Russia’s Statements on Boosting Strategic Forces Potential: Reason for Concern or Pretext to Escalate Tension
Andrei AKULOV | 30.06.2015 | FEATURED STORY

Russia’s Statements on Boosting Strategic Forces Potential: Reason for Concern or Pretext to Escalate Tension

The issue gets hot, ballyhoo is raised, warnings are made and tensions are high. Is there a reason for real concern or it’s all just much ado about nothing? Russia's military this year alone will receive over 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of penetrating any missile defenses, President Vladimir Putin said on June 16. He made the statement at the opening of the opening of the Army-2015 international military show in Kubinka, outside Moscow. «We will be forced to aim our armed forces ... at those territories from where the threat comes», Putin said. 

The President made his comments a day after Russian officials denounced a U.S. plan to station tanks and heavy weapons in NATO member states on Russia's border. Putin said it was the most aggressive act by Washington since the Cold War a generation ago. Speaking at the arms show, Putin vowed to continue a large-scale armed forces modernization program despite the nation's economic difficulties. 

He specifically mentioned the Armata tanks and other new armoured vehicles, which were first shown to the public during a Red Square military parade last month, saying they «have no analogues in the world.» Putin also noted that the military was to start testing its new long-range early warning radar intended to monitor the western direction and later will deploy another one in the east. «The United States is inciting tensions and carefully nurturing their European allies' anti-Russian phobias in order to use the current difficult situation for further expanding its military presence and influence in Europe», the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a comment on June 15. «We hope that reason will prevail and it will be possible to save the situation in Europe from sliding toward a military standoff which could entail dangerous consequences», it added.

It did not take long for NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to respond saying “This nuclear sabre-rattling of Russia is unjustified. This is something we are addressing, and it’s also one of the reasons we are now increasing the readiness and preparedness of our forces.» Philip Breedlove, the U.S. Air Force General and NATO supreme allied commander, joined in to say, «This is not a way that responsible nuclear nations behave.» US State Secretary Kerry told reporters at a news briefing that «Nobody should hear that kind of announcement from a leader of a powerful country and not be concerned about what the implications are.»

What’s behind the security concerns?

Russia made some explanations to clear the matter up. Moscow undertakes no actions that can arise West’s security concerns, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on June 17. ”It is not Russia that approaches somebody else’s borders, it is NATO’s military infrastructure that approaches Russian borders, and actions are taken directed at changing the strategic balance of forces», Peskov said. «Of course, it arises Russia’s concern and, as the President explained, all this, of course, makes Russia take measures to defend its interests, guarantee its security and maintain military parity», the spokesman noted. 

Russia’s deployment of 40 additional nuclear ballistic missiles in response to the US military buildup in Europe doesn’t mean the world is at greater risk of a nuclear war, President Vladimir Putin told the heads of global news agencies on June 20. The Russian head of state held a late-night meeting with top executives from 12 foreign news agencies on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. “Russia is not an aggressor and does not favor increasing the level of tension… but is obliged to respond to Western actions targeting Moscow,” EFE cited Putin as saying. The response is balanced enough against the background of New York Times publication on June 13 reporting that the Pentagon is poised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons for as many as 5,000 American troops in several Baltic and Eastern European countries. 

This information was preceded by the news that the U.S. Air Force could be sending some of its most advanced warplanes, including the fifth generation F-22 Raptors, to Europe in a show of force as US Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James said

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced during a visit to Estonia that the U.S. will spread about 250 tanks, armored vehicles and other military equipment across a half-dozen of NATO's easternmost members that feel most at risk from Russia. Stoltenberg said the Pentagon chief also offered transport aircraft, air-to-air refueling capability, special forces and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to support NATO's Response Force. «It is better to talk to Moscow from a position of strength», German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told the daily Bild in an interview.

START-3 and the facts

At first glance the West’s jittery reaction is hard to understand. By and large, the same figures were made public on December 18, 2014 by Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu at an expanded session of the Defense Ministry's Board. Back then he stated that 38 ICBMs were to be added to the Russian armed forces inventory. 

Commander of the Strategic Missile Forces, Colonel General (three stars) Sergey Karakaev said then than 24 YARS missiles will join the nuclear ground-based strategic nuclear forces in 2015. Russian Navy announced then that at least one Borei – class strategic nuclear-powered submarine with 16 missiles will be commissioned in 2015. 

It brings the total number up to 40. The information on strategic forces upgrade was made public and there is nothing new here. But somehow the reaction in the West followed only after the President Putin’s statement, not before. Looks like it all boils down to START-3 provisions. The treaty says.

the parties can have 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 700 strategic delivery means. According to US State Department data as of March 1, 2015 (data comes from the biannual exchange of data required by the Treaty) Russia had 515 operational delivery means (deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs and deployed heavy bombers) against 785 delivery means deployed by the US. America has about 300 operational delivery means more than Russia.

Russia has 1582 operational warheads in comparison with 1597 warheads deployed by the US. According the treaty provisions, the both sides are to reduce the warheads till February 5, 2018. The US is the only party to reduce delivery means while Russia can increase their number. That’s what it is doing against the background of US advantage. Russia is closing the gap in strict accordance with the treaty. But the intent to comply with the treaty provisions is demonstratively perceived as a threat and used to make Russia look like a bully in the eyes of public.

Where the threat comes from

The strategic balance was broken by US decision to leave the 1972 ABM treaty in 2002. The NATO expansion to the east actually has made the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) useless. The US and Russia accuse each other of violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). The whole security system built after WWII is bursting at the seams with nothing to take its place. In early June the Associated Press was given an unclassified portion of a report written by the office of Gen. Martin Dempsey, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that examines weapons the U.S. could develop and deploy if freed from INF treaty constraints. The paper mentions ground-launched cruise missiles deployed in Europe or Asia, and ground-launched intermediate-range ballistic missiles equipped with technology that adjusts the trajectory of a warhead after it re-enters Earth's atmosphere and heads for its target. 

The prospect of returning U.S. medium-range missiles to Europe recalls the worst days of the Cold War. With no evidence of treaty violation to produce, the plans are underway to deploy the intermediate forces in Europe and create the capability to strike Russia first leaving it with greatly reduced time for warning and response. Besides the missiles deployment, Washington plans to station hardware, including tanks and armored vehicles, in a number of European countries, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced on June 23. Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania will be hosting the new hardware, and it will be possible to move it around for exercises, Carter said as he stood with his Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian counterparts on a visit to Tallinn. 

The hardware will include Abrams battle tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers. NATO recently announced plans to bolster its rapid response force in Europe to 40,000. Nothing goes unnoticed. Last week Russia's President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would respond to NATO encroaching on its territories «accordingly.» «If someone threatens our territories, it means that we will have to aim our armed forces accordingly at the territories from where the threat is coming. How else could it be? It is NATO that is approaching our borders, it’s not like we are moving anywhere», he said at a media conference. However, Putin added, at the moment he could «see nothing that might prompt us» to take retaliatory measures. Moscow «will analyze everything» and stay alert.

The ballyhoo raised on the subject of President Putin’s statement along with unproven accusation of breaching the INF treaty by Russia and the announced plans to boost US conventional presence in the vicinity of Russian borders escalate tensions. A spark may start a big fire. This is the time to stop provoking Russia and think hard about the wisdom of dismantling the security system that was so hard to create and which guaranteed the old continent’s security for so many years.