President Dmitry Medvedev visits missile site in Northern Russia. (Photo: Dmitry Astakhov / AP)
-70 ICBMs intended to pressure US in treaty talks.
-95 billion pound package includes tanks, ships and planes.
Russia has thrown down a new gauntlet to Barack Obama with an announcement that it will sharply increase production of strategic nuclear missiles.
In the latest of a series of combative moves by the Kremlin, a senior government official in Moscow said the Russian military would commission 70 strategic missiles over the next three years, as part of a massive rearmament programme which will also include short-range missiles, 300 tanks, 14 warships and 50 planes.
Military experts said the planned new arsenal was presumed to consist of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) rather than submarine-launched missiles. If this is the case, the plans represent a fourfold increase in the rate of ICBM deployment. The arsenal will include a new-generation, multiple-warhead ICBM called the RS-24. It was first test-fired in 2007, with first deputy prime minister Sergei Ivanov boasting it was "capable of overcoming any existing or future missile defence systems".
The new missiles will be part of a 95 billion pound defence procurement package for 2009-2011, a 28% increase in arms spending, according to Vladislav Putilin of the cabinet's military-industrial commission. There will be further increases in spending in the following two years.
The new military procurements follow the war in Georgia in August. Russian forces easily routed Georgian troops, but the conflict exposed weaknesses in the Russian army, including outdated equipment and poorly co-ordinated command structures. The defence ministry said it would carry out drastic reforms, turning the army into a more modern force.
Vladimir Putin on Monday urged cabinet officials to quickly allocate funds for new weapons and closely control the quality and pace of their production. Military experts said the construction of 70 long-range nuclear missiles in the next three years represented a Russian attempt to strengthen its bargaining position with Washington, in talks aimed at agreeing new nuclear weapons cuts when the current treaty in force, Start I, expires next December.
Moscow's strategy appears to be to challenge Obama's new administration as soon as it takes office on 20 January. On the day Obama was elected the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, announced plans to station short-range Iskander missiles in Russia's Kaliningrad exclave as a counter to American installation of its missile defence system in eastern Europe.
Ruben Sergeev, an expert on disarmament issues, said Moscow was afraid of falling behind in a new arms race.
"Russia is decommissioning its old liquid-fuel missiles from the Soviet era at a rate of several dozen every year," he said. "The Kremlin knows that if it doesn't increase production of ICBMs rapidly now then it will have no chance of getting a new arms reduction treaty out of the US, which has much greater quantities of missiles." Negotiations on a successor to Start I have been bogged down in detail, and hamstrung by the Bush administration's lame duck status.
The chief US negotiator, John Rood, said last week that the latest sticking point was Russian insistence that the new treaty cover long-range delivery systems, such as bombers and missiles, intended for conventional arms as well as nuclear warheads. The US wants the treaty to focus solely on nuclear warheads.
Moscow has also signalled that it would supply Tehran with new surface-to-air missiles in defiance of US opposition. Washington has asked for more information on the sales, fearing the weapons being sold include long-range S-300 missiles, which have a 120km (75 mile) range. They could threaten US planes in Iraq, and could also protect Iranian nuclear sites from aerial attack.
The US has set aside its own plans for military action against Iran for now, but US officials hoped that fear of an Israeli strike would make Iran more amenable to suspending its enrichment of uranium.
Start I Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, July 1991, limited US and Soviet Union to long-range nuclear arsenals of 6,000 warheads on 1,600 delivery systems. Expires 5 December 2009. INF Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty 1987 banned missiles such as the US Cruise with range of 3,500 miles. Start II Signed 1993, supposed to ban multiple warheads on long-range missiles. Russian Duma delayed ratifying and it never came into force. Start III Negotiated in 1997 to reduce nuclear stockpiles to 2,000-2,500 warheads, but fell apart over the US missile defence system. Talks resumed in 2007. Sort Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, or 2002 Moscow Treaty, cuts US and Russian arsenals to 1,700-2,200 operationally deployed warheads each. No verification procedures.