Foreign Spies Seek Russia's Military, Nuclear Secrets - December, 2008

Foreign Spies Seek Russia's Military, Nuclear Secrets - FSB

December, 2008

Foreign intelligence services continue to try to obtain classified information on the Sevmash shipyard in Russia's northern Arkhangelsk Region, a senior FSB official said on Thursday. Sergei Stepura, head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) Directorate for the Arkhangelsk Region, said the countries involved included the United States, some of its NATO allies, and specific Asia-Pacific states. Located in Severodvinsk on the White Sea, Sevmash is Russia's largest shipyard and builds nuclear-powered submarines, oil and gas platforms and tankers. Stepura told a news conference at RIA Novosti that several foreign intelligence agents, as well as persons suspected of working on behalf of foreign intelligence agencies, had been "spotted around sensitive areas." He said a criminal case had been opened against a regional law enforcement officer under the provisions of the Official Secrets Act. Stepura also said there was still the danger of terrorist attacks on nuclear and other hazardous facilities in the region. He said two explosive devices, 16 firearms and 138 rounds of ammunition, as well as more than 6 kilograms of mercury, had been seized in the region this year.


In other news:

Russia's Yury Dolgoruky Submarine to Start Sea Trials by Year End

Russia's first Borey-class strategic nuclear submarine will start sea trials by the end of 2008, a defense industry source said on Thursday. The fourth-generation Yury Dolgoruky was built at the Sevmash plant in northern Russia and was taken out of dry dock in April 2007. It will be equipped with Bulava ballistic missiles upgraded from Topol-M (SS-27) missiles. "The successful testing of the submarine's nuclear reactor, conducted on December 16 by Sevmash and Northern Fleet specialists, enable us to say confidently that Yury Dolgoruky will start sea trials by yearend," the source said. The submarine is 170 meters (580 feet) long, has a hull diameter of 13 meters (42 feet), a crew of 107, including 55 officers, a maximum depth of 450 meters (about 1,500 feet) and a submerged speed of about 29 knots. It can carry up to 16 ballistic missiles. Two other Borey-class nuclear submarines, the Alexander Nevsky and the Vladimir Monomakh, are currently under construction at the Sevmash shipyard and are expected to be completed in 2009 and 2011. Russia's Navy commander, Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky, said in July that the construction of new-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile and attack submarines is a top priority for the Russian Navy's development. Under the Russian State Armaments Program for 2007-2015, the Navy will receive several dozen surface ships and submarines, including five Project 955 Borey-class submarines, two Project 885 Yasen nuclear-powered attack submarines, and six Project 677 Lada diesel-electric submarines.


Russia, Testing U.S. Sway, Offers Lebanon 10 Warplanes

Lebanon’s defense minister announced in Moscow on Tuesday that Russia had offered to give the country 10 MIG-29 fighter jets that would significantly upgrade its antiquated air force and serve as a slap to the United States. The United States is Lebanon’s main military partner, but American plans to help rebuild the country’s army and air force are moving slowly. And Russia, which is increasingly challenging the United States in regions where American influence has been paramount, has made other gestures toward reasserting itself in the Mediterranean. Lebanon’s military had no official comment on the offer. It is far from clear whether the jets would be delivered. The deal would depend on the Lebanese government’s approval and would have to be discussed with the country’s allies, said a former Lebanese military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing diplomatic sensitivities.

United States officials seemed somewhat taken aback by the announcement, saying they needed to speak with their military counterparts in Russia and Lebanon before they could confirm that Russia had made a formal offer. “This is very early yet,” said Christopher C. Straub, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East. He said American officials had no plans to offer a fighter jet to Lebanon to try to counter the Russian offer. That offer raised the possibility, however unlikely, of a striking change in direction for the Lebanese military. Defense Minister Elias Murr said Tuesday that the unexpected offer made his trip to Moscow “the most important visit I have made since my appointment as minister of defense,” according to Lebanon’s state-owned Central News Agency. He also referred to “promises we heard in the past about equipping the army with weapons,” some of which turned out to be “only promises,” The Daily Star, a Beirut newspaper, reported.

Those comments seemed to convey frustration with recent United States pledges to step up military aid to Lebanon after Syria withdrew in 2005. Some aid has been delivered, but at a slow pace, and it is not clear whether more substantial items, like combat helicopters, will arrive. Israeli leaders have expressed concern about some of the more powerful weapons being considered for Lebanon, fearing they could be used against their country. All this has led some Lebanese officials to question the American commitment. The American aid is meant to build an armed force to help stabilize Lebanon and provide a legitimate alternative to the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. Lebanon has a longstanding military relationship with the United States, where its officer corps has been trained. American officials have sometimes intervened when other countries offered to supply weapons. Lebanon’s air force consists of only a few 1950s-era jets and a small number of Vietnam War-era helicopters.

The MIG-29, often compared to the American F-16 fighter, is vastly more powerful than anything the United States was considering providing to Lebanon. The most recent Pentagon offer, in terms of air power, is a Cessna Caravan, a single-engine prop plane. The Cessna would allow Lebanon to strike a domestic terrorist target, Mr. Straub said. But it would be no threat to Israeli forces; it could easily be shot down. The MIG-29 has the potential to be a threat, given its speed, maneuverability and ability to carry advanced weapons.


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