- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

MOSCOW — Russia’s defense minister yesterday laid out an ambitious plan for building new intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines and possibly aircraft carriers, and set the goal of exceeding the Soviet army in combat readiness.

Sergei Ivanov’s statements appeared aimed at raising his profile at home ahead of the 2008 election in which he is widely seen as a potential contender to succeed President Vladimir Putin. But they also seemed to reflect a growing chill in Russia-U.S. relations and the Kremlin’s concern about U.S. missile-defense plans.

Mr. Ivanov told parliament the military would get 17 new ballistic missiles this year — a drastic increase over the average of four deployed annually in recent years. The purchases are part of a weapons-modernization program for 2007-2015 worth about $190 billion.

The plan envisages the deployment of 34 new silo-based Topol-M missiles and control units, as well as an additional 50 such missiles mounted on mobile launchers by 2015; Russia so far has deployed more than 40 silo-based Topol-M weapons.

Mr. Putin and other officials have described the Topol-M as a bulwark of Russia’s nuclear might for years to come, and said it can penetrate any prospective missile defenses. Last week, Mr. Putin dismissed U.S. claims that missile-defense sites Washington hopes to establish in Poland and the Czech Republic were intended to counter threats from Iran, and said Russia would respond by developing more-efficient weapons systems.

In 2002, Mr. Putin and President Bush signed a treaty obliging both sides to cut their strategic nuclear weapons by about two-thirds by 2012, down to between 1,700 and 2,200 missiles. But Russia-U.S. ties have since worsened steadily over disagreements on Iraq and other global crises, and U.S. concerns about an increasingly authoritarian streak in Russia’s domestic policy.

A rising tide of oil revenue has enabled Russia to boost defense spending after a squeeze on the military in the 1990s.

“The question now is whether the industries are capable of producing what the military needs,” Mr. Ivanov said.

Analysts warn that building any sizable numbers of new weapons would pose a daunting challenge to the defense plants that received virtually no government orders for a decade following the 1991 Soviet collapse.

Russia’s defense budget, which stood at $8.1 billion in 2001, nearly quadrupled to $31 billion this year, Mr. Ivanov said. While this year’s military spending is Russia’s largest since the Soviet collapse, it is still about 20 times less than the U.S. defense budget.

Mr. Ivanov said the military now has enough money to intensify combat training.

“Combat readiness of the army and the navy is currently the highest in the post-Soviet history,” he said, adding the task now is to “exceed Soviet-era levels.”

Mr. Ivanov said the military now has about 1.13 million servicemen, compared with 1.34 million in 2001.

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