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Thursday, April 29, 1999 Published at 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK

World: Europe

Russia re-affirms nuclear commitment

The Russian military says it needs to upgrade its nuclear arsenal

President Yeltsin and key commanders in the Russian Security Council, have re-affirmed the country's commitment to a nuclear weapons programme including the possibility of re-starting nuclear testing.

Russia is a signatory to the international treaty banning nuclear tests.

[ image: President Yeltsin: Need to maintain combat-readiness]
President Yeltsin: Need to maintain combat-readiness
The announcement coincides with the latest Russian diplomatic mission on Kosovo, but the Secretary of the Council, Vladimir Putin, insisted that the meeting was "in no way connected with events in the Balkans."

He added there was no question of re-targeting missiles on Nato targets.

Mr Putin said three strategic documents had been signed, including one described as top secret.

Nuclear element

President Yeltsin: "A key element in safeguarding national security" (in Russian)
After the meeting President Yeltsin underlined that nuclear forces have been and would remain "the key element in the strategy of ensuring national security and military might of the country."

He added that Russia should keep a minimum number of nuclear weapons to guarantees its security. "We mustn't allow such dismantling of nuclear weapons that would leave us with nothing," he said.

"Maintenance of the combat-readiness of our nuclear potential at a high level is one of Russia's top-priority state interests."

Last autumn military scientists are reported to have carried out five sub-critical nuclear tests at a test range in the Russian Arctic as part of the process of modernising components in the country's ageing nuclear stockpile.

Need for safety

[ image: New generations of missile are being deployed]
New generations of missile are being deployed
Officials say the tests did not violate the international Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty because the amount of plutonium used was too small to create a nuclear explosion.

They say such tests are critical to ensure the safety of the country's weapons systems.

The United States is pressing Russia to cut its stockpile of nuclear weapons by half to 3,000 warheads by ratifying the 1993 Start II treaty, but parliament has refused to sign the accord.

Russian legislators have been angered by the Nato raids on Yugoslavia and correspondents say that there the chances of any action being taken on the treaty before the conflict is resolved are virtually nil.

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