Kostroma, Russia (RIA Novosti) May 30, 2007
The commander of the Russian Ground Forces, Alexei Maslov, said Wednesday Russia has "a 21st century weapon," following two successful missile tests Tuesday. Earlier commenting on the tests - of a strategic RS-24 MIRV intercontinental missile launched from the north and a new version of the Iskander (SS-26), an advanced theater-level surface-to-surface missile in the south - Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said, "Russians need not worry about defense: they can look confidently to the future."
"We now have new [missile] systems at the strategic as well as theater level," Ivanov had said, adding that "these systems can beat any operational and future missile defenses," in a veiled reference to U.S. plans to place part of its missile shield in Central Europe, notably Poland and Czech Republic.
Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the U.S. plans at a Tuesday meeting with Jose Socrates, the premier of Portugal poised to take over as EU presidency on July 1.
"We believe that attempts to turn Europe into a powder keg and to deploy new kinds of weapons are harmful and dangerous," Putin said.
The RS-24 is a MIRVed version of the operational Topol-M (SS-25), carrying up to 10 independently targetable warheads.
The R-500 is a new cruise missile adapted for the Iskander launcher previously used only with tactical ballistic missiles. With a range of up to 280 km (170 miles), a radar-evading trajectory and a hit error of no more than three meters, it can be effectively used against small targets, including separate missile launchers.
earlier related report
The physical form of the response was an RS-24: a multi-headed intercontinental missile test fired from the northwest Arkhangelsk region and which hit its target in the Pacific Ocean 6,000 kilometres (3,700 miles) away.
Hours after it was launched Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin fired his own warning that the US missile shield could "transform Europe into a powder keg".
Putin's barrage is the latest salvo of tough rhetoric that Moscow has aimed at the West over issues ranging from NATO expansion into former Soviet territory to Russia's threat to veto supervised independence for Kosovo from Serbia.
"In the generally bad atmosphere that exists now, Mr Putin's remarks are hardly surprising," the diplomat said, on condition of anonymity.
He said that defence ministers from the 26 NATO allied nations would raise the test with their new Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov in talks on June 14.
Before then, at Russia's request, a conference will be held in Vienna on June 12 on the need to revise the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which regulates troop numbers and military hardware on the old continent.
"It will probably all fall on deaf ears, with the result being that Russia will withdraw from the CFE," the diplomat said.
The Kremlin, in an earlier broadside against NATO for not ratifying the CFE, had already announced a freeze on the treaty.
According to Russia's strategic command, "the RS-24 reinforces the military potential of the strategic forces to overcome anti-missile defence systems."
At the moment this could only be the shield developed by the United States -- with bases in Alaska and California, as well as components in Britain and Greenland -- aimed at so-called rogue states like Iran.
But if the diplomatic context in which the test took place is clear -- not to mention the Kremlin's message after it was fired -- the technical importance of the test itself is not so obvious.
"It is a genuine new missile but it uses technologies of the Topol-M," a current missile type, a strategic forces spokesman told AFP.
But unlike the Topol-M, the prototype RS-24 is apparently equipped with multiple independently targetable warheads to overwhelm defence systems.
Russia's defence ministry refused to reveal the exact characteristics of the new missile other than to say it was designed to replace the Soviet-era RS-18 and RS-20 missiles.
"Is it a new missile or an update? We don't know yet," said Claire Brunaus, from British-based defence specialists Jane's Information Group.
"We certainly know this is a new designation but whether the missile itself is actually physically new, that we don't know," she said.
The RS-24s could contain up to four warheads and potentially give Russia the ability to hit targets up to 10,000 kilometres away.
"They are providing the military with tremendous targeting flexibility," said Bruno Gruselle at the Paris-based Strategic Research Foundation (FRS). "And no anti-missile defence system is strong enough to counter them."
But he noted that the "apparent target" of the test was more likely to be a psychological one, as negotiations on the shield continue, namely, "the Polish public, to get Warsaw to stop taking part in the American shield."
earlier related report
At a meeting of G8 foreign ministers outside Berlin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Washington's proposal threatened to dangerously undermine the regional strategic balance.
"I think that those who are professionally aware of this problem understand that there is nothing ludicrous about this issue because the arms race is starting again," Lavrov told a press conference.
"Strategic stability is being damaged," he said.
The "ludicrous" label had been flung at Moscow's concerns on Tuesday by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was also attending the Potsdam meeting.
On Wednesday, Rice responded to Lavrov's latest remarks by insisting that the planned missile shield posed no threat to Moscow.
"The idea is that this particular missile defence programme cannot and is not expected to be able to somehow degrade the Russian nuclear deterrent," she said.
She added that Russia's nuclear deterrent "would overwhelm quite easily anything that is anticipated now or in the future for American and European missile defence."
The United States says the planned radar base in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in neighbouring Poland would defend Europe against potential threats from Iran and North Korea.
Moscow accuses the United States and NATO of aggressive military expansion into its backyard and in response has frozen compliance in a landmark Cold War-era conventional arms treaty.
Washington's inability to mollify Moscow was highlighted on Tuesday when Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the planned US missile shield carried enormous risks.
"We think it is damaging and dangerous to transform Europe into a powder keg and fill it with new forms of weapons," Putin said.
On the same day, Russian defence officials lauded the first successful test of the new RS-24 intercontinental missile, aimed directly at breaching integrated missile shields.
Fired from the northwestern Arkhangelsk region, the multi-warhead RS-24 rocket hit its target on the Kamchatka Peninsula on the Pacific Ocean 6,000 kilometres away, the country's strategic missile forces said in a statement.
The respected Kommersant daily newspaper described the test as Russia's "asymmetrical response to America," while parliament deputy Igor Barinov said "our rocket complex is part of a moral struggle against the American missile system in Europe."
Adding further fuel to the debate, the former Soviet republic Lithuania came out Wednesday in favour of a missile shield in Europe.
"Our country needs these systems," Lithuanian Defence Minister Juozas Olekas said. "There is a threat that in some years unstable countries will get the technical capability to attack. The world must restrain this process."
earlier related report
"I think that those who are professionally aware of this problem understand that there is nothing ludicrous about this issue because the arms race is starting again. Strategic stability is being damaged," Lavrov said at a press conference after a meeting of G8 foreign ministers outside Berlin.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was also attending the Potsdam meeting, on Tuesday described Russian concerns about the shield as "ludicrous."
Washington wants to base the shield in the former Soviet states of Poland and the Czech Republic and says it is aimed to defend against attacks from states such as North Korea, but Russia insists it endangers its security.
Lavrov said: "All they (the Americans) are saying is 'don't worry it is not aimed at you', but our analysis is that such answers are ludicrous."
Rice responded: "The idea is that this particular missile defence programme cannot and is not expected to be able to somehow degrade the Russian nuclear deterrent."
She said Russia's nuclear deterrent "would overwhelm quite easily anything that is anticipated now or in the future for American and European missile defence."
Rice said she hoped that "we have taken care of the North Korean nuclear threat, I think it is a little early to declare victory on that one and we certainly haven't yet been able to take care of the Iranian nuclear programme.
"So there are future threats to be concerned about."
Source: RIA Novosti
Source: Agence France-Presse
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Seoul (AFP) May 30, 2007
North Korea Wednesday urged South Korea to start delivering its promised rice aid and said the United States was to blame for the delay in carrying out a nuclear disarmament pact. The South, which is holding a four-day reconciliation meeting with its communist neighbour this week, says it will not start shipments until the nuclear-armed North begins shutting down its reactor.
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