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Russia must avoid nuke cuts that could harm security - analyst

MOSCOW, July 1 (RIA Novosti) - Russia must not cut the number of its nuclear warheads to a few hundred under a new strategic arms deal with the U.S., as it needs to maintain superiority over developing countries' nuclear arsenals, a Russian analyst said.

Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the Council for Russia's Foreign and Defense Policy, said on Wednesday that a "huge gap" between the size of the nuclear potentials of Russia and these countries, including North Korea and potentially Iran, must be maintained because nuclear weapons continue to be "the backbone of Russia's political, and to some extent economic, influence."

Russia and the U.S. have been involved in comprehensive talks over a new nuclear arms reduction deal to replace the START 1 treaty, which expires in December.

The START 1 treaty obliges Russia and the United States to reduce nuclear warheads to 6,000 and their delivery vehicles to 1,600 each. In 2002, a follow-up agreement on strategic offensive arms reduction was concluded in Moscow. The agreement, known as the Moscow Treaty, envisioned cuts to 1,700-2,200 warheads by December 2012.

Russia, which proposed a new arms reduction agreement in 2005, expects Washington to agree on a deal that would restrict not only the numbers of nuclear warheads, but also place limits on all existing kinds of delivery vehicles.

"We could go as low as 1,600, or even 1,500 warheads. This is acceptable, especially if we increase their effectiveness and reduce the response time," Karaganov told a RIA Novosti news conference.

"We are also ready to reduce the number of delivery vehicles by several times," he added.

According to a report published by the U.S. State Department in April, as of January 1 Russia had 3,909 nuclear warheads and 814 delivery vehicles, including ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and strategic bombers.

The same report said the United States had 5,576 warheads and 1,198 delivery vehicles.