Russian missile tests add to angry words

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The Independent Online

Russia test-fired nuclear-capable missiles from air, land and sea yesterday, a signal likely to resound across the Atlantic amid an arms dispute with the new US administration.

Russia test-fired nuclear-capable missiles from air, land and sea yesterday, a signal likely to resound across the Atlantic amid an arms dispute with the new US administration.

Russia periodically tests missiles, but the near-simultaneous launches from a launch-pad, submarine and bomber were a comparatively rare demonstration of all three branches of Russia's "nuclear triad".

Pavel Felgengauer, a Russian defence analyst, said such an exercise required too much advance planning to be a direct response to the latest angry words in the East-West missile defence feud. But it served as a reminder that Russia is keeping its rockets in shape.

The navy and land-based Strategic Rocket Forces announced their launches within minutes of each other, one of a Topol rocket, the other of a ballistic missile fired from a submarine of the Northern Fleet.

Two hours later, the air force said a TU-95 bomber had also fired a strategic missile.

Nuclear-capable Russian bombers had just two days earlier performed unannounced exercises near Norway and Japan, forcing those countries' air forces to scramble to respond. Japan said Russian warplanes entered its air space, which Moscow denied.

Mr Felgengauer said the missile launches and air tests were probably part of a single strategic exercise designed to simulate nuclear war.

The activity came as the administration of President George Bush ratcheted up Washington's rhetoric in the debate over missile defence.

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defense, said on Wednesday that Russia was "part of the problem" in missile technology proliferation, which Washington hopes to counteract with a $60bn (£40bn) National Missile Defense shield (NMD).

The remarks drew an angry response from Moscow, which said it was meeting its treaty obligations on weapons technology. The Bush administration has yet to hold high-level meetings with Russian officials, to Moscow's apparent frustration.

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