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Collapse of a crucial US-Russia treaty would lead to a new nuclear arms race

The INF treaty may be close to collapse, with both sides accusing the other of violating its terms

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(The National Interest) – On November 8 the U.S. Senate approved the allocation of $58 million for research and development program on a ground-launched intermediate-range missile as part of National Defense Authorization Act, FY 2018. Herewith, it is stated that the scope of this program should “comply with Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty”—the treaty does not stipulate the ban for research and engineering of related technologies. According to this act, the taken measures respond to breaking of the INF Treaty by Russia. The situation is actually much more complicated, and the allocation of money for development of intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) will draw INF Treaty closer to dissolution than ever before. It’s symbolic that this escalation is happening near the thirtieth anniversary of signing the INF Treaty. The treaty aimed to make nuclear deterrence stronger and demilitarize Europe by banned all missiles that had a maximum flight range between 500 to 5500 km.

America and Russia Have Difficulties with Adherence

The United States and Russia have been accusing one another of violating the INF Treaty in recent years. American military and political elites routinely accuse Russia of ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) development, with range exceeding 500 km. The missile in question is called 9M729 (U.S. designation SSC-X-8) and, apparently, it can be used with Iskander-M Tactical Ballistic Missile System. Development of a missile with such a designation has been indirectly corroborated by Russian officials, but its technical specifications are unknown. There is no credible information on the deployment of a significant quantity of these missiles. However, one can assume that Russia has been preparing for a probable dissolution of the INF Treaty and developed a ground-based modification of the 3M-14 sea-launched cruise missile—of “Kalibr” family—with the possibility of setting up large-scale production. If such an assumption is true, then 9M729 can hit targets with high precision from a distance of more than 2000 km.

The RS-26 “Rubezh” is another advanced mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that is drawing protests from the United States. Technically, it complies with INF Treaty with a range of more than 5500 km, but it could also be used at the relatively small distance of 2000 km. This missile is versatile to the point that it can function both as an ICBM and an IRBM. However, the text of the INF Treaty says, “the range capability of a GLBM not listed in Article III of this Treaty shall be considered to be the maximum range to which it has been tested.” Therefore, Rubezh does in fact comply with the treaty. In order to provide further clarity, it would be advantageous to America and Russia to conduct extra negotiations and amend INF Treaty relating to such cases.

The deployment of the antiballistic missile (ABM) system Aegis Ashore in Romania and Poland is a particularly annoying to Moscow. Russia is worried because the SM-3 antimissile batteries are placed in Mk41 Vertical Launching Systems, which can be also used to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles (with maximum range up to 1600 km). The INF Treaty bans the production of IRBM launching platforms, so this would constitute a direct noncompliance with the treaty.

Another controversial point is the development and use of medium-range target missiles for testing of the American missile defense systems. For instance, the Hera target missile has a maximum range of 1100 km. In effect, they are no different from regular IRBMs, and the treaty does not contain any explanations for resolving these situations.

The weakest part of INF Treaty relates to the definitions of cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (MALE and HALE classes). The term “cruise missile” means an unmanned, self-propelled vehicle that sustains flight through the use of aerodynamic lift over most of its flight path, which can lead to confusion with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) becoming more ubiquitous. Russia does not yet have such UAVs—though the works on such projects is ongoing. That is why Moscow periodically accuses the United States of INF Treaty violations regarding. Russia clearly intends to build UAVs of the same class as the Western counterparts, which means that the INF Treaty will have to be amended in the near future.

The Dissolution of INF Treaty Could Lead to an Arms Race

The potential withdrawal of one party—either Russia or America—from the INF Treaty would lead to a full dissolution of the treaty itself. This development has two possible outcomes: the parties blatantly restart production of a small quantity of ground-based cruise missiles (development and production of ground-based modifications of “Kalibr” or “Tomahawk” is not a problem) and stop at that; or a more serious arms race will begin. Russia has a better starting position in such a race—it would be quite easy to reestablish production of the RSD-10 Pioneer IRBM (NATO reporting SS-20 Saber). This mobile system was capable of delivering three nuclear 150 kiloton warheads at the distance of 4600 km. This missile allowed Moscow to have all of the U.S. military’s European infrastructure in range. America’s Pershing II missile had much simpler parameters—one 80 kiloton warhead and a maximal range of about 1800 km. Reestablishing its production makes little sense for the United States since the Pershing II would be obsolete. Development of a missile complying with RSD-10 parameters will demand a great deal of  time and funding.

Washington does have a distinct advantage advantage over Moscow though—Russian IRBMs can hit anywhere in Europe, but they cannot hit the continental United States. The U.S. military made sure to deploy missiles within European NATO members’ borders, setting European Russia within U.S. crosshairs. This reality has pushed Moscow to increase its strategic nuclear weapons stockpile and develop new nuclear delivery platforms. One such platform is the  railway-based ICBM Barguzin (development of this project has stopped, but can be easily restarted) or compact Kuryer ICBM (Courier SS-X-26), whose development was not completed by the Soviet Union but can be finished by Russia. Kuryer can be camouflaged as a truck or placed in a sea-bound cargo container. These developments will lead to the evident dissolution of the New START treaty “in chain order” since countries will produce more and more nuclear warheads and will exceed allowed numbers.

Thankfully, such a race would not likely lead to a preemptive strike since deterrence still holds. Russia is still too big to guarantee that all its ICBM launching systems can be knocked out and America would have time to react to a Russian attack due to the great distances missiles must travel to hit the continental United States.

All this can mean the only thing: even large-scale development and production of ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles with maximal range less than 5500 km won’t lead to a change in the balance of power between U.S. and Russian strategic weapons. An uncontrolled arms race in this regard is senseless.

What Is to Be Done?

Unfortunately, the worsening of U.S.-Russia relationship does not bode well for reforming the INF Treaty. Additionally, most military and defense officials in both countries favor the dissolution of the treaty. This is not surprising, considering the money that would be invested in either country’s military industrial complex for various upgrades and modernizations. Both American and Russian administrations need to seriously discuss the current situation amend the INF Treaty to match up modern times. UAVs will become even more common in the future, a blanket ban for conventional ground-based long-range cruise missiles does not address this or the other technical challenges to the treaty.

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Russia’s Lukoil Halts Oil Swaps In Venezuela After U.S. Sanctions

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades.

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Via Oilprice.com


Litasco, the international trading arm of Russia’s second-biggest oil producer Lukoil, stopped its oil swaps deals with Venezuela immediately after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry and state oil firm PDVSA, Lukoil’s chief executive Vagit Alekperov said at an investment forum in Russia.

Russia, which stands by Nicolas Maduro in the ongoing Venezuelan political crisis, has vowed to defend its interests in Venezuela—including oil interests—within the international law using “all mechanisms available to us.”

Because of Moscow’s support for Maduro, the international community and market analysts are closely watching the relationship of Russian oil companies with Venezuela.

“Litasco does not work with Venezuela. Before the restrictions were imposed, Litasco had operations to deliver oil products and to sell oil. There were swap operations. Today there are none, since the sanctions were imposed,” Lukoil’s Alekperov said at the Russian Investment Forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Another Russian oil producer, Gazprom Neft, however, does not see major risks for its oil business in Venezuela, the company’s chief executive officer Alexander Dyukov said at the same event.

Gazprom Neft has not supplied and does not supply oil products to Venezuela needed to dilute the thick heavy Venezuelan oil, Dyukov said, noting that the Latin American country hadn’t approached Gazprom Neft for possible supply of oil products for diluents.

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades. Analysts expect that a shortage of diluents could accelerate beginning this month the already steadily declining Venezuelan oil production and exports.

Venezuela’s crude oil production plunged by another 59,000 bpd from December 2018 to stand at just 1.106 million bpd in January 2019, OPEC’s secondary sources figures showed in the cartel’s closely watched Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR) this week.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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Germany Pulls Rank on Macron and American Energy Blackmail

Why France’s Macron, at the last minute, attempted to undermine the project by placing stiffer regulations is a curious question.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


It was billed politely as a Franco-German “compromise” when the EU balked at adopting a Gas Directive which would have undermined the Nord Stream 2 project with Russia.

Nevertheless, diplomatic rhetoric aside, Berlin’s blocking last week of a bid by French President Emmanuel Macron to impose tougher regulations on the Nord Stream 2 gas project was without doubt a firm rebuff to Paris.

Macron wanted to give the EU administration in Brussels greater control over the new pipeline running from Russia to Germany. But in the end the so-called “compromise” was a rejection of Macron’s proposal, reaffirming Germany in the lead role of implementing the Nord Stream 2 route, along with Russia.

The $11-billion, 1,200 kilometer pipeline is due to become operational at the end of this year. Stretching from Russian mainland under the Baltic Sea, it will double the natural gas supply from Russia to Germany. The Berlin government and German industry view the project as a vital boost to the country’s ever-robust economy. Gas supplies will also be distributed from Germany to other European states. Consumers stand to gain from lower prices for heating homes and businesses.

Thus Macron’s belated bizarre meddling was rebuffed by Berlin. A rebuff was given too to the stepped-up pressure from Washington for the Nord Stream 2 project to be cancelled. Last week, US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and two other American envoys wrote an op-ed for Deutsche Welle in which they accused Russia of trying to use “energy blackmail” over Europe’s geopolitics.

Why France’s Macron, at the last minute, attempted to undermine the project by placing stiffer regulations is a curious question. Those extra regulations if they had been imposed would have potentially made the Russian gas supply more expensive. As it turns out, the project will now go-ahead without onerous restrictions.

In short, Macron and the spoiling tactics of Washington, along with EU states hostile to Russia, Poland and the Baltic countries, have been put in their place by Germany and its assertion of national interests of securing economical and abundant gas supply from Russia. Other EU member states that backed Berlin over Nord Stream 2 were Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and the Netherlands.

Washington’s claims that Nord Stream 2 would give Russia leverage of Europe’s security have been echoed by Poland and the Baltic states. Poland, and non-EU Ukraine, stand to lose out billions of dollars-worth of transit fees. Such a move, however, is the prerogative of Germany and Russia to find a more economical mode of supply. Besides, what right has Ukraine to make demands on a bilateral matter that is none of its business? Kiev’s previous bad faith over not paying gas bills to Russia disbars it from reasonable opinion.

Another factor is the inherent Russophobia of Polish and Baltic politicians who view everything concerning Russia through a prism of paranoia.

For the Americans, it is obviously a blatant case of seeking to sell their own much more expensive natural gas to Europe’s giant energy market – in place of Russia’s product. Based on objective market figures, Russia is the most competitive supplier to Europe. The Americans are therefore trying to snatch a strategic business through foul means of propaganda and political pressure. Ironically, the US German ambassador Richard Grenell and the other American envoys wrote in their recent oped: “Europe must retain control of its energy security.”

Last month, Grenell threatened German and European firms involved in the construction of Nord Stream 2 that they could face punitive American sanctions in the future. Evidently, it is the US side that is using “blackmail” to coerce others into submission, not Russia.

Back to Macron. What was he up to in his belated spoiling tactics over Nord Stream 2 and in particular the attempted problems being leveled for Germany if the extra regulations had been imposed?

It seems implausible that Macron was suddenly finding a concern for Poland and the Baltic states in their paranoia over alleged Russian invasion.

Was Macron trying to garner favors from the Trump administration? His initial obsequious rapport with Trump has since faded from the early days of Macron’s presidency in 2017. By doing Washington’s bidding to undermine the Nord Stream 2 project was Macron trying to ingratiate himself again?

The contradictions regarding Macron are replete. He is supposed to be a champion of “ecological causes”. A major factor in Germany’s desire for the Nord Stream 2 project is that the increased gas supply will reduce the European powerhouse’s dependence on dirty fuels of coal, oil and nuclear power. By throwing up regulatory barriers, Macron is making it harder for Germany and Europe to move to cleaner sources of energy that the Russian natural gas represents.

Also, if Macron had succeeded in imposing tougher regulations on the Nord Stream 2 project it would have inevitably increased the costs to consumers for gas bills. This is at a time when his government is being assailed by nationwide Yellow Vest protests over soaring living costs, in particular fuel-price hikes.

A possible factor in Macron’s sabotage bid in Germany’s Nord Stream 2 plans was his chagrin over Berlin’s rejection of his much-vaunted reform agenda for the Eurozone bloc within the EU. Despite Macron’s very public amity with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Berlin has continually knocked back the French leader’s ambitions for reform.

It’s hard to discern what are the real objectives of Macron’s reforms. But they seem to constitute a “banker’s charter”. Many eminent German economists have lambasted his plans, which they say will give more taxpayer-funded bailouts to insolvent banks. They say Macron is trying to move the EU further away from the social-market economy than the bloc already has moved.

What Macron, an ex-Rothschild banker, appears to be striving for is a replication of his pro-rich, anti-worker policies that he is imposing on France, and for these policies to be extended across the Eurozone. Berlin is not buying it, realizing such policies will further erode the social fabric. This could be the main reason why Macron tried to use the Nord Stream 2 project as leverage over Berlin.

In the end, Macron and Washington – albeit working for different objectives – were defeated in their attempts to sabotage the emerging energy trade between Germany, Europe and Russia. Nord Stream 2, as with Russia’s Turk Stream to the south of Europe, seems inevitable by sheer force of natural partnership.

On this note, the Hungarian government’s comments this week were apt. Budapest accused some European leaders and the US of “huge hypocrisy” in decrying association with Russia over energy trade. Macron has previously attended an economics forum in St Petersburg, and yet lately has sought to “blackmail” and disrupt Germany over its trade plans with Russia.

As for the Americans, their arrant hypocrisy is beyond words. As well as trying to dictate to Europe about “market principles” and “energy security”, it was reported this week that Washington is similarly demanding Iraq to end its import of natural gas from neighboring Iran.

Iraq is crippled by electricity and power shortages because of the criminal war that the US waged on that country from 2003-2011 which destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure. Iraq critically needs Iranian gas supplies to keep the lights and fans running. Yet, here we have the US now dictating to Iraq to end its lifeline import of Iranian fuel in order to comply with the Trump administration’s sanctions against Tehran. Iraq is furious at the latest bullying interference by Washington in its sovereign affairs.

The hypocrisy of Washington and elitist politicians like Emmanuel Macron has become too much to stomach. Maybe Germany and others are finally realizing who the charlatans are.

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Russia Readies Own Web To Survive Global Internet Shutdown

Russia is simultaneously building a mass censorship system similar to that seen in China.

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Via Zerohedge


Russian authorities and major telecom operators are preparing to disconnect the country from the world wide web as part of an exercise to prepare for future cyber attacks, Russian news agency RosBiznesKonsalting (RBK) reported last week.

The purpose of the exercise is to develop a threat analysis and provide feedback to a proposed law introduced in the Russian Parliament last December.

The draft law, called the Digital Economy National Program, requires Russian internet service providers (ISP) to guarantee the independence of the Russian Internet (Runet) in the event of a foreign attack to sever the country’s internet from the world wide web.

Telecom operators (MegaFon, VimpelCom (Beeline brand), MTS, Rostelecom and others) will have to introduce the “technical means” to re-route all Russian internet traffic to exchange points approved by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor), Russia’s federal executive body responsible for censorship in media and telecommunications.

Roskomnazor will observe all internet traffic and make sure data between Russian users stays within the country’s borders, and is not re-routed abroad.

The exercise is expected to occur before April 1, as Russian authorities have not given exact dates.

The measures described in the law include Russia constructing its internet system, known as Domain Name System (DNS), so it can operate independently from the rest of the world.

Across the world, 12 companies oversee the root servers for DNS and none are located in Russia. However, there are copies of Russia’s core internet address book inside the country suggesting its internet could keep operating if the US cut it off.

Ultimately, the Russian government will require all domestic traffic to pass through government-controlled routing points. These hubs will filter traffic so that data sent between Russians internet users work seamlessly, but any data to foreign computers would be rejected.

Besides protecting its internet, Russia is simultaneously building a mass censorship system similar to that seen in China.

“What Russia wants to do is to bring those router points that handle data entering or exiting the country within its borders and under its control- so that it can then pull up the drawbridge, as it were, to external traffic if it’s under threat – or if it decides to censor what outside information people can access.

China’s firewall is probably the world’s best known censorship tool and it has become a sophisticated operation. It also polices its router points, using filters and blocks on keywords and certain websites and redirecting web traffic so that computers cannot connect to sites the state does not wish Chinese citizens to see,” said BBC.

The Russian government started preparations for creating its internet several years ago. Russian officials expect 95% of all internet traffic locally by next year.

As for Russia unplugging its internet from the rest of the world for an upcoming training exercise, well, this could potentially anger Washington because it is one less sanction that can keep Moscow contained.

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