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Better Missiles

Torsten Schäfer (sms)
June 21, 2007

Ambitious plans for new satellite and rocket programs reflect Russia's attempts to flex its muscle and recover lost prestige on the international stage, say German experts.

Russia plans to launch 20 satellites that could help steer intercontinental missiles by 2010Image: AP

Sergei Ivanov, one of Russia's two deputy prime ministers, announced this week that Russia would expand its aerospace defense and satellite programs by launching a total of 20 additional satellites into orbit by 2010 for its Glonass navigation system.

The system, which Moscow is developing as a counterweight to both the US GPS and European Galileo satellite navigation systems, could also be used to steer cruise missiles, according to Götz Neuneck, an armaments expert at Hamburg University's Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy.

"Glonass makes the armed forces more flexible and weapons systems more precise," he said. "There has been no attempt from the US side to renew control treaties; that is another reason why Moscow is starting up."

Situation changed since Soviet-US talks

USA Israel Raketenabwehr Übung in der Negev Wüste
Experts debate if the US missile shield is really the cause behind Russia's arms programImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Russia has felt pressured to expand its aerospace weapons capabilities by a US decision to exclude defensive systems from the 2002 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to develop its National Missile Defense, part of which US military planners want to locate in Poland and the Czech Republic, Neuneck added.

"The Soviet-American treaty (on intermediate nuclear forces) is not effective because since (its signature) scores of countries have appeared that have such missiles, while Russia and the United States are not allowed to have them," Ivanov told a military-industrial commission, Reuters reported. "In these conditions, it is necessary to provide our troops with modern, high-precision weapons."

Missile shield only a pretext?

Gaspipeline in Russland
Money from energy exports enables Russia to modernize its militaryImage: dpa - Report

But Hannes Adomeit, a Russia expert from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said the US missile defense system is only the cover the Kremlin was looking for to renew its missile arsenal.

"Without the planned missile defense, Moscow would still arm itself in the same way," he added.

Among the new weapons are short-range Iskander-M missiles as well as RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missiles, which can be armed with up to 10 warheads, both of which were tested in May. Ivanov has said the two missile systems have been designed to overpower all existing and planned missile defense systems.

Recouping lost prestige

Matthes Buhbe, head of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung's Moscow office said there has been scant criticism of the missile plans from the Russian public.

"From the left to the right, everyone is excited," he said.

Wladimir Putin reloaded
Experts said Putin is highly interested in restoring Russia's previous statureImage: AP

A Cold War mentality is still present in the Kremlin, and Russia is interested in reclaiming the international influence it had as the Soviet Union, Adomeit said.

"Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to position Russia as a world power and prove that it is a nuclear equal with the USA," he said.

Policy should be taken seriously

Experts consider nearly 80 percent of the Russian arsenal to be out-of-date, making the current potential for escalation small when compared to the political situation of the 80s. But as some $150 billion (112 billion euros) in income from gas and oil exports fills Russian coffers, the defense department announced it had quadrupled military spending from 2000 to 2006.

The West, and Europe in particular, should take Moscow's change of position seriously and push for new arms control treaties, Neuneck said.

"The Europeans are again caught between the Russian and American nuclear mill-stones," he said, adding that the danger of conflict increases as arms programs replace non-proliferation talks. "Instead of negotiations each side is modernizing its own arsenal."

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