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Saturday, 17 February, 2001, 00:24 GMT
Russia shows missile mettle
Topol missile
The Topol missile tested is capable of carrying a nuclear war head
Russian successfully test-fired an array of land, sea and air-based ballistic missiles in a series of military exercises on Friday.

According to Russian news reports air force bombers test-fired one strategic and two tactical missiles in southern Russia - both types of missile are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Russia periodically tests missiles, but the near simultaneous launches from a launch pad, submarine and bomber were a comparatively rare demonstration of all three branches of Russia's nuclear triad.

The tests underline the strength of Russia rocket forces amid increased tension with the United States over missile defence.

Anti-missile missile
Russia is against US plans for a missile defence system

But Russian defence analyst Pavel Felgengauer said such an exercise required too much planning to be a direct response to the recent war of words between East and West.

The navy and land-based Strategic Rocket Forces announced their launches within minutes of each other, one of a ballistic missile fired from a submarine of the Northern Fleet, and the other of a Topol rocket.

Two hours later, the air force said a TU-95 bomber had also fired a strategic missile.

The military activity came as the administration of new US President George W Bush ratcheted up Washington's rhetoric in the debate over missile defence.

New arms race

Russia and China vigorously oppose the US National Missile Defence (NMD) shield, designed to protect the United States from potential missile attacks by "rogue states" such as Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

Moscow says NMD would wreck the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, which it sees as the basis for all subsequent nuclear disarmament deals, and trigger a new arms race.

It has vowed repeatedly to retaliate by beefing up its nuclear deterrent.

Also fuelling tensions this week were reports in The Washington Times that US spy satellites had spotted short-range nuclear missiles deployed in Russia's Kaliningrad enclave, wedged between Poland and Lithuania.

Tension over Nato

Russia's defence minister called the report "absolute and complete nonsense".

The launches also came just days before a planned visit to Russia by the head of Nato, George Robertson.

The visit is part of a Nato effort to promote better relations with Russia, which have been damaged by the alliance's bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 and by its eastward expansion.

Russia is especially distressed about the possibility of the former Soviet Baltic republics becoming Nato members, which would leave Russia's militarily vital enclave of Kaliningrad surrounded by the alliance and bring Nato to within about 160km (100 miles) of St. Petersburg.

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05 Jun 00 | Europe
Why Russia fears US 'Star Wars'
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