U.S. Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) accused Russia last week of testing a new ICBM that, if deployed, would violate the terms of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the Washington Times reported (see GSN, Oct. 26).
Washington and Moscow are negotiating a treaty to replace the 1991 pact, which limits the sides to deploying no more than 6,000 strategic nuclear warheads on 1,600 delivery devices. The treaty, which also put limits on weapons testing and upgrades, is scheduled to expire on Dec. 5.
Russia has successfully tested the ability of its RS-24 ICBM to deliver up to three independently targeted warheads, according to former Assistant Secretary of State Paula DeSutter (see GSN, Nov. 5, 2008).
"That would be illegal for the Russians to deploy under START. So why are they testing it?" Kyl asked in an Oct. 19 Senate floor address.
"In this case, it appears the Russians have cheated -- if not in the letter of the START agreement, at least in its spirit -- by converting one of their existing missiles, the Topol-M, to this new multiple-warhead variant," Kyl said.
The new missile has been years in the making, according to one Senate Republican aide. "Essentially what's happening is they've got a missile ready to field as soon as START expires," the aide said.
DeSutter said Moscow is "in noncompliance on a whole range of START treaty issues."
The Obama administration is preparing its 2009 compliance report on the treaty, said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.
"Some questions about implementation have arisen on both sides" over the years, he said. "The United States and Russia have been working hard to clear up START compliance questions before the treaty goes out of force," Crowley added.
"The more recent compliance report, when it does go to the Senate and House, will be disturbing in a lot of ways because Russia continues to be in violation of the START treaty," said DeSutter, who was involved in preparation of previous reports.
The question of compliance could make it harder for the Obama administration to obtain Republican support in the Senate for a new arms control pact, according to the Times.
Russian Embassy spokesman Yegeni Khorishko defended Moscow's actions: "The Russian Federation is acting in full conformity with the provisions of the START treaty," he said (Bill Gertz, Washington Times, Oct. 22).
Kyl's accusation represents "nothing but the mounting Republican opposition to President Barack Obama," Retired Russian Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin told Interfax in remarks published yesterday. "The Russian tests of the RS-24 did not breach the START I."
Such assertions "not only resist the signing of a new strategic arms treaty but also result from the refusal of the ... Obama administration to deploy missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic," Dvorkin said (see GSN, Oct. 23).
Following the treaty's expiration, the new ICBM "can have the parameters that require minimal upgrading of the Topol-M system and thus minimize production expenditures," he said. "Kyl seems to understand that, so he speaks about a breach of the START I spirit rather than the letter" (Interfax, Oct. 26).
Meanwhile, a defense industry insider pinned recent failures of Russia's experimental Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile on problem's with the weapon's steering system, United Press International reported yesterday (see GSN, Oct. 15)
The weapon, which has failed in six of 11 flight tests, is intended to arm Russia's new Borei-class submarines and to form a key component of Moscow's nuclear deterrent. It is designed to carry as many as 10 independently targeted nuclear warheads up to 5,000 miles (United Press International, Oct. 26)