Russia has thrown down a new gauntlet to US president-elect Barack Obama with an announcement that it will sharply increase production of strategic nuclear missiles.
In the latest of a series of combative moves by the Kremlin, a senior government official in Moscow said the Russian military would commission 70 strategic missiles over the next three years as part of a massive rearmament program that will also include short-range missiles, 300 tanks, 14 warships and 50 planes.
Military experts said the planned new arsenal was presumed to consist of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) rather than submarine-launched missiles. If this is the case, the plans represent a fourfold increase in the rate of ICBM deployment. The arsenal will include a new-generation, multiple-warhead ICBM called the RS-24.
It was first test-fired last year, with Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov boasting it was “capable of overcoming any existing or future missile defense systems.”
The new missiles will be part of a £95 billion (US$140 billion) defense procurement package for next year to 2011, a 28 percent increase in arms spending, according to Vladislav Putilin of the Cabinet’s military-industrial commission.
There will be further increases in spending in the following two years.
The new military procurements follow the war in Georgia in August. Russian forces easily routed Georgian troops, but the conflict exposed weaknesses in the Russian army, including outdated equipment and poorly coordinated command structures.
The Defense Ministry said it would carry out drastic reforms, turning the army into a more modern force.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday urged Cabinet officials quickly to allocate funds for new weapons and closely control the quality and pace of their production.
Military experts said the construction of 70 long-range nuclear missiles in the next three years represented a Russian attempt to strengthen its bargaining position with Washington, in talks aimed at agreeing new nuclear weapons cuts when the treaty in force, Start I, expires next December.
Moscow’s strategy appears to be to challenge Obama’s new administration as soon as it takes office on Jan. 20.
Ruben Sergeev, an expert on disarmament issues, said Moscow was afraid of falling behind in a new arms race.
“Russia is decommissioning its old liquid-fuel missiles from the Soviet era at a rate of several dozen every year,” he said. “The Kremlin knows that if it doesn’t increase production of ICBMs rapidly now then it will have no chance of getting a new arms reduction treaty out of the US, which has much greater quantities of missiles.”
Negotiations on a successor to Start I have been bogged down.
The chief US negotiator, John Rood, said last week that the latest sticking point was Russian insistence that the new treaty cover long-range delivery systems. The US wants the treaty to focus solely on nuclear warheads.