Putin tries to reassure world over 'unique' nuclear missile claim

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The Independent Online

Russia has moved to reassure the international community that it is not embarking on a new arms race, just days after boasting it had developed a new nuclear weapon that "other nuclear powers do not and will not possess".

Russia has moved to reassure the international community that it is not embarking on a new arms race, just days after boasting it had developed a new nuclear weapon that "other nuclear powers do not and will not possess".

President Vladimir Putin told the country's top military brass last Wednesday that new nuclear missile systems were being tested and would be pressed into service "in the next few years". International terrorism was the main threat facing Russia, he conceded, but the country could not afford to neglect its ageing nuclear arsenal.

Mr Putin's comments surprised many analysts. The speech appeared to sit awkwardly with international attempts to prevent Iran's and North Korea's nuclear programmes. But Russian officials say Mr Putin's comments should not be misunderstood.

At the United Nations the country's Deputy Foreign Minister, Yuri Fedotov, insisted the rest of the world had nothing to worry about, saying the new missile system was "purely defensive" and merely part of a continuing programme to upgrade Russia's military capability. "As with everything we have it's totally defensive," said Mr Fedotov. "All armed forces need to upgrade and this is part of a natural process ... It is [also] necessary to improve missile systems to avoid accidents."

Most analysts believe Mr Putin's comments were mainly for domestic consumption, designed to boost morale in the country's cash-starved armed forces, which are undergoing a radical restructuring. But experts are divided over what kind of nuclear weapon the president was referring to.

Some believe it is a ballistic missile for submarines, carrying 10 warheads over a range of 5,000 miles, that has been in development since 1986. Others speculate that it is a new generation of nuclear weapon that would render America's nascent missile defence shield redundant. The Russian weapon, it is claimed, would have a warhead that could detach itself from the main missile during the final phases of its flight and continue as a separate projectile, capable of evading missile defences.

Mr Putin's upbeat assessment of the country's nuclear capability clashes sharply with recent Russia media reports, which claim the country's ballistic missile programme isin danger of collapse.

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