|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Putin Visits Mobile ICBM Unit
On Dec. 14, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a two-stop tour of the latest upgrades to Russia's strategic military capabilities, visiting a Topol-M mobile ICBM regiment in Ivanovo Region, and the Plesetsk launch range in Arkhangelsk Region. Ivanovo's missile regiment is the first Topol-M unit to go operational, which it did on Dec. 10. The Topol-M (code-named SS-27 by NATO) is an upgrade of the Topol (SS-25) silo-launched or road-mobile missile, developed in the 1980s; the Topol-M itself completed flight-testing in 1995, but full-scale serial production began only after a decision in 2001, during Putin's first term.
Putin said, according to a Kremlin press release, "The Topol-M itself is a missile of a completely new kind, that has come out of radical modification and modernization of the Topol missile, and uses exclusively Russian-produced technology and components. This mobile strategic missile complex truly is a 21st-Century weapon. Its survivability and precision have been considerably enhanced. It has been equipped with specially designed systems that enable it to penetrate anti-missile defenses and guarantee that it can carry out its missions even in the face of prospective missile defense systems. All of this will make our nuclear deterrent forces effective in the long term."
Russian press coverage of the Topol-M is reminiscent of the tensions during global showdown between the Soviet Union and the West at points in the 1970s and 1980s. A recent issue of Argumenty i Fakty, the most widely read newspaper in Russia, headlined an article, "The Poplar Is Not Some Mere Linden Tree" ("topol" means poplar), with the kicker, "One volley, and no more America!" The article, illustrated with a picture of the road-mobile Topol-M, detailed the range, accuracy, and concealability of the system.
At Plesetsk, Putin viewed progress on the Soyuz-2 and Angara missile-launch systems, and new satellite communications equipment.
Chief of Staff Warns on Missile Defense
Russia's Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff, Yuri Baluyevsky, has again warned against U.S. plans to deploy missile defenses in Europe, saying that the move was aimed against Russia and would prompt retaliatory measures, according to Russian news reports Dec. 14. Baluyevsky underlined that the missile defense site was announced as being geared to a potential threat from North Korea and Iran, neither of which really is capable of attacking the U.S. or NATO in the forseeable future. "The deployment of missile defense in Europe near the Russian border is an unfriendly move, to put it mildly," said Baluyevsky. "Its range will cover a significant portion of the European part of Russia, and its integration with U.S. information resources will further strengthen the anti-Russian potential of this facility." Baluyevsky said that the silos intended for missile defense interceptors could also be used for long-range ballistic missiles. He added that U.S. plans to deploy a national missile defense would remain an irritant in relations between Russia, the USA, and other NATO countries. "We would be forced to search for countermeasures which would be asymmetrical and clearly much cheaper," he said.
On the same occasion, a Dec. 13 meeting with foreign military attaches, Baluyevsky stressed that the area of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) should not become a target area for "destructive" operations, and "any activity in it, outside of regional agencies and forces, must be transparent and understandable. Any 'secret' agendas, and activity aimed at destabilizing the situation ... are inadmissible for Russia."
Gazprom Buying Out Royal Dutch Shell in Sakhalin
Russian First Deputy Premier Dmitri Medvedev confirmed Dec. 12 that the state-owned Gazprom company, whose board he chairs, is in negotiations to buy around a 50% stake in the Sakhalin-2 oil and natural gas project on the Russian Pacific continental shelf, buying out Royal Dutch Shell, Mitsui, and Mitsubishi. "We are looking at all options, ranging from cash to an asset swap," Medvedev said. Shell, the lead foreign investor, has been under heavy pressure from Russian environmental authorities, for alleged violations during the project. In addition, Izvestia reported, last summer's announcement that the cost of developing Sakhalin-2 would balloon from the initial estimate of $10 billion, to $22 billion, meant that the Russian government stood to receive proceeds under the Production Sharing Arrangement much farther down the road than planned, since those profits kick in only after the recovery of costs.
On Dec. 9, President Putin chaired a Russian Security Council meeting on the topic of "restoring order in state policy on oil and gas production on Russia's continental shelf." According to Russian press accounts, monitored by RFE/RL Newsline, the meeting determined that PSAs for continental shelf resource development are inconsistent with Russia's national interests. At the same time, reports from Russian sources suggest that ongoing tension between Gazprom and the state-owned oil company, Rosneft, which is a partner with ExxonMobil in the Sakhalin-1 project, may also be a factor in Gazprom's move.