s public denunciations of U.S. missile defense plans. Indeed, Russian sources have suggested recently that U.S. missile defense plans have served to increase the authority and influence of Russian strategic missile officers with the high command more generally, shifting power from those who commanded military operations in the Caucasus to them.

Finally, General Valery Manilov, first deputy head of the General Staff, told Russian television-viewers on Saturday that the conduct of the U.S. missile defense test was part of a broader “political miscalculation” in Washington. He called anew for Washington to drop its missile defense plans, and was quoted as saying that “God is helping us… because this failed experiment is making [the United States] think about whether it’s worth going through with it.” Manilov is one of the General Staff’s leading defense intellectuals and is believed to have played a prominent role in the writing of Russia’s recently approved draft military doctrine (BBC, Reuters, AP, UPI, Russian agencies, Russia TV, July 8).

The weekend comments by Russian military leaders follows a meeting in Dushanbe on July 5 in which Russian President Vladimir Putin joined with Chinese President Jiang Zemin in restating the two countries’ joint opposition to U.S. missile defense plans. The two leaders, who met on the margins of a summit of the so-called Shanghai Five, apparently also managed to get three Central Asian states–Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan–to sign onto a joint declaration reflecting this view. “The countries stress the necessity of maintaining and observing closely the ABM treaty,” the declaration said. The issue is a key one for Asia. Russia has said that it would take various military measures to counter any U.S. deployment of a national missile defense–including the loading of multiple warheads on its ICBMs and the possible deployment of intermediate range nuclear missiles. Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji, in turn, reportedly told German leaders during a recent visit to Berlin that China would not hesitate to boost its own nuclear arsenal to one hundred missiles or more in response to the deployment of a U.S. antimissile network. Experts fear that any buildup of Chinese nuclear forces could be met with parallel buildups in India and Pakistan (Reuters, AP, BBC, Russian agencies, July 5; Washington Post, July 9).

What was unclear in Dushanbe is whether the Russian and Chinese leaders discussed Putin’s recent proposals regarding the development of a joint Russia-NATO-European missile defense network for the European continent. That proposal, which appeared to embody an admission that Moscow now embraces U.S. concerns over the missile threat posed by such countries as North Korea, Iran and Iraq, seemed to generate some concerns in Beijing. Public reports of the Jiang-Putin meeting provided no indication of tension on the issue, however.