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Russia developing new nuclear missile

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Russia Developing New Nuclear Missile
Nov 17, 7:25 PM (ET)

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia is developing a new nuclear missile system unlike any weapon held by other countries, President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday, a move that could serve as a signal to the United States as Washington pushes forward with a missile defense system.

Putin gave no details about the system or why Russia was pursuing it, and it was unclear whether the Kremlin's cash-strapped armed forces could even afford an expensive new weapon.

But in remarks that could also be aimed at a domestic audience, he told a meeting of the top leadership of the armed forces that the system could be deployed soon, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

"We are not only conducting research and successful tests on state-of-the-art nuclear missile systems, but I am convinced that these systems will appear in the near future," Putin said. "Moreover, they will be systems, weapons that not a single other nuclear power has, or will have, in the near future."

"We'll continue our efforts to build our armed forces and its nuclear component," he said.

ITAR-Tass indicated the new system could be a mobile version of the Topol-M ballistic missile, which have been deployed in silos since 1998. But Alexander Pikayev, a senior military analyst with Moscow's Institute for Global Economy and International Relations, said Putin seemed to be referring to the Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile, a solid fuel missile that had its first test in September.

"Putin apparently wanted to boast the success of his military reform effort ... to both the military and the broad public," Pikayev told The Associated Press. "His statement also intended to show that Russia is regaining its status as a great power which can't be ignored."

Russian officials had stated earlier that the Bulava could be developed in both sea- and land-based versions and equipped with warheads capable of penetrating missile defense, Pikayev said.

He said if the Bulava proves capable, it would represent a major success because it would show that Russia has succeeded in modernizing its missile forces despite the shortage of funds.

"It will ring the bell for the Americans, forcing Washington to reassess its estimates," Pikayev said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said it wasn't news to the Bush administration, and that President Bush and Putin had discussed the issue previously. He emphasized there were agreements in place to reduce the two countries' nuclear arsenals and noted Moscow is now a partner in the war on terrorism.

"This is not something that we look at as new," he said. "We are very well aware of their long-standing modernization efforts for their military. ... We are allies now in the global war on terrorism."

McClellan suggested that close ties between Bush and Putin makes alarm unnecessary - but doesn't eliminate Washington's concern.

"We have a very different relationship than we did in the Cold War," he said. "The fact that we do have a good relationship enables us to speak very directly to our Russian friends."

Christopher Langton, head of defense analysis at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, said it appeared to be the first time that Russian officials had spoken publicly about a new deterrent, though he has no idea what the system might be.

"He said it was, firstly, unique and, secondly, capable of defeating any space-based defense system, which is clearly putting the spotlight on the anti-missile of the United States," Langton said.

Military reform is a high priority for Putin, Langton noted, adding that Russia's conventional forces have proved difficult to improve. Missile forces, however, serve as a deterrent simply by their existence, he said.

"He is sending a very clear message that Russia is not going to be rolled over by the United States or NATO," he said.

A national security doctrine Putin signed in 2001 makes it easier for Russia's leaders to use nuclear weapons to oppose any attack if other efforts fail to repel an aggressor. The previous doctrine had stated that Russia would use nuclear weapons only in cases when its national sovereignty was threatened.

Military experts attributed the shift to the tremendous weakness of conventional forces, which might not be able to defend the country in case of an attacks.

Putin has made clear that improving the armed forces, which declined after the breakup of the Soviet Union, is a priority. In the past year, Russia defense officials have made several announcements about new weapons.

Col. Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, chief of staff of the armed forces, said in March that the military tested a "hypersonic flying vehicle" able to maneuver between space and the Earth's atmosphere. Military analysts said the mysterious new weapons could be a maneuverable ballistic missile warhead or a hypersonic cruise missile.

This month, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Russia expected to test a mobile version of its Topol-M ballistic missile soon. Topol-Ms have a range of about 6,000 miles.

News reports have said Russia is believed to be developing a next-generation heavy missile that could carry up to 10 nuclear warheads weighing a total of 4.4 tons, compared with the Topol-M's 1.32-ton combat payload.

Most analysts viewed the earlier announcements about "hypersonic flying vehicles" as Moscow's retaliation to U.S. missile defense plans. After years of vociferous protests, Russia reacted calmly when Washington withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 in order to develop a missile shield. Moscow has since complained about Washington's plans to build new low-yield nuclear weapons.

Other analysts said Putin's statement appeared to be as much show as military strategy.

"This is intended for the internal audience, an attempt to say that things are great, that defense is growing stronger and not falling apart, as it actually is," military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said.

"Russian officials have a special attitude toward nuclear arms," said Alexander Golts of the magazine Yezhenedelny Zhurnal. "It is the last attribute of a superpower, it is what makes us equal to the United States."


Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov and Maria Danilova contributed to the report.

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