Russia is working on anti-satellite weapons to match technologies developed by other nations and will speed up modernization of its nuclear forces, a deputy defense minister was quoted as saying Thursday.
The statement by Gen. Valentin Popovkin signaled the government's intention to pursue its ambitious plans to strengthen the military despite the money crunch caused by a worsening financial crisis. He said the military will procure enough new missiles to deploy near Poland if the U.S. goes ahead with its European missile defense plans.
Popovkin said Russia continues to oppose a space arms race but will respond to moves made by other countries, according to Russian news reports.
"We can't sit back and quietly watch others doing that; such work is being conducted in Russia," Popovkin was quoted as saying.
Russia already has some "basic, key elements" of such weapons, he said without elaboration.
Popovkin, who previously was the chief of Russian military Space Forces, reportedly made the statement at a news conference in response to a question about U.S. and Chinese tests of anti-satellite weapons.
In February 2008, a U.S. Navy ship launched a missile that hit a dying spy satellite. The test boosted the credibility of missile defense advocates. In 2007, China destroyed one of its own defunct satellites with a ballistic missile.
The Kremlin has criticized U.S. plans for space-based weapons, saying they could trigger a new arms race. Russia and China have pushed for an international agreement banning space weapons, but their proposals have been rejected by the United States.
As part of missile defense plans developed by the previous U.S. administration, the Pentagon worked on missiles, ground lasers and other technology to shoot down satellites.
George W. Bush's administration plan to locate missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic put it at odds with Russia, which opposed the move as a threat to its security.
President Barack Obama has signaled that he might forgo an anti-missile system in Eastern Europe if Russia helps end a standoff over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The Kremlin has welcomed Washington's moves to improve ties, but Russian officials continue to emphasize the need for modernization of Russian military arsenals.
Popovkin said the military this year will procure several dozen new short-range Iskander missiles. Russia has threatened to send such missiles to its westernmost Kaliningrad region if the U.S. locates missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, but media reports said the military now only has a few such missiles.
Popovkin said the government budgeted 1.5 trillion rubles ($42 billion) for weapons purchases this year. He said a quarter of that sum will be spent on strategic nuclear forces.
The military will use the money to put more than 10 new intercontinental ballistic missiles on line by year's end, Popovkin said — a much faster pace of deployment than in previous years.
"We are giving priority to strategic nuclear weapons in order to be able to inflict irreparable damage to anyone who would attack us," Popovkin was quoted as saying.
Popovkin said the military also intends to complete tests of the Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile and put it into service by the year's end. Russian leaders have boasted of its capability to penetrate missile defenses and described it as a key part of the military's future nuclear arsenal.
But the Bulava, intended for Russia's nuclear submarines, has failed in five of its 10 test launches.
"Any weapon may fail during tests," Popovkin was quoted as saying. "We were forced to increase the number of tests because of a series of failures. We have checked the entire production chain and found a number of flaws."
Popovkin said the Russian air force will receive about 50 new planes and 50 military helicopters this year. The figure is significantly higher than the total number of combat aircraft commissioned by the military since the 1991 Soviet collapse. He also said a next-generation fighter jet is set to make its maiden flight in August.
Popovkin said the military will also focus on obtaining high-precision weapons and will procure new ships to protect Russia's interests in the Arctic, where several nations have conflicting claims on the ocean shelf believed to contain rich energy resources.
He also said the military will beef up its forces in the south in response to Russia's war with Georgia last August.