From butter to missiles
By J Michael Waller, Washington Times, December 15, 1998
Russia’s new government leaders have yet to devise a coherent recovery plan as they beg for Western economic and food aid. But instead, they have been spending their time and money preparing for — of all things — nuclear war against the United States and its allies.
Meanwhile the Clinton administration has pledged more aid and is flirting with reopening the cash spigots to the Russian Central Bank. A chronology of recent events reveals a sharp disconnect between Western policy and Russian preparations for armed conflict:
October 4: In his first televised interview as First Deputy Prime Minister, Yuri Maslyukov, a Communist and a former leader of Soviet military industry who is now in charge of the Russian economy, told NTV, “We are barely able to provide our people with the most basic necessities.” Even so, he called for building the ultramodern, fifth-generation SS-27 intercontinental ballistic missile — a three-stage, solid-fuel rocket the Russians call RS-12M2 or Topol-M — at a rate of more than one every ten days for the next few years. Presently, Moscow is financially incapable of such an ambitious project. Mr. Maslyukov wanted more easy Western loans, stressing, “We are demanding that help.”
October 5: Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov led a delegation to Washington to lobby for release of a $4.3 billion International Monetary Fund cash payment to the Russian Central Bank, and for Western countries to send an additional $2.5 billion — which is now being withheld until Moscow presents a sensible economic reform plan.
October 6: Meanwhile, Mr. Maslyukov again insisted on the rearmament of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces, and Russia’s Long-Range Aviation forces began a massive, three-day exercise involving nearly all operational military airfields in the country, from Europe to eastern Siberia. Tu-95, Tu-160, and Tu-22MZ bombers fired missiles in a doomsday drill, a simulated mass bombing.
The enemies in the scenario were not potential threats like Iran and China. Instead, the exercise practiced bombing raids on NATO countries, combat flights against Japan, a nuclear strike on a presumed American aircraft carrier group, and a nuclear missile attack on a strategic target understood to be the continental United States. Air Force Commander-in-Chief Anatoly Kornukov spoke of Tu-95 flights up to the North Pole — the flight path the bombers would take in a nuclear attack on the United States.
October 7: The Strategic Rocket Forces launched an SS-19 ICBM to study the feasibility of extending the 20-year-old missiles’ service life. Fired from the Baikonur space center in Kazakstan, the SS-19’s dummy warhead struck its target nearly a third of the way around the Earth in the Pacific Ocean off Kamchatka, southwest of Alaska.
The same day, Dow Jones reported that Russia planned to ask the United States for millions of tons of free grain to feed its people. Washington readily agreed. Meanwhile, the mock air attacks on Europe, Japan and the United States continued.
October 20: Mr. Maslyukov made a public tour of the SS-27 assembly plant in Votkinsk, and Strategic Rocket Forces Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Yakovlev took a Moscow television crew on his high-profile inspection of nuclear command bunkers and new SS-27 launch facilities.
October 22: The military test-launched an SS-27, but technical failure forced the missile to self-destruct in flight.
October 29: Five SS-27s were deployed at the Tatishchevo missile base in Saratov. TASS reported that five more would become operational by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Mr. Maslyukov continued to plead poverty, asking for the West to give Russia millions of tons of cheap or even free food, and to relax the terms for repayment of debts. Lamenting that Russia was suffering from a disastrous grain harvest, he told reporters that money earmarked for food and fuel in the frigid far north region had been used for some other purposes. He didn’t elaborate.
November 5: President Clinton announced that Washington was readying to finance the sale of 1.5 million metric tons of food to Russia under generous terms, and to give Moscow an equal amount for free in a deal worth more than $625 million. But Mr. Maslyukov demanded more.
Reneging on his promise that Russia would pay its foreign debts on time, he announced that Moscow would be unable to meet its commitments after all, and asked Western creditors yet again to ease up on terms.
Somehow, none of this seems to bother the Clinton administration or the Republican-led Congress. Until it does, Russia’s more retrograde elements will continue to gain the upper hand — and the American taxpayer will continue to subsidize the missiles being aimed at them.