Putin urged to cut nuclear forces

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The Independent Online

Russia's Security Council will today advise President Vladimir Putin to cut land-based nuclear missiles and merge the rest of the Strategic Rocket Force with the air force, a defence ministry source said yesterday.

Russia's Security Council will today advise President Vladimir Putin to cut land-based nuclear missiles and merge the rest of the Strategic Rocket Force with the air force, a defence ministry source said yesterday.

The move is part of a restructuring of Russia's armed forces that would result in three branches of the military - land, sea and air - rather than four, including the Strategic Rocket Force. If Putin agrees with the move, it would represent amajor change in Russian strategic policy, and lead to greater emphasis on the hitherto neglected submarine-based deterrent.

"The Strategic Rocket Force will be merged with the air force, and silo-based missiles, which become obsolete in 2003, will be scrapped," the source said.

Defence experts say Russia has about 750 intercontinental ballistic missiles, most of them in silos or on mobile launchers, with about 3,500 warheads. This would be cut to about 1,500 warheads, the source said, whichwould be in line with Russian proposals for Start-3 arms treaty talks with the United States.

On Wednesday, US President Bill Clinton signed a $287.5bn (£191bn) defence budget - some $30bn more than Russia's entire gross domestic product. The Russian defence budget is $4.5bn on paper but far less in practice. (Reuters)

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