- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2001

Given the latest U.S. intelligence revealed yesterday by The Washington Times, the White House must be particularly pleased that President George W. Bush was able to strike such bonhomie with Russian President Vladimir Putin at last week's G-8 meeting in Genoa, Italy.
Bill Gertz, a reporter for The Times, divulged that Russia has conducted a test of a long-range SS-25 missile that may be designed to scuttle U.S. missile defenses. The missile's engine, a supersonic-combustion ramjet, is just as powerful as it sounds, and can generate speeds of five times the speed of sound. Officials familiar with the testing of the SS-25 said the missile was fired into space two weeks ago from a launch site in central Russia, and in its last stage dropped down into the atmosphere, flying at supersonic speed to an impact range thousands of miles away on the Kamchatka Peninsula. The missile has a range of more than 7,000 miles.
According to Lt. Col. Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, which overseas missile defense development, current U.S. systems are capable of knocking down a Scud, even one that travels at high velocity. All the same, given the Russian missile's speed, the closer relationship between Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin seems especially fortuitous.
Mr. Bush has been seeking to convince Mr. Putin that America and Russia could establish a strategic alliance. The U.S.-Russian relationship broke new ground in Genoa, when Mr. Putin said he would be amenable to a U.S. missile defense system if the two countries agreed to aggressively dismantle their nuclear arsenal. "We agree that major changes in the world require concrete discussion of both offensive and defensive systems," a statement issued by the two leaders said.
Interestingly, the Russian missile's capabilities will test to what degree the White House believes its own argument that, in the wake of the Cold War, the United States and Russia are not natural enemies. "If we are going to be intellectually honest about the argument, we have to be prepared to accept" Russia's missile development, said Paul Saunders, director of the Nixon Center, adding that Russia has many security concerns that aren't centered around the United States. Mr. Saunders also said that the missile's long range could prompt some analysts to assume the weapon was engineered by the Russians with U.S.-related concerns in mind. But range guidelines can be misleading, he said, because the longer-range missiles are also more accurate in shorter distances.
Presumably, some policy-makers may point to Russia's testing of the long-range missile as proof that U.S. missile defense is spurring a new arms race. But, since these missiles take several years to develop, the SS-25 can't possibly be a reaction to new U.S. missile defense plans.
Ironically, Mr. Bush's and Mr. Putin's efforts to find common ground on such a potentially contentious issue as missile defense has served to bring the two leaders closer together. And, although U.S. missile defense plans aren't being geared for a Russian attack (given that country's huge nuclear arsenal), the newfound trust between Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin certainly seems propitious with or without the SS-25.

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