Moscow’s saber- and missile-rattling peaked this week in both deeds and strong words. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources catalogued the events.
December 12: Russia pulled out of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. This key accord dating from the Cold War limited the stationing of troops and heavy weapons between the Atlantic Ocean and Russia’s Ural Mountains.
Moscow said the CFE had become irrelevant when the 26 NATO members failed to ratify the 1999 version of the treaty.
That same day, Moscow made another two moves:
First, Russia’s second Topol-M mobile missile battalion was moved to join a missile unit stationed near Teikovo, about 150 miles northeast of Moscow.
The mobile missile’s chief designer, Yuri Solomonov, said his invention dropped its engines at substantially lower altitudes than earlier designs. This made it hard for an enemy’s early warning system to detect its launch.
Furthermore, the missiles’ warhead and decoys resembled one another so closely that a foe would find it extremely difficult to distinguish the real target from a flock of lures.
Second, deputy prime minister Sergei Ivanov, warned that Russia would lose its independence if it failed to achieve nuclear arms parity with the United States.
Addressing members of the military-industrial commission, the Kremlin official said: Russia must smile, but also “hide a gun”, if it is to compete with its former adversary once again.
“The weak are not loved and not heard, they are insulted,” said Ivanov. “When we have parity they will talk to us differently.”
Russian missiles deployed in Belarus and tested from submarines
December 14: Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko ended two days of talks with President Vladimir Putin in Minsk with words of support for Moscow.
Putin made the point that Russia was capable of countering US plans to deploy a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic by deploying missiles in Belarus between Russia and Poland.
December 15: Russian chief of staff Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky told a news conference in Moscow:
“We are talking about the possibility of a retaliatory strike being triggered by the mistaken classification of an interceptor missile.”
He explained that he was referring to an interceptor missile that might be launched by the United States and mistaken by Russia’s automatic defense system for a ballistic missile attack on Russia.
“Who will take responsibility for an automatic triggering of the system if an interceptor missile is launched from Polish territory and crosses Russia to shoot down an Iranian missile?” the Russian general asked.
December 16: Putin’s Kremlin bureau leaked the news that the Russian president would land in the Middle East on New Year’s Eve and his staff were working on arrangements for a possible visit to Israel.
His plane is expected to touch down first in Damascus, after which Russian helicopters will fly him to the deck of the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, which is due to dock by then at Syria’s Tartous port at the head of a flotilla of warships. Putin plans to spend the New Year with the sailors and air crews aboard the carrier.
(More about this in HOT POINTS below.)
That same day, the Russian company building the Bushehr reactor, Atomstroiexport, said 180 fuel rods would be sent to Bushehr in the next two months. The Bush administration withdrew its long objection to the delivery.
December 17: A nuclear submarine of Russia’s Northern Fleet successfully test-launched a ballistic missile from the Barents Sea in the Arctic. It was aimed at a Far Eastern target.
The dummy missile, launched from a K-114 (Delta IV class) Tula sub, hit the target on schedule at the Kura test site on the Kamchatka Peninsula, according to the Russian Navy press officer. He said the launch from an underwater position was part of a training exercise to test the readiness of Russia’s marine strategic nuclear forces.
Washington and Moscow quietly concur on Iran
This rush of military activity and bellicose talk, packed into six days, presents the appearance of wound-up tensions between Moscow and Washington and suggests the Cold War is back.
However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington and Moscow temper this assessment. They report that the quiet exchanges in progress behind the scenes present a different picture. Moscow’s objections to the deployment of American anti-missile interceptor systems in Poland and the Czech Republic have not abated. At the same time, they did come to an understanding on the shipment of fuel to Bushehr and policy on Iran. It involves joint US-Russian pressure to force Tehran to suspend its nuclear program in return for the removal of the Iranian nuclear issue from the UN Security Council agenda.
Putin insisted on the Bush administration waiving its objections to the delivery of the fuel rods for Bushehr so that Moscow would not be in breach of its contract to finish building the plant. In return, the Russian president agreed to give Iran no more than two months to give up uranium enrichment. If Tehran still continued to defy UN resolutions, Moscow promised to support tough Security Council sanctions.
On the day the fuel rods were shipped to Iran, Bush and Putin sounded like echoes of each other: Both said that following the delivery, Tehran no longer needed to enrich uranium independently. The US president played his part by withholding criticism of Moscow.
The conspiracy between Washington and Moscow is not lost on Tehran. It has prompted fresh arguments among the lead players over the wisdom of persisting in a hard line on the nuclear question.
Publicly, Iranian officials declare that independent nuclear enrichment will never be abandoned in any circumstances and that external sources cannot be relied on for fuel to power another nuclear reactor to be commissioned after Bushehr. At the same time, there are more voices in Tehran demanding an end to the verbal confrontation with the United States in favor of an accommodation.