- MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia vowed on Thursday to develop tactical as
well as strategic nuclear weapons but defense experts said the announcement
was political rather than military muscle-flexing.
- President Boris Yeltsin gathered his
advisory Security Council for a meeting so secret even the Strategic Rocket
Forces chief left the room. Afterwards, the council head said Yeltsin had
signed three documents, including one on tactical arms. "Our nuclear
forces were and remain a key element in the country's strategy for ensuring
national security and military power," Yeltsin said. "Everyone
here, including the president, risks his head if something leaks from
- RIA news agency quoted Security Council
Secretary Vladimir Putin as saying the signed presidential decrees "covered
the development of the nuclear weapons complex and a concept for developing
and using non-strategic nuclear weapons."
- No mention was made of NATO and its recent
eastward enlargement towards economically weakened Russia. But Defense
Minister Igor Sergeyev has said Moscow will have to reshape its own doctrine
and review its nuclear and conventional forces.
- Putin specifically ruled out any link
between the council meeting and the alliance's bombing of Yugoslavia, a
campaign Moscow has consistently condemned.
- Yet the implicit link was there, and
defense experts soon pounced on it. They noted Russia was keen to respond
to NATO's action as well as an alliance summit at which members agreed
a strategic concept and to leave the door open for newcomers. "Don't
take it seriously," said a Russian arms expert of the tactical announcement.
"It's a game, so the West gets upset."
- The difference between tactical and strategic
weapons concerns how far they can be fired and the punch they pack. Tactical
weapons are short range. Strategic ones are long range.
- Defense experts say Russia's army has
about 10,000-12,000 tactical nuclear weapons, but they are largely in
storage. The Russian rationale has been to keep them for perceived threats
from the south and east rather than from the West. "A bit of ambiguity
maybe does no harm, from their point of view, at this particular point,"
said a Western military expert.
- Another crucial distinction is tactical
weapons are not covered by formal arms control agreements. "It's
a hell of a gap in the multi-lateral disarmament game," said the
Western specialist. "It falls neatly between two arms control regimes
(strategic and conventional)."
- The United States would like to include
tactical weapons in any START 3 arms accord but so far START 2, which
covers cuts in strategic weapons, has not been ratified by Russia.
- Back in the mid-1980s, Russia concentrated
on developing a new strategic missile -- the Topol-M, known to NATO as
the SS-27. Years on, this is weapon is just being deployed. "If
they want to develop (tactical weapons), then they will have to start
from scratch," said the Russian specialist. "That will take 15
years at a minimum and a huge amount of resources. I'm convinced this
is no more than whistling in the wind."
- The Security Council said in a statement
the president's decrees supported the nuclear defense industry and its
workers. Putin, who also heads domestic intelligence, said Russia was
looking to develop treaty-compliant, computer-simulated atomic tests,
because Moscow lagged behind other nuclear powers.