MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov) - Russia may deliver its Iskander tactical missile systems to Belarus as an asymmetrical response to the deployment of American ABM components in Europe.
"Under certain conditions and with the corresponding agreement of Belarus, why don't we? After all, any action triggers a counteraction."
Colonel General Vladimir Zaritsky, commander of the Russian Missile and Artillery Troops, expressed this opinion when asked by journalists about Iskander's combat parameters. But what "certain conditions" did he mean? The Iskander-E export version (NATO reported name SS-26 Stone), which Russia is planning to deliver to Belarus, has a range of 280 km (174 miles). Minsk has announced that the missile brigade, which will be equipped with Iskanders, will be deployed in the Mogilev Region, which is near the Russian border. Their range is too small to hit American missile interceptors even if they were moved to the Brest Region, closer to Poland.
But what if Belarus gets an updated Iskander tactical missile? Its range may exceed 500 km (310 miles), which is the limit imposed by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Its appearance will mean that Russia has withdrawn from the INF.
Moscow is considering this option in the context of U.S. efforts to create a third positioning ABM region in Europe. ABMs next to Russia are irritating Moscow beyond measure, all the more so as it is a clear provocation. But experts are divided on the potential withdrawal from the INF.
Head of the IMEMO International Security Center Alexei Arbatov believes that the deployment of ABMs in Europe should not be ignored even if their potential is negligible compared with the Russian nuclear deterrent. American experts themselves admit that this is an on-going program. In other words, neither the Americans, nor the Europeans can guarantee that it will be limited to radar in the Czech Republic and 10 GBIs in Poland. What if the latter's numbers are increased 10, 15 or even 100 times? Nonetheless, Arbatov believes that it is necessary to thoroughly weigh all the pros and cons of Russia's withdrawal from the INF and to analyze all the potential military-strategic, financial, economic and political consequences. He thinks that Russia has other effective means to counter the American ABMs in Europe. Spending much less, Moscow could deploy several additional missile regiments of Topol-M ICBMs (NATO designation SS-27 "Sickle"), without transgressing upon the INF treaty.
Arbatov believes that if Russia resuscitates its medium-range forces, the United States may resume the program of its Pershing-2 medium-range systems and sea-launched cruise missiles, develop modernized medium-range weapons and deploy them in Europe. This scenario brings back to my mind Zaritsky's words about action and counteraction.
Needless to say, the Iskander missile has a unique ability to destroy small and area targets, such as ABMs in Poland. There is no doubt that the INF treaty signed by the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. in 1987 is today jeopardizing Russia's national security interests. In effect, this document has not become universal - other countries with medium-range missiles (China, for one) have not signed it. But it is also clear that the INF is central to nuclear disarmament. This gives everyone enough food for thought.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.