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Collision Course With Russia Over ABM Plans

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
By Martin Sieff
Washington (UPI) Dec 15, 2006
There was nothing new in the warnings Russia's top general made Wednesday against U.S. plans to deploy anti-ballistic missile defense systems in Central Europe. The news was that he was repeating what he had said before.

According to a report carried by the RIA Novosti news agency, four star Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, the chief of Russia's general staff, told a meeting of foreign military attaches in Moscow "The creation of a U.S. anti-missile base cannot be viewed otherwise than as a major reconfiguration of the American military presence."

"Vanguard groupings of the U.S. armed forces in Europe have until now had no strategic components," the general said. "This raises the question as to who U.S. anti-missile plans are really targeted against, and what kind of implications they may have for Russia and Europe at large."

RIA Novosti reported that Baluyevsky "dismissed assurances that the base's buildup will have no noticeable effect on Russia's nuclear deterrent potential."

"An ABM area near Europe's Russian borders is an unfriendly step, to put it mildly, and an unfriendly signal," he said. "The potential interception zone for ballistic missiles from this area will span much of Russia's European territory."

"Given that its [the shield's] creation may prompt other countries to step up their activities in missile building, the situation in the longer term appears all the more alarming. It is clearly fraught with the potential for a nuclear arms race, which will have a negative impact on global strategic stability.

"It will force us to look for certain counter-measures, which will definitely be asymmetrical and less expensive," Baluyevsky said.

Top Russian military commanders never speak the way Baluyevsky did on Wednesday without being told to so by the Kremlin first. This is especially the case under President Vladimir Putin, who has more unquestioned authority and control over the Russian armed forces than any Russian or Soviet leader in more than 20 years, possibly since the 1960s-1970s days of Leonid Brezhnev before he slipped into his long decline.

In these columns, we have repeatedly documented the powerful warnings Gen. Baluyevsky and his boss, dynamic Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, have made against the ongoing U.S. plans to deploy BMD systems in Central Europe, primarily in Poland and the Czech Republic. As we have noted, the frequency and intensity of these warnings have intensified in recent months since the much criticized Ground-based Midcourse Interceptor system being deployed around Fort Greeley, Alaska, scored a direct hit on a target missile in a crucial test in September.

We have also repeatedly documented in these columns how major allies of the United States such as Japan and Israel take U.S. technical progress in BMD very seriously indeed. The deduction to be drawn from Gen. Baluyevsky's comments this week and the warnings that have come before is that the Russian leadership does too. But that is not necessarily a reassuring conclusion. It signals that the major European nations and the United States are heading at full speed for a strategic confrontation with Russia in Central Europe.

The United States and its NATO allies are ill prepared to deal with a sudden rise in tensions between themselves and Russia and its allies in Central Europe. The U.S. armed forces are going to be bogged down in Iraq for the foreseeable future, probably for years to come. No major Western European NATO nation has significant military resources to spare to rush to nations like Poland and the Czech Republic if they should suffer an upsurge in terrorism.

Related threats could come from major crime caused by the immensely powerful Russian-dominated crime cartels that continue to operate with impunity throughout most of the former Soviet satellite nations that are now in NATO. The alliance itself is already badly overextended by its deployment in Afghanistan.

In recent weeks, Russia has played tough over its natural gas supplies to Western Europe, angering and alarming the major European Union nations. And this week, reports from Moscow indicated that Russian companies were going to accelerate their work on finishing Iran's controversial Bushehr nuclear reactor.

Already, the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms race is in higher gear on both sides than at any time in the past quarter-century. On Nov. 16, according to another RIA Novosti report, Russian President Vladimir Putin told a meeting with top military officials, "Maintaining a strategic balance will mean that our strategic deterrent forces should be able to guarantee the neutralization of any potential aggressor, no matter what modern weapons systems he possesses."

Putin "called for the creation of cutting-edge strategic weapons, and emphasized the importance of quality," RIA Novosti said.

"We must meet schedules to create new strategic weapons to secure a balance of forces in the world. This means that we will not indulge in comparisons of quantitative data of our strategic nuclear deterrent forces as we did previously," the Russian president said.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told that meeting that Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces would purchase 17 intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2007, as well as four spacecraft and four carrier rockets.

RIA Novosti said then Russia planned to complete the modernization of the naval component of its nuclear triad by 2016. The Russian navy would deploy "new Bulava ballistic missiles on Project 955 Borey-class nuclear-powered submarines and equipping land-based strategic missile units with silo-based and mobile Topol-M (SS-27) ballistic missiles," the report said.

According to Russian media reports, some 40 of the planned 79 Topol-Ms scheduled to be operationally deployed by 2015 are already in place.

The determination of Russia's leaders to respond to, match and potentially overcome the new BMD deployments in Europe, therefore, is no bluster or bluff. President Putin and his government have the will and the resources to do it.

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