MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia tested a new long-range missile on Wednesday that should improve its ability to penetrate missile defence systems, the military said, in Moscow’s latest warning to Washington over deployment of a missile shield in Europe.
The Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) was successfully launched from the Plesetsk facility in north-western Russia and its dummy warhead landed on target on the Kamchatka peninsula on the Pacific coast, the Defence Ministry said.
The new missile is expected to improve Russia’s offensive arsenal, “including by increasing the capability to overcome missile defence systems that are being created”, the ministry said in a statement.
Russia opposes a missile shield the United States and NATO are deploying in Europe, saying it will be able to intercept Russian warheads by about 2018, weakening Moscow’s nuclear arsenal and upsetting the post-Cold War balance of power.
The United States says the system is intended to counter a potential threat from Iran and poses no risk to Russia, but the Kremlin has rejected those assurances and stepped up criticism of the system, to be deployed in four phases by about 2020.
Last autumn, then-President Dmitry Medvedev outlined steps Russia was taking to neutralise the perceived threat, including upgrades to Russia’s offensive nuclear arsenal.
Russia and the United States are still in talks to agree cooperation on missile defence, but Moscow has warned of further measures if no such deal is reached and Washington refuses to provide binding guarantees its system will not threaten Russia.
At a conference in Moscow this month, senior General Nikolai Makarov said Russia could carry out pre-emptive strikes on future NATO missile defence installations to protect its security.
The European system is to include interceptor missile installations in Poland and Romania and a radar in Turkey as well as interceptors and radars on ships based in the Mediterranean Sea.
Russia usually names its weapons, but the Defence Ministry made no mention of a name for the new missile. It said it could be fired from a mobile launcher.
Missile defence has troubled ties between Russia and the United States since the Cold War.
The dispute over the current project has developed despite President Barack Obama’s decision in 2009 to scrap the previous administration’s plans for longer-range interceptors, which helped improve relations after a period of growing tension.
Western officials say improvements to Russia’s ICBM arsenal undermine Moscow’s argument that the system will present a threat and suggest the Kremlin wants to use the issue as a bargaining chip in broader talks on nuclear arms cuts.
During his 2000-2008 Kremlin term, President Vladimir Putin repeatedly said Russia would improve its offensive nuclear capability in response to U.S. missile defence plans.
In 2007, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, now Putin’s chief of staff, was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying Russia already had weapons that could overcome any current or future missile defence system.
Writing by Steve Gutterman; editing by Andrew Roche