The White House reacted cautiously Wednesday to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement that his country is developing a nuclear missile “of the kind that other nuclear powers do not and will not have.”
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said it wasn’t news to the Bush administration, that President Bush and Putin had discussed the issue previously. He emphasized U.S.-Russia agreements in place to reduce the two countries’ nuclear arsenals and Washington’s view of Moscow as a crucial partner in the anti-terror battle.
“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.”
Putin said earlier Wednesday that Russia is researching and successfully testing new nuclear missile systems, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
“I am sure that ... they will be put in service within the next few years and, what is more, they will be developments of the kind that other nuclear powers do not and will not have,” Putin was quoted as saying.
Putin reportedly said: “International terrorism is one of the major threats for Russia. We understand as soon as we ignore such components of our defense as a nuclear and missile shield, other threats may occur.”
“We’ll continue our efforts to build our armed forces and its nuclear component,” Putin said, according to ITAR-Tass.
Will it evade missile defense?
No details were immediately available, but Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said earlier this month that Russia expected to test-fire a mobile version of its Topol-M ballistic missile this year and that production of the new weapon could be commissioned in 2005.
Topol-Ms have been deployed in silos since 1998. The missiles have a range of about 6,000 miles and reportedly can maneuver in ways that are difficult to detect.
News reports have also said Russia is believed to be developing a next-generation heavy nuclear 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.
Earlier this year, a senior Defense Ministry official was quoted as telling news agencies that Russia had developed a weapon that could make the United States’ proposed missile-defense system useless. Details were not given, but military analysts said the claimed new weapon could be a hypersonic cruise missile or maneuverable ballistic missile warheads.
Setting the tone
Putin repeatedly has vowed to restore Russia’s military power, which declined after the breakup of the Soviet Union amid severe funding problems. His latest statement sets an assertive tone ahead of this weekend’s summit of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation organization, where he is expected to have a bilateral meeting with President Bush.
Independent military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said the statement appeared to be as much for show as for 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,” Felgenhauer said.
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.”