The Bear Sharpens Its Claws

Thursday, October 30, 1997

Although allocations for Russia's defense ministry have been increasing by about 2 percentage points of the total government budget annually over the past several years, a separate item in the government budget has been classified at times and thus may be rarely known or taken into consideration. Called the state defense order (gosudarstvennyi oboronnyi zakaz, or GOZ), it allocates expenditures toward research and development for new generations of weapons systems, systems that will not begin to enter the armed forces' inventory until after the year 2005.

Just over two billion U.S. dollars in size during 1994, the GOZ budget entry more than doubled during each of the following two years (see chart on next page). At this rate, research and development (R&D) funding would have eclipsed the regular defense ministry budget for 1997. However, it increased only slightly in the current year, suggesting a shortage of money.

Russia Expands Its Military R&D
Defense Ministry
High-tech R&D,
listed as State Defense Order
1994 20.4 billion 2.1 billion
1995 12.8 billion 4.8 billion
1996 16.7 billion 11.7 billion
1997 19 billion 12.8 billion (est)

According to the first deputy defense minister, Andrei A. Kokoshin, over the next few years funding will become available only to modernize arms that already have been produced. A number of plants in the military industrial complex (voenno-promyshlennyi kompleks, or VPK), however, will receive "guaranteed minimal state orders" for new weapons during that period. The 1997–2005 arms development program should provide Russia with the capability to manufacture "weapons that have no equivalent in the world," Kokoshin assured members of parliament.

Major General V. I. Slipchenko claimed earlier in an interview that these new armaments would include

Directed energy weapons
Automated high-precision systems
Deep-penetration ammunition
Superhigh-speed data processing and electronic warfare equipment

The attainment of the last capability may be imminent, with the purchase of four supercomputers from Silicon Graphics in California that were shipped directly to the nuclear weapons laboratory at Cheliabinsk-70 in late 1996. An even more powerful machine, the IBM RS/6000 SP (capable of performing more than ten billion calculations per second), had already been purchased for seven million U.S. dollars from middlemen in Europe, a transaction of which the Russians have boasted.

Cheliabinsk-70 is one of Russia's closed cities, located at Snezhinsk in the southern Urals. Its research institute of technology and physics designs experimental and prototype nuclear warheads. The Russian atomic energy ministry, which purchased the American supercomputers, has jurisdiction over all such closed cities. Men and women at these Russian weapons laboratories continue to develop laser, incoherent light source, superhigh-frequency electronic, and electromagnetic pulse weapons--all of which the Russians label "nonlethal." Many should become perfected before the year 2005. A new mass plasma weapon already has been tested. When produced, it could ionize the atmosphere so that a missile or aircraft would be forced off its trajectory and destroyed.

More than four hundred scientists, designers, engineers, and laboratory technicians from forty different organizations recently received prizes from the Russian government for their contributions during calendar year 1996. Mentioned specifically were a director of the space scientific production center, a principal designer at the Izhevsk weapons plant, a director of the biomedical institute, and a principal adviser on space medicine. Among these prize recipients, according to a Russian publication, "a not insignificant number came from the military industrial complex," or VPK. The VPK still includes more than five million employees, who work at approximately seventeen hundred R&D centers and defense plants.

Despite the alleged shortage of funds for the military, Moscow continues construction on a mammoth command and control center for nuclear war at Mount Yaman-Tau, near the city of Beloretsk in the Urals. Production, albeit restricted, of advanced nuclear weapons systems includes the following:

The latest SS-25 modification (Topol M-2) intercontinental ballistic missile, ready for series production at the end of 1996
A new tactical nuclear weapons system, with a range of four hundred kilometers, successfully tested at the end of 1995 and maybe already in production
Miniature nuclear warheads, weighing under two hundred pounds each, coming off the assembly line
The first of seven strategic Boreas-class submarines, named Yuriy Dolgoruki after the founder of Moscow, which will carry the new D 31 submarine-launched ballistic missiles

Even more disturbing is the recent interview with Ivan P. Rybkin, secretary of the Security Council, who stated that "if any aggressor should precipitate a conflict with us and use conventional means, we may respond also with nuclear weapons." He further suggested that those who might engage in such "military adventures" should be forewarned of Russia's response.

That, of course, represents an official admission of the conventional weakness that manifested itself during the war in Chechnya. The new Russian military doctrine includes the "first strike" proviso, as did an earlier version issued back in November 1993. Thus, decision makers in the Kremlin appear to have become prisoners of their own disinformation offensive against the West. They anticipate war and, therefore, are building a modernized nuclear arsenal that they hope may indeed frighten away future aggressors. This strategic approach has been corroborated by Yuri M. Baturin, secretary of the Defense Council, who recently stated that "we cannot talk seriously about repelling any kind of aggressor from the outside, by conventional means, for the next ten to twenty years."

Despite the evidence that Russia is pursuing a robust and aggressive military R&D program, especially in futuristic weapons and enhanced nuclear warheads, these developments seem to have been ignored by the White House. The U.S. government has instead made proposals to its Russian counterparts for deeper reductions in ICBMs down to two thousand or twenty-five hundred under START III--even before Moscow has ratified START II. An agreement in principle was reached at the March 1997 summit in Helsinki.

The Russians do not even claim that they are on schedule in destroying intercontinental missiles under START II. They have made comments that the deadline for doing so must be extended, complaining that they have no money to finance this treaty obligation. The Helsinki summit resulted in an understanding to postpone the earlier deadline by five years to the end of 2007. It also will result in a further infusion of dollars from the U.S. Congress, the World Bank (which has already injected $6.4 billion into Russia), the International Monetary Fund, and other organizations.

Russia's new budget, approved by Yeltsin on February 26, 1997, includes a $19.3 billion deficit. (Defense comprises one-fifth of the budget and is the largest single item.) A considerable part of the deficit will be financed by the $10.3 billion multiyear loan from the IMF. The White House has already asked Congress to increase aid to Russia from $95 million to $241.5 million for FY 1998 under the Freedom Support Act alone. Yeltsin was promised four billion dollars in new U.S. loan guarantees at Helsinki.

Washington, moreover, is pouring eleven and a half billion dollars into Moscow under a multiyear contract for the purchase of HEU, or highly enriched uranium (five hundred tons), from dismantled warheads. Yet the United States last year had excess stocks of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium totaling 1,914 tons. We also have a surplus of fuel for our nuclear power stations. What is the rationale for importing more, which only adds to our surplus?

One of Russia's two new first deputy prime ministers, Anatoli B. Chubais, was interviewed earlier this year. He said:

It is known that plans exist for a kind of cordon sanitaire around Russia, beginning with Azerbaijan and ending at the Baltic, in such a way as to separate Russia from the civilized world and isolate it . . . . We cannot accept such plans under any condition.

This in turn led then Defense Minister Igor N. Rodionov to warn East Central European countries that, if they joined NATO, their capital cities would be targeted by Russian tactical nuclear missiles. Since the former army general did not receive any reprimand, it would appear that his sentiments are shared by President Yeltsin.

Both men take it for granted that the West will continue its support of their country no matter what they say or do--no matter how heavily Russia spends on defense R&D, how extensive Russia's network of defense laboratories and closed cities, or how threatening the rhetoric of Russian leaders. On the recent evidence, they appear to be correct.