- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2007

MOSCOW — Russia yesterday test-launched a new intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple independent warheads, and a top government official said it could penetrate any defense system, a news agency reported.

The new missile would modernize Russia’s stockpile at a time of rising tensions with the West.

The ICBM was fired from a mobile launcher at the Plesetsk launch site in northwestern Russia, and its test warhead landed on target about 3,400 miles away on the far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, a statement from the Russian Strategic Missile Forces said.

President Vladimir Putin has said repeatedly that Russia would continue to improve its nuclear weapons systems and respond to U.S. plans to deploy a missile-defense system in Europe.

First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said the ICBM, as well as a tactical cruise missile that also was tested yesterday, can penetrate any missile-defense system, Russian news agencies reported.

“As of today, Russia has new [missiles] that are capable of overcoming any existing or future missile defense systems,” ITAR-Tass quoted Mr. Ivanov as saying. “So in terms of defense and security, Russians can look calmly to the country’s future.”

Mr. Ivanov is a former defense minister seen as a potential candidate to succeed Mr. Putin in elections next year.

The U.S. has said its missile-defense system is intended to deter Iran and other so-called “rogue nations.”

The “United States has made clear to the Russians that this missile shield is directed at other nations that could conceivably affect the peace of Europe. We will continue to make sure that Russia fully understands our intentions,” National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said yesterday.

The ICBM, called the RS-24, is seen as eventually replacing the aging RS-18s and RS-20s that are the backbone of Russia’s missile forces, the statement said. Those missiles are known in the West as the SS-19 Stiletto and the SS-18 Satan.

The RS-24 “strengthens the capability of the attack groups of the Strategic Missile Forces by surmounting anti-missile defense systems, at the same time strengthening the potential for nuclear deterrence,” the statement said.

The statement did not specify how many warheads the missile can carry.

Mr. Ivanov said the missile was a new version of the Topol-M, first known as the SS-27 in the West, but one that can carry multiple independent warheads, ITAR-Tass reported.

Alexander Golts, a respected military analyst with the Yezhenedelny Zhurnal online publication, expressed surprise at the announcement. “It seems to be a brand-new missile. It’s either a decoy or something that has been developed in complete secrecy,” he told the Associated Press.

The new missile probably would be more capable of penetrating missile-defense systems than previous models, said Alexander Pikayev, a senior analyst at the Moscow-based Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

He said its development was probably “inevitable” after the U.S. withdrew from the Soviet-era Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty in 2002 in order to deploy a national missile-defense shield.

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