As the western world plunges further into a financial turmoil, Moscow continues to flex its biggest muscles, its nuclear arsenal. A day after RF president Medvedev oversaw the launching of a Sineva ICBM by a submerged submarine in the Barents Sea, he was at hand to observe the launching of a land based Topol ICBM in Russia's north.
Russia's Medvedev Observes Test Launch of Topol ICBM
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev observed on Sunday the test launch of a Topol intercontinental ballistic missile from the Plesetsk space center in northern Russia. The missile was launched by Russia's Strategic Missile Force at 11:24 a.m. Moscow time (7:24 GMT). Topol (SS-25 Sickle) is a single-warhead intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) approximately the same size and shape as the U.S. Minuteman ICBM. The first Topol missiles became operational in 1985. Although the service life of the SS-25 was extended to 21 years after a series of successful test launches last year, the missile will be progressively retired over the next decade and be replaced by a mobile version of the Topol-M (SS-27 Sickle B) missile. On Saturday, Medvedev also observed military exercises of the Northern Fleet in the Barents Sea, including a full-range test of the Sineva ballistic missile that traveled a record 11,547 km (7,170 miles). The exercises test Russia's strategic and regional deterrent and the structures of the Northern Fleet, particularly in relation to the naval strategic nuclear forces. An aide to the Russian navy commander said it was the first time a submarine had launched the Sineva ballistic missile to its maximum range. "For the first time in Navy history, the launch was not to the Kura test range in Kamchatka [Russian Far East], but to the area of an equatorial part of the Pacific," Captain 1st rank Igor Dygalo said, adding that the launch was made to check the preparedness of naval strategic nuclear forces. The Sineva launch was made as part of the Dvina tactical exercises of the Russian Northern Fleet, which are also part of larger-scale Stability-2008 exercises conducted with Belarus that started in September and will run until October 21.
Russia's Dmitry Medvedev Observes Barents Sea Drills
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev joined the Northern Fleet on Saturday to observe military exercises in the Barents Sea including a full-range test of the Sineva ballistic missile. Medvedev announced that the missile had traveled a record 11,547 km (7,170 miles), declaring it a serious part of the arsenal for some time to come. "It seems to me that practically all tasks that were set, were successfully carried out," the president said, noting that data on the test would have to be analyzed. An aide to the Russian navy commander said it was the first time a submarine had launched the Sineva ballistic missile to its maximum range. "For the first time in Navy history, the launch was not to the Kura test range in Kamchatka [Russian Far East], but to the area of an equatorial part of the Pacific," Captain 1st rank Igor Dygalo said, adding that the launch was made to check the preparedness of naval strategic nuclear forces. The Sineva launch was made as part of the Dvina tactical exercises of the Russian Northern Fleet, which are also part of larger-scale Stability-2008 exercises conducted with Belarus that started in September and will run until October 21. Medvedev arrived Saturday along with Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Navy Commander Adm. Vladimir Kuznetsov to observe the exercises. The Barents Sea portion of the drills involves more than 5,000 military personnel, eight surface ships and five submarines. The exercises test Russia's strategic and regional deterrent and the structures of the Northern Fleet, particularly in relation to the naval strategic nuclear forces. Medvedev said he had instructed the Defense Ministry to develop a program with the aim of starting to build aircraft carriers within two years. "We need to build new aircraft carriers, this is a very important direction for the Navy's development," the president said. "All great countries with powerful navies develop in this way." The RSM-54 Sineva (NATO designation SS-N-23 Skiff) is a third-generation liquid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missile that entered service with the Russian Navy in July 2007. It can carry four or 10 nuclear warheads, depending on the modification. Russia's Strategic Missile Forces said last year that Russia would conduct at least 11 test launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2008 and would double the number of launches after 2009 "to prevent the weakening of Russia's nuclear deterrent."
Russia Conducts Ballistic Missile Tests
Russia test-fired three long-range missiles on Sunday and pronounced its nuclear deterrent strong in a show of force that experts said had not been seen since the days of the Cold War. Two of the missiles were fired from nuclear submarines in the Asian and European extremes of the sprawling country while a third was watched by President Dmitry Medvedev on land in northwest Russia, news agencies reported. It was the second Russian intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test in as many days and the latest in a series of high-profile military exercises of conventional land, sea and air forces as well as strategic nuclear units. "This shows that our deterrent is in order," Medvedev was quoted by RIA Novosti news agency as saying after Sunday's missile launches. "We will of course be introducing new types of forces and means into the military," he added, without elaborating.
Independent military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said the exercises reflected Russia's determination to prepare for major military conflict. "This was a dry run for a war with the United States," Felgenhauer said of the missile launches, part of major military manoeuvres billed "Stability 2008" involving all military branches. "These are the biggest strategic war games in more than 20 years. They are on a parallel with those held in the first half of the 1980s. Nothing of the sort has been seen either in Russia or the United States since then," he said. Russian navy spokesman Igor Dygalo confirmed the near-simultaneous ICBM test-launches from submarines in the Sea of Okhotsk north of Japan and the Barents Sea northeast of Norway, saying they had been planned well in advance. Speaking to AFP from northwest Russia, Dygalo admitted it was unusual for the navy to conduct three ICBM test launches in two days -- a submarine in the Barents Sea also fired a missile Saturday -- and called the tests successful. "The missiles hit right on target," he said. News agencies said the missiles launched from the Barents Sea and the secret base at Plesetsk hit targets on the Kamchatka peninsula thousands of kilometres (miles) to the east.
The missile fired from the Sea of Okhotsk hit on target near Kanin Nos, a finger of land jutting into the White Sea in extreme northwest Russia, the reports said. The Sineva missile launched Saturday -- an exercise also watched by Medvedev from aboard an aircraft carrier -- travelled more than 11,500 kilometres (7,145 miles) in what the Russian president claimed was an all-time distance record. The missile tests came a day after Russia announced that a small naval flotilla led by the nuclear battlecruiser Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great) had paid a call at the Libyan port of Tripoli. The ships, including a submarine destroyer and support vessels, were to conduct exercises at unspecified locations in the Mediterrannean Sea before heading toward Venezuela for joint exercises there in November, officials said.
Two Russian Tupolev-162 strategic bombers -- each capable of carrying 12 cruise missiles armed with single 200-megaton nuclear warheads -- carried out exercises in Venezuela last month. Last week, Japan scrambled a pair of US-made F-15 fighters to intercept and escort Russian bombers on patrol near, but not inside, Japanese territorial waters. The Kremlin, alarmed and angered over new US missile defence plans in eastern Europe and the expansion of the US-led NATO alliance into countries once allied with Moscow, has stressed for a year that it will respond in kind. Washington has shrugged off Russian moves over the past 18 months to resume strategic bomber patrols around the world and reactivate use of its navy to project power on the seas, questioning if the hardware was up to the task.
Russia’s Nuclear Deterrent in Good Shape: Medvedev
Russia has successfully test-fired four long-range nuclear-capable missiles over the weekend in an unprecedented show of force that has not been seen since the Cold War era. On Sunday, two nuclear submarines deployed in the Sea of Okhotsk, north of Japan, and the Barents Sea, northeast of Norway, simultaneously test-fired Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM), which hit targets at the opposite extreme of the country. A third missile, Topol, was fired from a mobile land-launcher at the Plisetsk space centre in northwest Russia. A day earlier, a nuclear submarine test-fired the new ICBM Sineva in the Barents Sea. Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev, who was present at the Sineva’s launch on Saturday, and watched the Topol launch on Sunday, said the country’s nuclear deterrent was “in good shape” and “new weapon systems” will be inducted in the future. The missile launches were part of the “Stability 2008” war games, the biggest strategic manoeuvres by Russia since the break-up of the Soviet Union. The exercise involved nearly 50,000 troops and over 7,000 pieces of heavy-war gear, including aircraft, ships and nuclear missiles.
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Russia Is Striving to Modernize Its Military
As they tracked Russian military maneuvers in recent days, the American government’s career Kremlin-watchers might have been forgiven for wondering if they were seeing recycled newsreels from the worst of the bad old days. A huge exercise, called Stability 2008, spread tens of thousands of troops, thousands of vehicles and scores of combat aircraft across nearly all 11 time zones of Russian territory in the largest war game since the collapse of the Soviet Union. There was no specified enemy, but the Russian forces appeared to be enacting a nationwide effort to quell unrest along Russia’s southern border — and to repulse an American-led attack by NATO forces, according to experts in Moscow and here. In a grim finale, commanders launched three intercontinental ballistic missiles, the type that can carry multiple nuclear warheads. It was a clear signal of the drastic endgame the Kremlin might consider should its conventional forces not hold. One of the missiles flew more than 7,100 miles, allowing Russian officials to claim they had set a distance record. If these images of Russian power projection appeared drawn from the dark decades of Dr. Strangelove, the response from Washington was anything but.
When asked to assess what seemed to be a Russian resurgence, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have provided the same sanguine response, echoed down through the ranks of government analysts who have spent years reading obscure Russian military journals and scrutinizing classified satellite photographs. The Russian military fell to third world standards from neglect and budget cuts in the turbulent years when Boris N. Yeltsin was president, they say. The new Kremlin leadership is working to create a force that can actually defend the nation’s interests. The military has embarked on a program to buy modern weapons, improve training and health care for troops, trim a bloated officer corps and create the first professional class of sergeant-level, small-unit leaders since World War II. Which is not to say that the United States will stop judging Russian behavior in light of what it considers a clumsy, ill-advised and unnecessary invasion of the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Yet policymakers also say the Kremlin’s efforts at military modernization should not prevent cooperation on mutual concerns, including countering terrorism and halting nuclear proliferation.
Even a high-profile speech three weeks ago by President Dmitri A. Medvedev, ordering a military modernization program and the largest increases in defense spending since the death of the old Soviet Union, was viewed here as short on substance and designed more for a domestic political agenda. Mr. Medvedev declared that by 2020, Russia would construct new types of warships and an unspecified air and space defense system. Military spending, he said, will leap by 26 percent next year, bringing it to 1.3 trillion rubles (about $50 billion), its highest level since the collapse of the Soviet Union — but still a small fraction of American military spending. Mr. Medvedev pledged that Russia would shore up its nuclear deterrence and upgrade its conventional forces to a state of “permanent combat-readiness.” American experts were unimpressed. “Russia is prone to make fairly grandiose announcements about its military,” said a Defense Department official who discussed government analyses on condition of anonymity. “These programs have long been in the works. They are not new plans. They are not new programs.”
Even so, veteran analysts of Russian military affairs acknowledge that a military renaissance would allow the Moscow leadership to increase political pressure on former Soviet republics, now independent, as well as former Warsaw Pact allies that embraced NATO after the collapse of communism. “What the Russian leadership has discovered is proof of an old maxim: that a foreign policy without a credible military is no foreign policy,” said Dale R. Herspring, a scholar on Russian military affairs at Kansas State University. Eugene B. Rumer, of the National Defense University here, said events of recent weeks were “not a sign, really, of the Russian military being reborn, but more of a Russia being able to flex what relatively little muscle it has on the global scale, and to show that it actually matters.” One example is how Russia’s navy is seeking to display global reach. A flotilla of warships, including the nuclear battle cruiser Peter the Great, is under sail for exercises next month with Venezuela.
Russia has also announced more than $1 billion in new arms deals with the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez. “This Venezuela adventure is basically Russia’s payback for what they consider the humiliation of American ships’ operating in the Black Sea during the war in Georgia,” said Mikhail Tsypkin, of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. “This is to annoy the United States.” Some of the steps undertaken to wrench the Russian military out of mediocrity resemble changes in the American military over several decades. Russia plans for its ground forces to move to a system designed for the deployment of brigades, rather than bulkier division or corps headquarters — nearly copying the United States Army’s approach. The Russian military also plans to offer pay and housing incentives to attract noncommissioned officers — the valuable class of sergeants — to make a long-term career of military service. While not as drastic as the move by the post-Vietnam American military to switch from the draft to an all-volunteer force, the plan would shift Russia further from reliance on one-year conscripts, who are not in uniform long enough to master even basic skills.
Just last week, the Russian military leadership announced it would further reduce the number of people in uniform, to about 1 million from the current 1.1 million, far below the 4 million-strong military at the end of the cold war. Most significant, according to American government officials, is a four-year plan to reduce to 150,000 a Russian officer corps that now numbers 400,000, a shrinking that is certain to produce significant opposition within the senior ranks. The Russian General Staff will be trimmed, and the number of generals is planned to fall to 900 from the current 1,100. But in an acknowledgment that the general officer corps can slow the pace of change throughout the military, most of those reductions will occur through retirement. The Kremlin knows that its military bureaucracy is riddled with corruption, Pentagon officials say. Experts here say that audits ordered after Vladimir V. Putin took over from Mr. Yeltsin in 2000 found that 40 percent of the budget for some weapons programs and salaries was lost to theft and waste.
The new defense minister, Anatoly E. Serdyukov, was a surprise choice, given that he had no military background but was an expert in finance and taxes. As he moved to clean house across the military-industrial complex, the reason for his selection became clear. Analysts of Kremlin affairs note that a central risk to Russian military reform might not be foreign armies, but the current economic collapse, which has sent oil prices plummeting, robbing Russia of profits earmarked for upgrading the armed forces. An irony is emerging. One central cause of the Soviet Union’s collapse was that its centrally planned, calcified economy simply could not support the Kremlin’s superpower military ambitions. If oil prices continue to drop, Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Putin may be faced with the same economic limits on their military plans.
Top Military Officers Talk in U.S.-Russia Conference
The United States and Russia sent their top military officers to this neutral capital, with its resonant legacy of cold-war-era talks, for a secretly arranged meeting on Tuesday to try to push their strained relations back on track, American officials said. It was the first time that Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had met his counterpart, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, since the Russian was appointed chief of the General Staff this summer. However, the two had spoken by telephone multiple times during the brief August war between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia. The conflict — in which much of the West sided with Georgia and its claims to two breakaway enclaves — worsened relations between Moscow and Washington, particularly after the enclaves declared their independence with Russia’s backing. “I think it’s important that we talk when there isn’t a crisis,” Admiral Mullen said after the meeting.
American military officers said that the session, held at the Königstedt Manor along the Vantaa River, just outside Helsinki, was organized at the request of the Russians. The admiral said he and General Makarov had discussed American disquiet over the war in Georgia — Russia’s first post-Soviet offensive outside its soil — as well as Russian unhappiness with the arrival of American warships in the Black Sea with humanitarian aid for Georgia. Other topics included NATO’s relations with Russia and how to improve cooperation on countering terrorism, halting the proliferation of unconventional weapons and stemming narcotics trafficking. Admiral Mullen offered no details of those discussions but said that he and his counterpart had pledged to continue talking. “Clearly the relationship has changed because of what happened in Georgia,” Admiral Mullen said. “But by no means should it end. I don’t think it can resume exactly where it was before Georgia, but we also covered areas of mutual concern.” He said that “even in our darkest days of the cold war we were talking to each other — and I think we need to continue.” “I’ll go home encouraged by the opportunities that I had to discuss the issues in a very direct way, face to face, and the commitment that in the future we will stay engaged,” he said.
Relations were strained before the Russia-Georgia war. Russia has used its oil and natural gas to fill its coffers and rebuild its military since the disarray of the 1990s, and it has resumed flexing its might with flights by long-range bombers and surveillance planes to test American and NATO airspace. At the same time, Washington’s recent agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic to host American missile-defense sites brought outrage and even threats of military action from the Kremlin. American officials have emphasized that the system — radar equipment and 10 interceptors — is intended to counter a potential Iranian missile attack and poses no threat to the Russian nuclear arsenal. After returning to Moscow, General Makarov told reporters that Russia would “need to take measures in connection with the deployment of missile defense systems in the Czech Republic and Poland.” As tensions have escalated, Admiral Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have spoken in calm, calibrated terms of the Kremlin’s military decision-making and foreign policy. They have challenged the Kremlin to behave better in global affairs but have noted that Russia’s armed forces do not pose a global risk.
General Makarov was elevated to chief of the Russian General Staff this summer after a long career in the ground forces, although his most recent post was as chief of armaments and deputy defense minister for industrial procurement, according to his official biography. Pentagon officials said his appointment appeared to be part of a Kremlin push to modernize Russia’s military and clamp down on corruption and waste in procurement and payrolls. After the Russia-Georgia conflict, some newer NATO members expressed concerns about their own territorial integrity. Among the most concerned were the Baltic states — Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — as well as Poland and the Czech Republic. Admiral Mullen said it was vitally important for all of NATO to reassure members that the alliance’s mutual-security guarantees remained an imperative, and he pointedly visited Riga, the Latvian capital, after the Helsinki meeting.
Russia Test-Fires Soviet-era Missile
Russia has test-fired an old Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile as part of efforts to check on the weapon's reliability and extend its service. A spokesman for Russia's strategic missile forces, Colonel Alexander Vovk, said the military launched the RS-18 missile Wednesday from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan. He said the launch confirmed its reliability. He said the results of the test supported the decision to extend use of the missile until at least 2031. Moscow started using the RS-18 missile, which NATO calls the SS-19 Stiletto, in the 1970s. Russia's strategic forces have conducted regular test launches of missiles to check their performance. The military has repeatedly extended the lifetime of Soviet-built weapons as the government lacks the funds to replace them quickly with new weapons. Earlier this month, Russia fired two missiles from submarines in the Pacific Ocean and the Barents Sea, and one from the Plesetsk space center in northern Russia. President Dmitri Medvedev said Russia will continue to develop new types of weapons. But he praised the existing system's effectiveness, calling Russia's missile shield "fine."
Russia Modernizes Missiles in Response to US Plans
Russia's efforts to upgrade its missile arsenals will help counter the planned U.S. missile defense sites in Europe, a top general said Wednesday. Russia's Strategic Missile Force chief, Col.-Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, said the military will commission a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile and modify the existing missiles. Solovtsov said that the new RS-24 missile equipped with multiple nuclear warheads will enter service next year. "Its deployment will increase the Strategic Missile Forces' capability to penetrate missile defense systems, thus strengthening the nuclear deterrent potential of Russian strategic forces," he said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.
Solovtsov said the military conducted two test launches of the RS-24 last year and will make another one before the year's end. Russian officials have said it would gradually replace Soviet-built ballistic missiles. Solovtsov added that the military will also upgrade the existing types of missiles to fit them with decoys intended to counter the prospective U.S. missile shield. Russia has denounced a U.S. plan to deploy a battery of 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a related missile defense radar in the Czech Republic, saying it threatened Russian security. It has dismissed the U.S. claim that the sites were intended to counter a prospective missile threat from Iran and was not aimed against Russia. Russian officials have threatened to point nuclear missiles at the countries that will allow U.S. missile defense sites on their territory. "We are fully confident that the Strategic Missile Forces will be capable of providing a guaranteed nuclear deterrent in the long time to come," Solovtsov said.
He said the military will maintain the Soviet-built missiles, including those that were manufactured in Ukraine. "We have agreements with Ukraine that would allow us to maintain their capability," Solovtsov said. Russia's Strategic Missile Forces said it successfully test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile Wednesday as part of regular efforts to check the readiness of Soviet-built missiles. Russia's Strategic Missile Forces spokesman Alexander Vovk said the RS-18 missile was launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. He said in a statement that the launch was intended to confirm the missile's reliability as part of efforts to extend the lifetime of this type of missile. Russia's strategic forces have conducted regular test launches of Soviet-built ballistic missiles to check their performance. The military has repeatedly extended the lifetime of Soviet-built weapons as the government lacks the funds to replace them quickly with new weapons.
Russia Lines up New Anti-Missile System to Counter U.S. Missile Shield Plans
Russia's Strategic Missile Forces are being equipped with new anti-ballistic missile systems in response to U.S. plans to deploy a missile shield in Europe, Interfax reported Wednesday. "Considering the changing military and political situation in the world, and U.S. plans to deploy missile shield, as well as the need to adequately respond to these plans, a set of measures are being taken to develop the Strategic Missile Forces," Commander Col. Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov told Interfax news agency. New types of silo-based and mobile missile systems capable of countering the prospective U.S. missile defense system will be created, he said, adding that a fifth-generation RS-24 multiple-warhead missile system will enter service with the forces in 2009. The new system will strengthen Russia's nuclear deterrence, including its capability to penetrate missile defense shields, he said. RS-24 missiles and RS-12M2 missiles of the Topol-M system, which has already been handed over to the army, will become the fundamental elements of the troops' main attack force, he noted. Repeatedly ignoring Russia's fierce opposition, the United States is determined to set up a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic to counter the so-called threats from Iran. Moscow warned that the missile shield will definitely pose a threat to its national security and make the two European countries its target of strike once the situation worsens.