Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces in Transition

Pavel Podvig, “Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces in Transition”, An afterword for the English edition, Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, Pavel Podvig, ed., Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001


The Russian edition of this book appeared in November 1998, and the bulk of the research that went into it had been completed long before that. Since then the Russian strategic forces have undergone a series of important transformations that need to be reflected in the book if it is to provide an accurate account of the current situation.

With a few notable exceptions, the changes, however profound, are mostly the result of a natural evolution of the nuclear complex. A number of old missiles or systems were withdrawn from service, and some new weapons were introduced. Since this book is intended to be used as a reference, these changes have been intro­duced into the text of the book whenever it was possible. The authors hope that this has resulted in a book that correctly describes the current state of the Russian nuclear complex and strategic arsenal.

Some of the developments in the Russian nuclear complex, however, require a separate description, either because they affect more than just one system or because they give a better view of the future of the Russian nuclear complex if they are brought together. These developments are described in this afterword, which attempts to present an overview of the most important events of the last three years and discuss their impact on the future of the Russian nuclear complex.

The most important change that has occurred since 1997 is the structural reform of the Russian armed forces, which is described in the first section of this afterword. The reform has been quite radical in the sense that it has already resulted in the elimination of one of the armed forces services, and it will probably bring more changes in the next few years. At the same time, the impact that the reform has had on the existing military structures that are included in the strategic forces has not been that serious. As a result, almost all information about the structure of the strategic forces presented in this book remains accurate.

The second section of the afterword is devoted to the main arms control devel­opments of the last three years, two of which are most important: ratification of the START II Treaty and strengthening of Russia's opposition to the U.S. missile defense plans. The outcome of the missile defense debate and progress at U.S.-­Russian negotiations on reduction of nuclear forces will play a very important role in determining the future of the Russian strategic forces.

Among other factors that will shape the future of the Russian nuclear arsenal is the capability of the Russian leadership to complete the restructuring and down-sizing of its nuclear complex. The measures that have been taken so far and the general overview of the effect of these efforts are described in the afterword's third section.

Structural Reform

In 1997, after several years of deliberations and internal debates, the Russian lead­ership began the structural reform of the armed forces. In July 1997 the Russian president signed a decree that authorized the beginning of the transformation.[1] The underlying idea of the reform was to move away from the traditional five-service structure of the Soviet forces, which included the Strategic Rocket Forces, the Navy, the Ground Forces, the Air Forces, and the Air Defense Forces. By the time the transformation began, there seemed to be general agreement in the military that the armed forces should consists of only three services: the Air Forces, Navy, and Ground Forces—one for each sphere of operations. The specifics of the transition, however, were to be determined and remain highly contested even at the present time.

The main provisions of the July 1997 presidential decree ordered dissolution of the Air Defense Forces, which were to be split between the Strategic Rocket Forces and the Air Forces.[2] The Missile and Space Defense Forces, which had control over the early-warning, missile defense, and space surveillance systems, were transferred to the jurisdiction of the Strategic Rocket Forces. In addition, the Military Space Forces, which had been a separate branch of the armed forces since 1982, were sub­ordinated to the Strategic Rocket Forces. The Air Forces and the remainder of the Air Defense Forces, which included radio-technical and surface-to-air missile troops and air defense fighter aviation, were merged to form the new Air Forces.

The intention of the reform was to reduce the number of personnel, streamline development and acquisition procedures, and get rid of parallel structures that existed in the old system. By this logic, it was natural that the Strategic Rocket Forces, which had significant expertise in procuring and maintaining missiles, would take over other missile-related branches, the Military Space Forces in particular.

As far as Missile and Space Defense Forces are concerned, the rationale behind merging them with the Strategic Rocket Forces was that the latter is the only strate­gic service that could make full use of the information provided by the early-warning system to launch its missiles promptly. It was believed that closer integration of the early-warning system and the Strategic Rocket Forces' command and control would facilitate a more stable and reliable force posture. Since all components of the Space Defense Forces are closely linked to one another, missile defense and space surveil­lance systems were transferred to the Strategic Rocket Forces as well.

The merger of the Strategic Rocket Forces with the Military Space Forces and the Missile and Space Defense Forces was largely completed by November 1997 and was accompanied by a 30 percent cut in personnel. Nevertheless, it was announced that the new service is more effective than its predecessors combined.[3] As it turned out, however, while the merger did allow some streamlining of development and acquisition, the Strategic Rocket Forces have not been very successful in managing space-related missions, previously assigned to the Military Space Forces, or in main­taining the complex information-management structure that forms the core of the early-warning and space surveillance systems. As a result, three years later, in August 2000, the Military Space Forces and Missile and Space Defense Forces were slated to be removed from the Strategic Rocket Forces' jurisdiction to form separate branches of the armed forces.

The transformation of the Air Forces seems to have been more successful. As the result of this merger of the Air Forces and the Air Defense Forces units, the number of personnel was cut by about 45 percent and the number of regiments by a third.[4] All of the strategic aviation units in the two services were combined into an air army of the Supreme High Command.[5] The transition to the new structure of the Air Forces was completed by the fall of 1998.[6]

In summer of 1998, while the first steps toward restructuring of the armed forces were in progress, the Russian president signed a document that outlined a broader concept of military reform up to the year 2005.[7] The concept was set to continue the restructuring initiated a year earlier and called for cutting the number of Russian military personnel to 1.2 million by the end of 1998. In the next stage, which was to begin in 2000 and end in 2005, the armed forces were to undertake a transition from a four-service to a three-service structure.[8]

The three services envisioned by the outline of the military reform were to cor­respond to three spheres of operations: ground, air and outer space, and sea. A structure like this would have problems accommodating the Strategic Rocket Forces, which has traditionally been one the most powerful services in the Soviet and Russian military. This consideration was one of the factors that led the Ministry of Defense to come up with a plan of creating a Joint High Command of Strategic Deterrence Forces. The proposed structure was supposed to bring all strategic nuclear forces—that is, ICBMs, strategic missile submarines, and long-range avia­tion, under operational control of the Joint High Command, which would be directly accountable to the Supreme High Command.[9]

Under the plan, proposed by the Minister of Defense, the transition to the three-service structure was to be completed in 1999. The Joint High Command and its strategic nuclear forces would form a structure separate from all other services. The Strategic Rocket Forces would form a core of the new command. In its most extreme version the plan called for subordinating the 12th Main Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, as well as conventional units that support operations of nuclear forces, to the new command.[10]

The idea of such a Joint High Command was met with very strong opposition from the General Staff, which has traditionally carried out most, if not all, of the functions of the proposed Joint Command. An intense discussion ensued, in which the General Staff was supported by other services. As a result of this discussion, the proposal to form a Joint High Command was withdrawn by the fall of 1999.

In 2000, when the transfer to the three-service structure of the armed forces was supposed to begin, the General Staff unveiled a proposal that called for a strong shift of priorities away from strategic nuclear forces to conventional forces. Among other measures, the proposal envisioned deep cuts in the number of deployed nuclear warheads and missiles. Since the cuts would have led to the Strategic Rocket Forces' losing many of its regiments and much of its manpower, it was to be demoted to a branch of armed forces and subordinated to the Air Forces.

The new proposal was no less controversial than the idea of the Joint High Command. It was considered among other proposals at a special session of the Secu­rity Council on 11 August 2000, which was supposed to finalize the military reform plans for the next decade. The result of that session was to refrain from any radical measures that would affect the Strategic Rocket Forces. Instead, the most impor­tant outcome of the meeting was the announcement of further cuts of military per­sonnel: The armed forces that report to the Ministry of Defense are to be cut by 375,000 by 2005.[11] It was also announced that the transition to a three-service armed forces would proceed as planned and be completed by 2005. During this transition the Military Space Forces and the Missile and Space Defense Forces will be removed from the Strategic Rocket Forces' jurisdiction, although no further infor­mation was given in the August 2000 announcement as to the fate of those two organizations.

The problems created by the proposed military reform were again considered at another session of the Security Council in November 2000. This session largely upheld the previously made decisions about restructuring and personnel cuts. It was announced that the Military Space Forces and Missile and Space Defense Forces would be transformed into a single separate branch that reports directly to the General Staff. The Strategic Rocket Forces will lose the status of a military service and in 2002 will also be transformed into a branch of the armed services.[12] The plan for the transition to a three-service structure became more concrete in the November 2000 Security Council announcement, so the restructuring should be completed by the 2005 deadline envisioned when the idea was first discussed. The Security Council instructed the General Staff to prepare the documents for the corresponding government and presidential decisions, which are expected in March 2001.[13]

For the moment it seems that the debate about the structure of the Russian armed forces is largely over. Despite the profound changes, most services and branches (with the notable exception of the Air Defense Forces) emerged from this debate weakened but intact. This means that although Russia is moving toward a more compact and modern military, the politics of decision making within the military will remain essentially unchanged.

The Arms Control Agenda

The main question that was on the political agenda in 1998 was the ratification of the START II Treaty by the Russian Duma. Although in 1997 Russia and the United States signed a number of agreements that were supposed to facilitate the START II Treaty's coming into force, closing the deal proved very difficult. As a result, by the beginning of 2001 the START II Treaty had been ratified, but serious doubts remained as to whether the treaty would ever enter into force. The future of the next arms control agreement, START III, also remained uncertain.

During the summit in Helsinki in March 1997 the presidents of Russia and the United States agreed to extend the START II implementation time by five years, so the reductions required under the treaty will now have to be completed by 31 December 2007. The protocol to the treaty that contains these provisions was signed in September 1997 in New York. In addition to this protocol, Russia and the United States signed a number of documents that were intended to clarify certain provi­sions of the ABM Treaty.[14]

The protocol to START II was intended to remove the most serious obstacles on the way to ratification of the START II Treaty by the Russian Duma. The extended implementation period would give Russia more time to complete the reductions and to allow it to withdraw its strategic weapon systems gradually as they reach end of their operational lives. The protocol does not, however, address some of the issues raised by the opponents of the treaty in Russia, namely, the problem of U.S. break­out potential.[15] Instead, the United States and Russia reached an understanding that these problems will be addressed in the START III Treaty, with the expectation that the new treaty would enter into force before the START II reductions are implemented.

In April 1998 the protocol to the START II Treaty was sent to the Duma for rat­ification. The package of documents sent to the Duma also included the ABM Treaty documents—a memorandum of understanding and agreed statements known as the demarcation agreement. The Duma postponed ratification of the treaty, since the president did not include in the draft legislation any specific provisions for future arms reduction negotiations. Eventually the Duma drafted its own legislation that specified these provisions explicitly. This process was completed in December 1998, and the Russian president introduced the respective bill in the Duma on 22 March 1999.[16] The Duma was originally expected to vote on the ratification of the START II Treaty in early April 1999, but that vote was canceled when the United States and its NATO allies began a military campaign against republics of the former Yugoslavia.

The START II ratification bill was returned to the Duma floor in 2000, after the parliamentary elections of December 1999, which dramatically changed the com­position of the Duma in favor of parties that support the government, and after presidential elections, which were held in March 2000. The new president expressed his unequivocal support for the START II Treaty, and the Duma voted for its rati­fication on 14 April 2000. The upper house of the Russian parliament promptly approved the Duma's decision, and on 4 May 2000 the Russian president completed the ratification process by signing the law passed by the parliament.[17]

The Russian law that ratified the START II Treaty includes several important conditions that have to be met before the treaty can enter into force. First and foremost, the United States must ratify the START II protocol that extends its implementation time, which was negotiated after the U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to the ratification of the original version of the treaty.[18]

Another condition set by the law is much more serious. It says that exchange of START II ratification documents can begin only after the United States completes ratification of the ABM Treaty documents signed in September 1997.[19] Since it is highly unlikely that the ABM Treaty documents in question will be approved by the U.S. Senate, this condition effectively prevents the START II Treaty from entering into force.

The link between the ABM Treaty documents and START II, established by the Duma in the ratification law, reflects sharp disagreement between the United States and Russia on the future of another important arms control agreement, the ABM Treaty. The documents in question, known as the demarcation agreement, were the result of very difficult negotiations in which the United States and Russia sought to define a set of criteria that would allow those in charge of evaluating compliance to distinguish between strategic missile defenses, which are limited by the ABM Treaty, and non-strategic systems, which would not be constrained by its provisions.

The demarcation agreement talks began as an attempt to clarify some provisions of the ABM Treaty in order to allow development of non-strategic missile defenses. The negotiations showed, however, that separating strategic and non-strategic defenses is a very difficult technical problem that most likely does not have a satis­factory solution. A more important outcome of the discussion was the growing concern in Russia about the U.S. missile defense plans.

As Russia's opposition to the U.S. missile defense plans grew stronger, conclusion of the demarcation agreement was perceived in Russia as the primary means of pre­serving of the ABM Treaty. So when the Duma was drafting the START II ratifica­tion law, approval of the demarcation documents was included in it as an attempt to show Russia's disagreement with the U.S. position on missile defense and to deter the United States from breaking out of the ABM Treaty.

By the time Russia ratified the START II Treaty, however, the missile defense debate had shifted away from the question of constraints on development of non-strategic systems. In January 1999 the United States made a formal proposal to Russia to modify the ABM Treaty to allow deployment of a strategic National Missile Defense system. In May 1999 the U.S. Congress passed a bill that declared deployment of a missile defense the policy of the United States. An attempt under­taken before the U.S.-Russian summit in Moscow in June 2000 to find a compro­mise that would allow the United States to begin deployment of a National Missile Defense by modifying the ABM Treaty was unsuccessful.

Russia responded to the U.S. attempts to change the ABM Treaty by intensifying its efforts aimed at preserving it. First, Russia on several occasions reiterated the Soviet position of linking START I to the ABM Treaty.[20] Moreover, Russia insisted that in the event of a U.S. breakout from the ABM Treaty, Russia might consider withdrawal from other arms control agreements, including the treaties that ban intermediate-range missiles and limit conventional forces in Europe.[21]

The immediate pressure on the ABM Treaty was relieved when the United States announced in September 2000 that the final decision on deployment of a National Missile Defense system (and therefore withdrawal from the ABM Treaty) has been postponed. The new Republican administration, however, is set to continue the missile defense programs, and it is unlikely that Russia's opposition to those plans will prevent the United States from withdrawing from the ABM Treaty.

Despite its sharp disagreement with the United States about the future of the ABM Treaty, Russia does not seem to be willing to begin a confrontation with the United States or to reverse the nuclear disarmament process. As an important sign of its adherence to the arms control process, Russia ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which banned all nuclear weapon tests.[22] In November 2000 Russia's pres­ident unveiled a plan that calls for deep reductions in nuclear arsenals that reduce them to the required level of 1,500 or fewer nuclear warheads on each side.[23]

Most of the reductions suggested by Russia are motivated by economic consid­erations, so it is in Russia's interest to preserve the existing arms control agreements and continue the bilateral U.S.-Russian dialogue. A U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty could seriously set back the nuclear disarmament negotiations, but is unlikely to stop the dialogue completely.

Strategic Modernization

Beginning in 1998, the Russian leadership made a number of important decisions that to a large extent ended the uncertainty that plagued the Russian nuclear complex and its strategic forces in the preceding years and outlined the main direc­tions in their development for the next ten to fifteen years. These decisions were prompted partly by the fact that in 1997 Russia successfully negotiated a protocol to the START II Treaty that extended its implementation period. The extension allowed Russia to make its weapons modernization program more realistic. In addi­tion to this, the Russian leadership believed that by negotiating the aforementioned demarcation agreement, it had secured U.S. adherence to the ABM Treaty, which allowed Russia to plan for reductions of its strategic forces.

The future of the Russian strategic forces was the subject of a Security Council meeting of 3 July 1998. The modernization program that the council approved included a number of steps that confirmed Russia's intention to comply with the provisions of the START II Treaty. Another important feature of the approved program was the decision to continue maintaining all three main components of the strategic triad: land-based missiles, strategic submarines, and strategic aviation.[24]

It was decided by the Security Council that the Russian land-based missile forces would rely on the new Topol-M (SS-27) systems, which will be deployed in both silo-based and road-mobile variants. The new Topol-M missile systems will eventually replace all currently deployed missiles as the latter reach the end of their operational lives or are eliminated as part of the START I reductions.

The modernization program the council approved acknowledged that Russia could not keep its MIRVed missiles indefinitely and therefore will have to comply with the START II provision that bans them. At the same time, the program appar­ently made provisions to extend operational lives of R-36M2 (SS-18 Mod 5/6) missiles to keep them in service until 2008. This arrangement was made possible by the extension of the time by which these missiles have to be eliminated, negotiated in 1997 as a protocol to the START II Treaty. Although the protocol requires the missiles to be deactivated, it allows them to be kept in silos, so they could be brought back into operation if necessary. This was considered a very important hedge against future developments, such as U.S. breakout from the ABM Treaty. Besides, the issue of heavy missiles' having to be eliminated before they reach the end of their oper­ational lives was a very sensitive one in the public debate in Russia over the START II Treaty, so the option of keeping them in service was instrumental in gaining support for START II ratification in the Duma.

The program outlined by the council apparently called for gradual withdrawal of all other land-based missiles from service.[25] The core of the land-based missile force will instead consist of the new Topol-M (SS-27) missile system in both its ground-mobile and its silo-based versions. By the time of the Security Council deliberations on the program, two silo-based Topol-M systems had already been deployed.[26] The modernization program adopted by the Council called for deployment of 350-400 of these systems by 2010.[27] The plan also called for an increase in the annual production rate of the Topol-M systems from 10 in 1999 to 50 by 2005.[28]

In its proposed plan, the Security Council made a number of very important decisions on the future of the strategic nuclear fleet. The first one was to cancel the development of the missile that was supposed to be deployed on Project 941 (Typhoon) submarines and on the new submarines of the Yuri Dolgorukii class.[29] The program for the development of this missile was several years behind schedule, and all test launches of the new missile to that point had been unsuccessful. By canceling this program, the Security Council in effect made a decision to withdraw Project 941 submarines from active service.[30] Construction of the lead ship of the Yuri Dolgorukii class also was to be postponed, since it was designed to accom­modate the missile the development of which was cancelled.

The canceled missile was to be replaced, according to the plan, by a new one known as the "Bulava." In a highly unusual decision, the development of this missile was assigned to the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology, heretofore the head developer of land-based missile systems.[31] One of the arguments used in favor of this arrangement was that the new missile will be made compatible with the Topol-M (SS-27) missile and therefore will be cheaper to develop and manufacture.[32] According to the final plan, the first Yuri Dolgorukii-class submarine that would carry the new missile would enter service in 2007.[33]

The decisions the Security Council made in July 1998 meant that the core of the Russian strategic fleet in the next 10 to 15 years will consist of six or seven Project 667BDRM (Delta IV) submarines that carry R-29RM (SS-N-23) missiles. These submarines could stay in service until 2010-2015 as long as they are properly maintained and equipped with newly manufactured missiles. Therefore, to keep the Project 667BDRM submarines operational, the Russian government resumed pro­duction of the R-29RM missiles, which had been discontinued in the mid-1990s.[34]

The air-based component of the strategic triad received a significant boost from the Security Council's decision to proceed with development of a new long-range air-launched cruise missile that will replace the currently deployed Kh-55 (AS-15). The plan discussed by the Security Council called for a strategic air force consist­ing of six Tu-160 Blackjack and 30-40 Tu-95MS Bear H bombers.[35] These projec­tions underwent significant change, however, in 1999. First, Russia was able to find resources to complete assembly of one Tu-160 aircraft that was mothballed at the time the production of strategic bombers was suspended. This aircraft completed tests in December 1999 and entered service in 2000.[36] Second, in July 1999 Russia and Ukraine began negotiations that resulted in an agreement under which Ukraine transferred to Russia eight Tu-160 Blackjack and three Tu-95MS Bear H bomber[37] as well as several hundred Kh-22 (AS-4) short-range cruise missiles.[38] As a result of these transfers, the Russian strategic aviation grew considerably stronger than had been projected in July 1998.

The decisions the Security Council made in July 1998 determined the structure of the Russian strategic forces for the next 10 to 15 years. If we take into account the changes in production and deployment rates that have become evident since the Security Council's program was adopted, then by 2010 Russia may have a strategic force that will consist of up to 300 single-warhead silo-based and mobile Topol-M (SS-27) missile systems; seven Project 667BDRM (Delta IV) submarines, which will carry 448 nuclear warheads; and a strategic air force that will consist of 15 Tu-160 Blackjack and about 30 Tu-95MS Bear H bombers, which together could carry up to 360 long-range air-launched cruise missiles. The total number of nuclear warheads that Russia will be able to deploy will therefore not exceed 1,100.

This estimate shows why Russia has publicly advocated reductions in the number of deployed nuclear weapons to 1,500 on each side and probably less than that. If the next nuclear arms reduction treaty establishes a higher number, Russia will probably be unable to maintain the level allowed by the treaty.

The program of maintaining Russia's strategic capability, which was considered in the summer of 1998, was not limited to the problems of strategic offensive forces. Among the items considered were measures aimed at maintaining and modernizing the country's command and control system, the early-warning network, and the space surveillance system.[39]

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia has been putting considerable effort into keeping its early-warning network operational. Although the country's difficult economic situation has prevented it from maintaining the kind of capability that existed in the Soviet Union, Russia has nevertheless managed to prevent complete disintegration of its early-warning network. Still, the number of satellites that Russia was able to keep in orbit by 1998 provided only very minimal coverage of U.S. ter­ritory. Most of the early-warning radars (which also provide space surveillance capa­bility) were operating at a fraction of their capacity. Although in 1997 the Russian government in a special agreement with Ukraine secured operations of the two radars in the Ukrainian territory, the loss of the early-warning radar in Skrunda, Latvia, which ceased operations in August 1998, opened a gap in Russia's radar coverage.

Despite all these problems, Russia has continued to replenish the constellation of early-warning satellites on highly elliptical orbits that provide surveillance coverage of U.S. territory. So long as it maintains four satellites in these highly elliptical orbits, the constellation can detect any launch of a U.S. land-based missile. In addition to this, Russia has been working on second-generation geostationary early-warning satellites that would provide coverage of the oceans and therefore could detect missile launches from submarines. In 1998 the Missile and Space Defense Forces opened a Far East satellite control center that is to be used to control geostation­ary satellites that provide coverage of the Pacific Ocean.[40] Although Russia has not had operational geostationary early-warning satellites since June 1999 and the control center has operated only in a trial mode thus far, its opening was a very significant development.

To compensate for the gap in the radar coverage created after the radar in Skrunda stopped operations, Russia intensified efforts to bring online the Volga radar, deployed in Belarus. This radar entered trials in December 1999 and by November 2000 was ready to enter combat service.[41]

In addition to its early-warning missions, the Russian radar network is used to track satellites in space.[42] To provide better coverage of outer space, Russia has deployed two Krona surveillance systems[43] and brought into trial service the Okno optical surveillance system.[44]

It is still far from certain whether Russia will be able to find the resources nec­essary to maintain its extensive early-warning and space surveillance networks. So far there has been almost no public debate in Russia as to what kind of capability is required to support operations of the country's strategic offensive and defensive forces. In recent years the Russian leadership has undertaken significant efforts to keep all options in this area open, but it will eventually have to scale back and opti­mize its early-warning network to keep it from disintegrating.

Russia was confronted with a similar choice when it considered the future of another important component of the nuclear complex: the industry that provides development, production, and maintenance of nuclear weapons, which is managed by the Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom). The nuclear weapons production complex was built to provide support for the Soviet nuclear arsenal, which con­sisted of tens of thousands of nuclear warheads. This capability is excessive for maintaining the current or projected nuclear arsenal, so there was no reason why Russia should maintain it. To maintain the capability to produce nuclear weapons and provide the nuclear arsenal with adequate maintenance, Russia had to down­size its nuclear complex.

Restructuring of the nuclear complex proved to be a difficult task, however, and only in June 1998 did the Russian government finally adopt a program that out­lined the plan for the needed reform.[45] As part of this program, Minatom has closed serial weapon production lines at two of its four warhead production facilities: Arzamas-16 and Penza-19. By 2003 these facilities will also stop their work on nuclear warhead dismantlement. The program also called for significant reductions in the number of personnel that work on serial production facilities for warheads.[46] Although the nuclear weapons production complex will still have excessive capa­bility after implementation of the measures outlined in the 1998 program and other documents, the measures will be a major step toward providing a foundation for more efficient operation of the complex.

The nuclear test ban that Russia agreed to observe when it signed and ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty imposes serious constraints on modernization and maintenance of nuclear weapons. To compensate for its inability to conduct nuclear explosions under the treaty, Russia is carrying out a program of so-called hydro-dynamic experiments at the Novaya Zemlya test site. In addition to this, the Novaya Zemlya test site is maintained in readiness to resume underground nuclear explo­sions should Russia decide to do so.


The measures that Russia has taken during the last several years to restructure its strategic forces and nuclear warhead production complex indicate that in about a decade it will reduce its nuclear forces to the level of approximately 1,000 strate­gic warheads. It is very unlikely that any upcoming arms control agreement could affect the current plans significantly, for Russia is planning to implement these reductions in any event. Besides, it seems very unlikely that the United States and Russia will reach any new arms control agreement any time soon.

If anything could force Russia to reconsider its plans, it would be the United States' deployment of a national missile defense system. Should the United States decide to proceed with deployment of such a system, which will require its with­drawal from the ABM Treaty, Russia may respond with a number of measures that could keep the number of weapons in its arsenal at a level higher than that cur­rently projected. Among the options that Russia has in this regard are deployment of the Topol-M (SS-27) system with a multiple-warhead missile (rather than the cur­rently planned single-warhead missile)[47] or development of a new multiple-warhead missile to replace the aging R-36M2s (SS-18s). Neither of these options, however, would be likely to raise the number of weapons in Russia's arsenal above the limit of 3,500 warheads set forth by the START II Treaty.

Although Russian opposition to the U.S. missile defense plans is currently very strong and the conflict over the plans shows no sign of getting any less tense, any decisions that Russia could make in response to a U.S. missile defense deployment would be limited by the same economic constraints that exist now. It is therefore in Russia's interest to avoid confrontation with the United States and concentrate on protecting its long-term capability to maintain a viable nuclear arsenal. All this means that despite serious disagreement with the United States on a number of arms control and broader political issues, Russia will try to reach a compromise on those issues, which might be possible if the United States is willing to cooperate.

Ultimately, Russia's success in downsizing and reforming its nuclear complex and strategic forces will depend primarily on its ability to find the resources necessary for a full-scale military reform and to manage these resources effectively. The signs of economic recovery that have appeared in Russia in the last two years present the country with a rare opportunity to transform its military. The new Russian leadership seems to understand that the ultimate goal of the reform should be the creation of a professional, well-trained, well-equipped army.[48] The next several years will show whether it is ready to take advantage of this opportunity.

[1]           “O pervoocherednykh merakh po reformirovaniyu VS RF I sovershenstvovaniyu ikh struktury (On the First-Order Measures to Reform the Russian Armed Forces and to Improve Their Structure)” Presidential Decree No. 725S, 16 July 1997.

[2]           As another major measure, the decree downgraded the Ground Troops by transforming the High Command of thre Ground Troops to the main Directorate. This measure effectively demoted the ground troops to the status of a branch of the armed forces.

[3]             Vyacheslav Terekhov, “Reforma (The Reform)”, Interfax-AiF, 24 November 1997.

[4]           Ivan Safronov, “VVS i PVO nesut tyazhelyie poteri (Air Force and Air Defense Suffer heavy Casualties)”, Kommersant-Daily, 25 March 1998.

[5]             Another Air Army of the Supreme High Command comprises military transport aviation. Valentin Rog, Aleksndr Drobyshevsky, “Improvizatsii ne bylo (There Has Been No Improvisation)”, Nezavisimoye Voennoye Obozreniye, 15 december 2000.

[6]           Interfax report, Segodnya, 12 August 1998.

[7]           The document, called “Osnovy (kontseptiya) gosudarstvennoi politiki po voennomu stroitelstvu na period do 2005 goda (Basics (Concept) of the Sates Military Development Policy Until 2005)” was signed by Boris Yeltsin in August 1998 (Vadim Soloviyev, “President utverzhdayet plan voennoy reformy (President Approves the Plan for Military Reform)”, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 4 August 1998).

[8]           Main provisions of the concept were described in an earlier article by the Minister of Defense: Igor Sergeyev, “Programma voyennogo reformirovaniya (The Program for Military Reform)”, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 18 September 1997.

[9]             Minister of Defense Igor Sergeyev officially unveiled this plan in October 1998 (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 21 October 1998).

[10]          Oleg Odnokolenko, “Armiya razvalivayetsya deleniyem (The Army is Disintergation by Fission)”, Segodnya, 21 November 1998.

[11]          Total cuts of all military forces will amount to 600,000 personell (Interfax, 9 November 2000).

[12]          The current plan envisions that in 2006 the Strategic Rocket Forces will be turned over to the Air Force (Vadim Soloviyev, “Umozritelnyi rezultat (Imaginary Results)”, Nezavisimoye Voennoye Obozreniye, 29 December 2000).

[13]          Andrey Korbut, Sergey Sokut, “President povelel nachat reformu (President Ordered to Begin the Reform)”, Nezavisimoye Voennoye Obozreniye, 24 November 2000.

[14]          These documents included a Memorandum of Understanding that names Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine as the successor states of the Soviet Union, and so-called demarcation agreement—agreed statements that specify which missile defense systems are considered non-strategic and therefore not limited by the ABM Treaty, and outline confidence-building measures realted to non-strategic missile defenses.

[15]          This refers to a problem that resulted from the provisions of the START II treaty, that lifted restrictions on “downloading”, which is carrying out warhead reductions by simply reducing the number of warheads that is attributed to a launcher without destroying the warheads or launchers. See Article III.2 of the START II Treaty.

[16]          Among these measures is the provision that requires the United States and Russia to conclude a new arms reduction agreement by December 31, 2000. This agreement has to include specific provisions that would correct the most serious shortcomings of the START II treaty. If Russia and the United States fail to negotiate the new agreement by the end of 2003, the law will authorize the president to consider withdrawing from the treaty (Article IV of the ratification law).

[17]          Federal Law No 56-FZ of May 4, 2000 “On Ratification of the Treaty Between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms”.

[18]          Resolution of ratification passed by the U.S. Senate on January 26, 1996.

[19]          Article IX of the ratification law. The documents listed in the article are the memorandum on succession, two agreed statements, and the agreement on confidence-building measures. 

[20]          According to the Soviet unilateral statement made on June 13, 1991, the Soviet Union would consider U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty as an extraordinary event that may jeopardize its national interests and prompt Soviet withrawal from the START I treaty.

[21]             Transcript of President’s address to the Duma in connection with ratification of the START II treaty, Kommersant-Daily, 15 April 2000.

[22]          The treaty was ratified by the Duma on 21 April 2000.

[23]          “Vladimir Putin: Pauzy v yzdernom razoruzhenii ne dolzhno byt (Vladimir Putin: There Should Be No Pause in Nuclear Disarmament)”, Rossiskaya Gazeta, 14 November 2000.

[24]          Evgeny Krutikov, “Doletit li yadernaya troika do 2010 goda? (Will the Nuclear Triad Survive Until 2010?)” Segodnya, 4 July 1998.

[25]          The currently deployed UR-100NUTTH (SS-19) missiles will reach end of their lives in 2003–2005, the RT-23UTTH (SS-24) missiles will have to be withdrawn from service by 2002, the lat Topol (SS-25) missile systems will have to be decomissioned in 2008–2010 (Paul Podvig, “The Russian Strategi Forces: Uncertain Future”, Breakthroughs, Security Studies Program, MIT, Spring 1998, vol. VII, No. 1, pp. 11-21).

[26]          Sergei Sokut, “Ministr posadil Topol (The Minister Planted a Topol)” Nezavisimoye Voennoye Obozreniye, 25 December 1997.

[27]          Ivan Safronov, Ilya Bulavinov “Boris Yeltsin podnyal yadernyi shchit (Boris Yeltsin Raised the Nuclear Shield)” Kommersant-Daily, 4 July 1998.

[28]          Yuri Maslyukov, “Dogovor i sudba strategicheskikh yadernykh sil Rossii (The Treaty and the Future of the Russia’s Strategic Nuclear Forces)” Izvestiya, 16 December 1998.

[29]          The missile was known as R-39 Variant 2, Bark, or SS-NX-28.

[30]          The R-39 (SS-N-20) missiles, deployed on these submarines, were approaching the end of their service lives and had to be eliminated. Project 941 (Typhoon) submarines were to be equipped with a missile that was being developed as a follow-on to the R-39, so the cancellation of this program left these submarines with no missiles to be equipped with (Dmitri Litovkin, “Tayfuny derzht kurs na utilizatsiyu (Typhoos Are Heading Toward Dismantlement)” Yadernaya Bezopasnost, No. 31, December 1999).

[31]          The Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology was the head developer of Pioner (SS-20), Topol (SS-25), Topol-M (SS-27), and a number of other land-based missile systems.

[32]          Viktor Litovkin, “Yuri Dolgoruki budet peredelan esche na stapele (Yuri Dolgoruki Will Be Redesigned While It Is Still In Dock), Izvestiya, 9 September 1998.

[33]          Yuri Maslyukov, “Dogovor i sudba strategicheskikh yadernykh sil Rossii (The Treaty and the Future of the Russia’s Strategic Nuclear Forces)” Izvestiya, 16 December 1998.

[34]          Dmitri Litovkin, op. cit. There were no confirmation that the decision to resume the production of R-29RM missiles was made in July 1998. Most likely, it was made about a year later, in 1999, when it became clear that the development of the new SLBM is falling behind the schedule.

[35]          Yuri Maslyukov, “Dogovor i sudba strategicheskikh yadernykh sil Rossii (The Treaty and the Future of the Russia’s Strategic Nuclear Forces)” Izvestiya, 16 December 1998.

[36]          Agentsvo Voyennykh Novostey, 14 December 1999. According to this report, there are two more mothballed Tu-160 aircraft at the Kazan Aviation Plant.

[37]          Sergei Sokut, “Vzaimovygodnoye resheniye (Mutually Beneficial Solution)”, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 28 July 1999.

[38]          Ekaterina Kats “Poderzhannye ‘inomarki’ dlya minoborony (Used ‘Foreigners’ for the Ministry of Defense)”, Segodnya, 20 October 1999.

[39]          Yuri Maslyukov, “Dogovor i sudba strategicheskikh yadernykh sil Rossii (The Treaty and the Future of the Russia’s Strategic Nuclear Forces)” Izvestiya, 16 December 1998.

[40]          Vladimir Morozov, “Vsevidyascheye oko Rossii (Russia’s All-Seeing Eye)”, Nezavisimoye Voennoye Obozreniye, 14 April 2000.

[41]          Ilshat Baichurin, “RLS v Baranovichakh: idut ispytaniya (Radar in Baranovichi: Trials are Under Way)”, Krasnaya zvezda, 20 January 1999; Denis Voroshilov, “Volga pregradit put’ raketam (Volga Will Block Incoming Missiles)”, Rossiya, 1 November 2000.

[42]          Another important mission of the early warning network is to provide targeting information to the Moscow missile defense system.

[43]          The systems reportedly include radar and laser sensors (Yuri Golotyuk “Orbitalnaya oborona rossii (Russia’s Orbital Defense)”, Izvestiya, 10 November 1999).

[44]          The station, which is deployed on the territory of Tajikistan, began trial service on 19 December 1999 (Evgeni Shalnev, “Okno s vidom na kosmos (Window That Looks Into Space)”, Krasnaya zvezda, 3 October 2000).

[45]          The program “On Restructuring and Conversion of the Nuclear Weapons Complex in 1998–2000” was part of a broader plan to restructure Russia’s defense industry (Oleg Bukharin, “Downsizing Russia’s Nuclear Warhead Production Infrastructure”, PU/CEES Report No. 323, Princeton University, May 2000).

[46]          Bukharin, op. cit.

[47]          Igor Korotchenko, “Yuri Solomonov: Topol-M sposoben preodolet perspectivnuyu PRO lyubogo gosudarstva (Yuri Solomonov: Topol-M Can Penetate Any Missile Defense System)”, Nezavisimaya gazeta, 24 February 1999.

[48]          Vitali Tretiakov, Tatiana Aldoshina, Mikhail Leontiev, “Armiya dolzhna byt’ professionalnoi (The Army Should Be Professional)”, excerpts from interview with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Nezavisimoye Voyennoe Obozreniye, 29 December 2000.