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Russia: Missile Test Heightens Arms Race Fears

By Luke Allnutt

May 30, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Russia has tested new strategic and tactical missiles at a time when tensions with the United States remain high over Washington's plans to locate parts of a missile-defense system in Central Europe.

First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said that the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) it fired could penetrate any missile-defense system.

The new RS-24 ICBM blasted off from a mobile launcher in northwestern Russia on May 29.

It landed -- on target, according to the Strategic Missile Forces -- 5,500 kilometers away on Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia's Far East.

Not very much is known about the missile's development. A statement from the military said the new missile will eventually replace RS-18 and RS-20 missiles, which are staples in Russia's aging missile arsenal.

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said it was a new version of the Topol-M ICBM, which have a range of around 10,000 kilometers.

Other news reports said the missile was equipped with MIRV capabilities, which means the missile carries a number of independently targetable warheads.

However, a spokesperson for the Jane's Information Group said that Russia has said it is a new "designation" of missile, but it isn't yet clear whether it's a new missile or an adapted older missile.

Modernizing Military

Russia is modernizing its military. In November last year, Putin earmarked $200 billion for a 10-year modernization program. On May 29, Ivanov also announced that the military had tested an improved tactical cruise missile.

While the technical specifications of the new ICBM may still be unclear, Russia's message to the West is not.

Ivanov, who is considered by many to be a potential successor to President Vladimir Putin, said on May 29 that the new missiles are "able to overcome any existing and future missile defense shields."

Ivanov's comments were a reference to a proposed U.S. plan to deploy parts of a missile-defense system in Central Europe.

Moscow has criticized the plan, saying it is directed against Russia. President Putin, speaking on May 29 at a news conference with Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates in Moscow, warned against turning Europe into a "powder keg."

"I will say it again: this creates new, unnecessary risks for the entire system of international relations in the world and in Europe," Putin said.

The United States has denied allegations that the missile-defense system is directed against Russia. Washington has said that the shield is intended to defend against threats from "rogue states."

Arms Race Fears

There are fears that recent defense moves by both the United States and Russia could trigger a new arms race in Europe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin last month said Moscow will suspend compliance with the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty because NATO members Slovenia and the Baltic states have not signed it, while other NATO signatories have not ratified it and are not abiding by its provisions.

And on May 29, Ivanov said that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF) is not effective. He said "dozens of countries" bordering Russia have acquired such missiles, which the treaty restricts.

Yury Fedorov, an expert in Russia's foreign and security policy, at the London-based Chatham House, says a new arms race is possible.

"Unfortunately, if Russia really withdrew from the INF treaty, it may ignite a new so-called missile crisis that would be similar to the missile crisis in Europe in the second half of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s of the last century," Fedorov says. "[The missile tests are] a gesture that should demonstrate that Russia is moving from words to deeds in its relations with the West."

With parliamentary elections at the end of this year and a presidential vote in March 2008, Fedorov also says it is likely to be a gesture not just aimed at the West, but aimed at the Russian people.

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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