Independent Newspaper (Russia)
December 25, 2009
“Satanical Hint for the USA”
“Russia launched an intercontinental ballistic missile RS-20B ‘Voevod’”
Yesterday at 09.30 Moscow time, an intercontinental ballistic missile RS-20B “Voevod” was launched from an underground military site in the Orenburg oblast. Experts feel that Moscow took this unusual step to remind Washington that it needs to consider Russia’s proposals for a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
It’s true that Vadim Koval, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, announced that the goal of the “Voevod” launch was only to confirm its flight capabilities. This is required to extend the lifetime use of the missile complex to twenty-three years. (It was earlier announced, that lifetime use would be extended to thirty years.)
Test modules from the launched missile precisely struck their planned targets at the Kura site on the Kamchatka peninsula. But it was hardly a secret for any of the experts that this move had yet another, geopolitical, goal.
Russia and the USA have indefinitely put off signing a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty to replace START I, which officially expired on December 5. Some specialists say it will not happen until February at a minimum. Others speak of the end of April. And although, from official announcements, including by Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov, all of the main issues have been agreed to, leaving only “technical details;” in reality the situation is not coming along so smoothly. Philip Crowley, an official spokesman for the US State Department, admitted that the negotiating process “has become somewhat complicated and will require more time,” and noted that this did not especially concern the American side.
Delegations of negotiators from the USA and Russia parted in Geneva for the Christmas and New Year holidays and will, as has been announced, renew discussions no earlier than the middle of January of the new year. They are not pressed for time. The first three dates for achieving an agreement passed without results, although both sides, and especially Washington, were interested in them: December 5, when START I expired; December 10, when Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo; and December 18, when the two presidents met in Copenhagen at the international summit on climate change. One last date remained, the May international review conference for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). If Moscow and Washington will not sign an agreement on radically reducing their strategic offensive weapons by that time, a loud argument could develop. The world community, including separate threshold countries, may refuse to abide by the terms of the NPT. The more so if the world’s two major nuclear superpowers do not abide by it.
And, as considered by experts, the Russian leadership decided to remind the US with this December launch that it still has special liquid fuel batteries of RS-20B or R-36M2 “Voevod” missiles, which are called “Satans” on both sides of the Atlantic. It earned this name above all because of its colossal weight- two hundred eleven tons and ten nuclear modules, each with a strength of 550-750 kilotons and able to overcome any missile defense system, whether current or prospective.
But why did Moscow decide to make its move with a “Satan,” as opposed to a Topol-M or the new “three-headed” RS-24 series, which generals of the homeland promised to place on battle readiness after December 5? The answer lies in the technical characteristics of the “Voevod” (“Satan”).
At one time there were three hundred eight such missiles in our country, in no less than three models: R-36M, R-36MUTTX and R-36M2. Today there are fifty-eight remaining. They were made in the Dneipropetrovsk “South” plant, under the leadership of the Hero of Labor and Lenin Prize recipient Vladimir Utkin in the beginning of the ‘60s to the beginning of the ‘70s of last century. The Americans greatly feared them, since they could fly over a distance of fifteen thousand kilometers. According to the terms of START I, we were required to cut their number in half, and never to produce any more.
In fact, further production will not happen. The “South” plant, where they were fabricated and where the head engineer at the time was the future president of the Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, was left outside the borders of Russia. Kiev was forbidden from pursuing strategic missiles under START I, which it joined, as did Minsk and Astana, in 1992. And now at the “South” factory they make furniture and trolleybuses.
In Russia’s strategic missile supplies, the last 58 R-36M2s “Voevod,” or “Satan,” stand at battle readiness in Orenburg Oblast (the town of Dombarovski) and Krasnoyarski Krai (the city of Uzhur). As the Americans are fully aware, their useful lives, including extensions from earlier times, expire in the next seven to ten years. Today, there is nothing with which to replace them. Although there are already sixty-four mobile and stationary batteries of the three-headed “Topol-M,” in the big picture they are not in a condition to replace the “Satan.” Not many will be produced. For one, it carries one main part. Secondly, the Votkinskii factory, were it is fabricated, makes no more than six to seven such missiles a year. RS-24 “Yars,” which is being prepared for battle readiness, is hardly a full replacement for the “Voevod.” Likewise one more heavy missile, the UR-100NUTTX (SS-19) “Stiletto,” is no replacement and will age quickly. And the leadership of the country adopted a decision to make a new liquid fuel heavy missile to replace the “Voevod.”
A Russian commander, lieutenant-general Andrei Shvaichenko, spoke about this new project not long ago. The missile should be ready for the military by the end of 2016. The organization which will create these missiles is also known- it is the manufacturing plant in Reutov, near Moscow, which Vladimir Putin visited recently and where he gave the green light, as they say, for fulfilling this objective. Only thanks to the new missile and the sea missile “Bulava,” if it enters construction, can we maintain a balance of nuclear forces under a new START.
So long as it has no new, heavy missile, and there is not even a new START which is capable of limiting the manufacture of strategic missiles, Russia is reminding the USA that it still has a pea in the pod. “Satan” is old, but up to the task.