MOSCOW – Russia on Tuesday test-launched a new intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple independent warheads, and a top government official said it could penetrate any defense system, a news agency reported.
The new missile would modernize Russia's stockpile at a time of rising tensions with the West.
The ICBM was fired from a mobile launcher at the Plesetsk launch site in northwestern Russia, and its test warhead landed on target about 3,400 miles away on the Far Eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, a statement from the Russian Strategic Missile Forces said.
President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said Russia would continue to improve its nuclear weapons systems and respond to U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe.
First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said the ICBM, as well as a tactical cruise missile that also was tested Tuesday, can penetrate any missile defense system, Russian news agencies reported.
"As of today, Russia has new (missiles) that are capable of overcoming any existing or future missile defense systems," ITAR-Tass quoted Ivanov as saying. "So in terms of defense and security, Russian can look calmly to the country's future."
Ivanov is a former defense minister seen as a potential candidate to succeed Putin in elections next year.
The U.S. has said its missile defense system is intended to deter Iran and other so-called "rogue nations."
The "United States has made clear to the Russians that this missile shield is directed at other nations that could conceivably affect the peace of Europe. We will continue to make sure that Russia fully understands our intentions," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Tuesday.
The ICBM, called the RS-24, is seen as eventually replacing the aging RS-18s and RS-20s that are the backbone of Russia's missile forces, the statement said. Those missiles are known in the West as the SS-19 Stiletto and the SS-18 Satan.
The statement said the RS-24 conforms with terms laid down in the START-I treaty and the 2002 Moscow Treaty, which calls for reductions in each country's nuclear arsenal to 1,700-2,000 warheads.
The RS-24 "strengthens the capability of the attack groups of the Strategic Missile Forces by surmounting anti-missile defense systems, at the same time strengthening the potential for nuclear deterrence," the statement said.
The statement did not specify how many warheads the missile can carry.
Ivanov said the missile was a new version of the Topol-M, first known as the SS-27 in the West, but one that that can carry multiple independent warheads, ITAR-Tass reported.
The first Topol-Ms were commissioned in 1997, but deployment has proceeded slower than planned because of a shortage of funds, and aging Soviet-built ballistic missiles remain the backbone of Russia's nuclear forces. Existing Topol-M missiles are capable of hitting targets more than 6,000 miles away.
Alexander Golts, a respected military analyst with the Yezhenedelny Zhurnal online publication, expressed surprise at the announcement. "It seems to be a brand new missile. It's either a decoy or something that has been developed in complete secrecy," he told The Associated Press.
The new missile would probably be more capable of penetrating missile defense systems than previous models, according to Alexander Pikayev, a senior analyst at the Moscow-based Institute for World Economy and International Relations.
He said its development was probably "inevitable" after the U.S. withdrew from the Soviet-era Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty in 2002 in order to deploy a national missile defense shield.
Russia adamantly opposes U.S. efforts to deploy elements of a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The United States says the system is aimed at blocking possible attacks by countries such as North Korea and Iran, but Russia says the system would destroy the strategic balance of forces in Europe.
Russia's military chief of staff has suggested repeatedly that Russia would regard elements of the system as potential targets.
Asked about the controversy Tuesday at a news conference with Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, Putin said, "We consider it harmful and dangerous to turn Europe into a powder keg."
On Monday, Russia called for an emergency conference next month on a key Soviet-era arms control treaty that has been a source of increasing friction between Moscow and NATO.
The call for a conference on the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty follows last month's statement from Putin declaring a moratorium on observing Russia's obligations under the treaty.
The treaty, which limits the number of aircraft, tanks and other non-nuclear heavy weapons around Europe, was first signed in 1990 and then amended in 1999 to reflect changes since the Soviet breakup. Russia has ratified the amended version, but the United States and other NATO members have refused to do so until Moscow withdraws troops from the former Soviet republics of Moldova and Georgia — an issue Moscow says is unrelated.
Putin warned that Russia could dump the treaty altogether if Western nations refuse to ratify its amended version, and the Foreign Ministry said Monday that it lodged a formal request for a conference among treaty signatories in Vienna, Austria, on June 12-15.