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Russia: Moscow Insists It Is ‘Close’ To Possessing Unique Nuclear Weapons

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov announced yesterday that Moscow will soon have a unique new generation of nuclear weapons "not possessed by any country in the world." The minister did not give any technical details. Russian President Vladimir Putin first spoke of the new generation of nuclear weaponry in November but also provided no details.

Prague, 14 February 2005 -- Defense Minister Ivanov said Russia will soon put into service new nuclear missile systems unlike those held by any other country in the world.

The announcement was made at the Munich Security Conference: "We already see, we have every reason to believe, it will be a unique [nuclear weapons] system, not possessed by any country in the world."

Ivanov refused to say in what respect the new weaponry would be unique. The minister only said the new system would not be aimed against any individual country but would guarantee Russia's security against "absolutely any threat that exists or could arise in the future."

In November, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about a new generation of nuclear weaponry, but military analysts can only guess at what kind of weapons the Russian leaders have in mind.
"My immediate response is, ‘Who is paying for them?’" -- Doug Richardson, an editor of "Jane's Missiles and Rockets" magazine

Doug Richardson, an editor of "Jane's Missiles and Rockets" magazine, told RFE/RL that it is unclear what Ivanov exactly means.

"There are several possibilities. One is maybe he's referring to the new ‘Bulava’ submarine-launched ballistic missile, but right now that's only at [the] very beginning of its development program," Richardson said. "And he also might be referring to the fact that Russians have flight tested a powered reentry vehicle for a ballistic missile.”

When a ballistic missile reenters the atmosphere the warhead is no longer subject to guidance. At that point it's just like an artillery round. But a powered reentry vehicle with an air-breathing engine could take over and adjust the warhead's trajectory to help it avoid air-defense systems, making it maneuverable.

Russian independent defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer told RFE/RL in November that the new Russian missiles would have maneuverable warheads. He said Russian officials are probably talking about the research leftovers of the Soviet effort in 1980s to build what was known at that time as an "asymmetric response" to U.S. President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as “Star Wars.”

"There are different...ways of making strategic intercontinental nuclear warheads less susceptible to antiballistic missile defenses," Felgenhauer said. He added that it might be true that Russia was so far the only country to develop such technology. However, he said the United States has not felt the need to develop maneuverable warheads as no other country was building a modern missile-defense system.

Although what Ivanov said could put Russia nearer to a military-superpower status, Richardson said he doubts contemporary Russia's capabilities to build advanced nuclear weaponry:

"My immediate response is, ‘Who is paying for them?’" Richardson said. "Because the Russian defense budget, which is just being released -- I'm going by memory here -- I think it allows them to buy, in the course of the next year, six ballistic missiles. Back in the days of the Cold War they used to buy 50 a year of each model of ballistic missiles. Now, they can only afford a handful of one model."

Richardson said that Russia has no money for such a large ballistic-missile-deployment program or for the necessary scientific research.

However, Russia prides itself on being the sole inheritor of the vast nuclear arsenal that gave the Soviet Union its superpower status and basic military parity with the United States.

Richardson said he also doubts that Russia is utilizing scientific and technological research leftover from the Soviet era.

"If it's so, it’s something we obviously don't know about," Richardson said. "Most of the programs from the Soviet era simply died due to a lack of funding."

Richardson said Russia is behind the United States in many fields, also in producing new supersonic jet fighters and other more conventional military equipment.

Washington does not appear overly concerned by Russia’s most recent claims. Several months ago, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said that the United States "does not perceive Russia's nuclear modernization activities as threatening" and added that what Russia is doing is consistent with treaties between the United States and Russia.

Analysts have also pointed out that Russia does not need more or better ballistic missiles as the United States is no longer an enemy of Moscow’s and such missiles will not solve the problems of fighting terrorism or separatism.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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