Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Going Ballistic

Russia is serious about abrogation of the INF treaty, Pavel Felgenhauer suggests in a new Eurasia Daily Monitor article, asserting that “the Russian military always disliked the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, signed in 1987 by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.”

From later in the piece:

During the invasion of Chechnya in 1999 and 2000, the Russian military used SS-21 (Tochka-U) ballistic missiles to attack Chechen towns and villages (Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, October 29, 1999). Russian Air Force attack helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are old and badly maintained because spare parts are in short supply. The pilots are untrained, because they lack adequate flying practice. Russia does not have modern, airborne, precision-guided weapons. But ballistic missiles can fill the gap.

The SS-21 has a range of 120 kilometers. Using mobile launchers deployed in North Ossetia and in Dagestan, the Russian military could effectively cover all of Chechnya during the 1999-2000 offensive. But should a conflict erupt elsewhere in the Caucasus or, perhaps, in Crimea near Sevastopol, the SS-21s deployed in the North Caucasus will be of little help, and the Iskander-M will be useful only with a range enhanced to 500 kilometers.

While the Kremlin rhetoric is today aimed at Washington and its possible strategic missile defense deployments, the true target is the INF. Moscow wants to deploy new missiles that cannot reach the United States, but are designed for neighbors. That was in essence the thrust of Putin’s Munich speech, aimed at the West: Accept us as equals and give us at last our sphere of influence within the region. Keep out! Stop poking into our neighborhood — or we may go ballistic.
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