Russia plans nuclear weapons upgrade

President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow will acquire new nuclear weapon systems which other nuclear powers do not yet have and are unlikely to develop.

    Putin has suggested that new missiles will be ready by 2006

    Speaking to a televised meeting of Russian generals representing the various branches of the armed forces on Wednesday, Putin said tests had already been conducted.

    "I am sure that in the coming years we will acquire them [new generation of nuclear weapons]. Moreover, these will be things which do not exist and are unlikely to exist in other nuclear powers," he said.
    Putin failed to specify what type of weapons he was referring to, but Russia has been seeking to upgrade its nuclear arsenal.

    New arms race?

    The technology race began again after the United States announced plans in 2001 to develop a missile defence shield in abrogation of its 1972 ABM Treaty with Moscow.
    Washington argues its shield would only be capable of defending the United States from attacks from so-called rogue states, and could not stand up to Russia's massive Soviet-era nuclear arsenal.
    However, Putin has since mentioned plans for Russia to also develop a similar system along with new types of intercontinental missiles that Moscow claims could penetrate any space shield put up by the United States. 

    "I am sure that in the coming years we will acquire them. Moreover, these will be things which do not exist and are unlikely to exist in other nuclear powers"

    Russian President Putin

    The ITAR-TASS news agency speculated that Putin was referring to the mobile Topol-M missile which is analogous to an US Minuteman-3 and is meant to form the backbone of Russia's future nuclear arsenal.
    The Topol-M is the first intercontinental missile developed by Russia after the Soviet Union's collapse, but its deployment - initially set for the end of 2002 - has been repeatedly delayed because of severe cash constraints.
    The ITAR-TASS report quoted the missile's Moscow producer as saying that mass production of the Topol-M will be included in the military's 2005 procurement budget. This would mean they would be issued to the armed forces in 2006.

    Change of stance

    The shift in attention to nuclear deterrence came unexpectedly because Putin has for months said that Chechnya posed a major threat to Russia's national security amid a wave of deadly attacks by rebels based in the North Caucasus.
    In his address to the generals on Wednesday, Putin said Russia still viewed "terrorism" as the greatest threat to its national security but it should not forget about the nuclear threat.
    "We understand that the moment we turn our attention from such elements of our defences as a nuclear missile shield, then we will be facing new threats," Putin said.
    "That is why we will continue to persistently develop our armed forces on the whole, including its nuclear arsenal potential," Putin said.



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