Putin offers radical cuts in missiles if US halts Star Wars

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The Independent Online

Russia and the US should cut their nuclear arsenals well below the 1,500 level he had previously advocated, President Vladimir Putin said yesterday, in a radical arms proposal.

Russia and the US should cut their nuclear arsenals well below the 1,500 level he had previously advocated, President Vladimir Putin said yesterday, in a radical arms proposal.

"It's not the limit; we are ready to consider lower levels in the future," Mr Putin said in a statement issued by the Kremlin. "We don't see reasons which would hamper further deep cuts in strategic offensive weapons. There should be no pause in nuclear disarmament."

Russia is aware it no longer has the resources to maintain its nuclear arsenal at its present level. The number of missiles it can maintain will inevitably drop, regardless of arms treaties, as its force ages and cannot be replaced.

Mr Putin said that each side could reduce the number of warheads it can use to the 1,500 level by 2008, though only if the US does not go ahead with its anti-ballistic missile defence system. In April the Russian parliament finally ratified, after years of delay, the Start II treaty which would cut arsenals to 3,500 warheads each.

As soon as the treaty is implemented both sides have tentatively agreed to a Start III treaty which would make further cuts, down to the 2,000-2,500 level. Russia currently spends just $5.1bn (£3.6bn) on defence compared to $290bn spent by the US.

The inability of Russia to maintain the depleted forces it inherited from the Soviet Union was underlined last week when its security council decided to cut military establishment by 600,000 or a fifth.

Earlier, the head of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces, proposed the US and Russia include both offensive and defensive missiles as part of their strategic arsenals. If either country built defensive missiles it would have to cut its offensive force.

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