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RIA Novosti
January 29, 2009
Missile bargaining: Iskanders for missile defense

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) - A representative of the Russian defense ministry said Russia does not have any specific plans for deploying Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad Region. He explained that this would be a presumptive measure that will depend on the actions of the opponent.

Previously, the father of U.S. policy Zbigniew Brzezinski said that the deployment of elements of the missile defense system in Europe is up for discussion, and that the establishment of the system's third positioning area may depend on Russia's conduct. Although these statements were not made by the heads of the relevant departments, Russia and the United States told the world that they are ready to discuss the future of international security while taking into account each other's opinion.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Iskanders could be deployed in response to the planned deployment of the U.S. missile system's third positioning area, last fall. Experts had discussed this possibility much earlier because Iskander missiles are very effective against missile defense.

In its export version, the Iskander has a range of 280 km (175 miles). Russia has missiles with a range of up to 500 km. Missile experts believe that the Iskander system could carry longer range missiles if Russia withdraws from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Apart from ballistic missiles, the Iskander system may also carry long-range cruise missiles. Russia has already test-launched the cruise missile R-500 with a range of 500 km (311 miles). Iskander can be equipped with cruise missiles with a range of up to 2,000 km (1,243 miles), and even 3,000 km (1,865 miles) that will allow it to destroy targets anywhere in Western Europe.

Deployed in Kaliningrad and potentially in Belarus, even standard Iskander mobile launchers can deal a surprise nuclear strike at the larger part of Polish territory. Rapid deployment (in a matter of minutes) and technical features make it easier for Iskander missiles to destroy targets, considering that most of them are fixed like ground-based interceptor (GBI) launchers.

The president made a statement about potential deployment of Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad Region because deployment of missile defense elements in Poland and the Czech Republic directly threaten Russia's nuclear potential. Needless to say, the 10 GBIs that are scheduled for deployment in Poland in the first stage, and even 50 GBIs will not be capable of parrying the strike of the Russian strategic missile forces and missile submarines, but their importance would grow enormously if the United States were to deal a first nuclear strike at Russia. In this case, GBIs would have to deal with a very limited number of missiles that will survive the first strike, which would allow the United States to hope for success, and a victory in a nuclear war, for the first time since the 1950s.

Considering the logic of the arms race, the current round of confrontation is not likely to be the last. It could further provoke the arms race with unknown results. At the same time, it is clear that the future of the new race largely depends on the position of the new U.S. Administration. As distinct from his rival in the presidential election race, Barack Obama was not inclined to resolve problems in Russian-U.S. relations by force. Within this context, analysts suggest that the missile defense system's third positioning area and the resulting deployment of Iskanders may become a subject of bargaining between Moscow and Washington.

The latest statements by both sides confirm this idea. It remains to wait for the next round of the big political game.