MAY 19 2006



Russia has recently successfully tested a new missile system that can penetrate all anti-missile defences and is close to deploying it, the chief of the Russian military's General Staff said yesterday.


In his state-of-the-nation address last week, President Vladimir Putin said the new high-precision weapons would have an unpredictable trajectory, making them very difficult to neutralise and allowing Russia to maintain a strategic balance of forces with the United States even with a smaller arsenal.


"A test was conducted in February this year which showed that Russia is close to building a combat system on our intercontinental ballistic missiles which will be capable of penetrating all existing and planned anti-missile defences," General Yuri Baluyevsky told reporters.


He added that the missile system would be ready "in the nearest future".


Analysts say the new warheads, designed to zigzag on their approach to targets, could be fitted to new land-based Topol-M missiles and the prospective Bulava missiles for the Russian navy, now under development.


Alexander Pikayev, a senior analyst with the Moscow-based Institute for World Economy and International Relations, said that Bulava missiles armed with the warheads could be deployed as early as next year on nuclear submarines.


Russia, whose military budget is more than 20 times smaller than that of the United States, could not hope to compete on a level playing field but aimed to safeguard its big-power status by developing a nuclear capability that could render useless the prospective US missile defence shield, Pikayev said.


"Numerical parity is not what Russia wants; it wants to maintain forces which could inflict unacceptable damage in a second strike," he told The Associated Press. Amid increased tensions between Russia and the United States after US accusations that Moscow is backsliding on democracy and strong-arming its ex-Soviet neighbours, Putin vowed last week to ensure a strong military.


Baluyevsky, meanwhile, denied news reports that Russia is about to opt out of a landmark US-Soviet arms treaty that scrapped intermediate range missiles and deploy the weapons.


"The Russian Federation and the United States are strictly observing the treaty on intermediate and short-range missiles," he said.


The Intermediate-Range and Short-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, known as the INF Treaty, signed in 1987 by then-US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, banned production and deployment of medium-range missiles, such as Soviet SS-20 and US Pershing 2, and required that both nations dismantle them.


The missiles deployed in the early 1980s were capable of striking targets within the European continent and became a major destabilising factor as they required shorter time to reach their targets compared with intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The INF Treaty has become a key event that built mutual trust and helped end the Cold War.


Russia in recent years has been concerned over Nato's eastward expansion and soaring global oil prices have brought Moscow a steady flow of petrodollars, allowing the Kremlin to bolster defence spending in recent years after a decade of the post-Soviet money crunch.





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