Russia Makes an Extraordinary Show of Missile Force
Five decades later, amid uneasy relations between Russia and the West, Moscow has given an unprecedented demonstration of its strategic missile prowess. The weekend show of force was extraordinary even by Cold War standards.
The show began Saturday with the firing of a Sineva ballistic missile from a submarine in the Barents Sea, achieving what Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said was an all-time record flight of more than 7,100 miles before landing in the Pacific Ocean. Medvedev observed the missile firing from the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov.
Also on Saturday, Russian Tu-95MS strategic bombers launched cruise missiles in war-games unseen since the Soviet era. And on Sunday, Russia fired three more long-range missiles, including one from a submarine in the Barents Sea, one from a submarine in the Sea of Okhotsk north of Japan, and a Topol ICBM from a space center at Plesetsk, north-east of Moscow.
Medvedev, after observing the tests, said that Russia’s nuclear deterrent and missile defense system were strong. He also pledged that Russia would launch a large-scale construction of aircraft carriers within the next two years. The Admiral Kuznetsov is currently the only carrier in the Russian Navy.
The tests form part of a month-long strategic drill called Stability-2008, the biggest exercise of its kind since the Cold War.
The Sineva has a maximum range of around 5,300 miles when carrying 10 warheads totaling 2.8 tons. It can carry a single warhead up to its maximum range, which in the weekend test exceeded 7,100 miles.
The Nyezavisimaya Gazeta daily noted that Russia stopped Sineva production back in 1996, but said its upgrade could extend the weapon’s life-span. It said the tests were probably intended to demonstrate that the missile could offer an “asymmetric” response to the proposed U.S. ballistic missile defense shield in Europe.
Russia’s new Bulava strategic missile has a maximum range of 5,000 miles and can carry up to six warheads. One was successfully tested last month, fired from a submarine in the White Sea.
Moscow says the Bulava is designed to overcome missile defenses like those the U.S. plans to deploy in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The U.S. says the shield aims to protect the U.S. and allies from missile attack by countries like Iran, not Russia, but Russia remains strongly opposed to the plan.
The Nyezavisimaya Gazeta also commented that while missile defense facilities protect the U.S. mainland well from the east, west and north, it is not well defended from the south, speculating that the deployment of long-range missiles in Latin America could be a strategic deterrent.
During the Soviet era, missile demonstrations were largely limited to towing dummy rockets during Red Square military parades. Actual tests were marked by brief announcements on back pages of official newspapers, basically warning seamen against entering certain areas in the oceans.
While Khrushchev was known for his verbal rhetoric, other Soviet-era leaders were more reserved, with none publicly overseeing missile tests.
And Khrushchev’s boast of missiles being made “like sausages” turned out to be a bluff, it later emerged.
Warnings to the West against pressuring Russia also came from the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who said in an interview published Sunday that the West should not try to teach Russia any lessons, adding that its advice in the past had not been much help.
Even as Russia flexed its muscles at home, it presented an obliging face in Washington, where Russia’s deputy prime minister and finance minister Alexey Kudrin attended a meeting of G7 finance ministers and pledged to cooperate with the West to tackle the global financial crisis.
After the meeting, Kudrin conceded that Russia’s economic growth could slow next year as the crisis pushes down oil prices. He said Moscow was prepared for oil to drop to $50 a barrel and promised that Russia, the world’s second biggest oil exporter, would not cut production to prop up prices.