Russia to deploy unique nuclear missile, Putin says

MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin told a conference of top military officials Wednesday that Russia was planning to deploy a nuclear missile of a kind that other nuclear powers were unlikely to develop.

Putin gave no other details, but over the last several months Russian military officials have spoken about developing a ballistic missile that could penetrate any missile defense system, such as the one being put in place by the United States. It reportedly would have the maneuverability of a cruise missile after re-entering the atmosphere from space, helping it to evade interceptor rockets.

"We have not only conducted tests of the latest nuclear rocket systems," Putin said at a meeting in Moscow of the armed forces leadership, according to Russian news services, "I am sure that in the coming years we will deploy them. ... Moreover, these will be things which do not exist and are unlikely to exist in other nuclear powers."

Russian officials have talked of shield-evading missiles since the 1980s, when the Reagan administration promoted its Strategic Defense Initiative anti-missile system.

In announcing a planned missile defense system in 2001, the Bush administration said it was designed to protect the country from "rogue states" such as North Korea, not Russia's massive arsenal.

But the announcement prompted a new round of statements from Russian officials that their country would develop missiles capable of penetrating such a shield.

The Russian Tass news service said Putin may have been referring to a pending mobile version of the Topol-M, the only intercontinental missile developed by Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. Earlier this month, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that Russia expected to test the missile soon and that production might begin in 2005.

Some analysts questioned whether the projected 2005 defense budget was sufficient to finance an upgrading of Russia's nuclear forces.


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