Russia's short-range Oka tactical missile system was scrapped under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
"We used to have the Oka, which has been scrapped, and for a long time we had a gap in missile coverage in the range of 300-500 kilometers [190-310 miles]," Colonel General Vladimir Zaritsky, commander of the Russian Missile and Artillery Troops, said on Wednesday.
The Iskander-M (NATO reporting name SS-26 Stone) missile system, largely considered a successor to the Oka, has a range of 400 km (250 miles) and can reportedly carry conventional and nuclear warheads.
Russia is planning to equip at least five missile brigades with Iskander-M complexes by 2016. So far, a missile battalion on combat duty in the North Caucasus military district has been fully equipped with Iskander-M, and another battalion will receive the system in 2008.
The former Soviet Union and the U.S. signed the INF Treaty on December 8, 1987. The agreement came into force in June 1988 and does not have a specific duration.
The pact banned nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (300 to 3,400 miles). By the treaty's deadline of June 1, 1991, a total of 2,692 weapons had been destroyed, 846 by the U.S. and 1,846 by the Soviet Union.
The document strongly favored the U.S., as many treaty provisions, such as considering Soviet RSD-10 Pioneer (NATO reporting name SS-23 Spider) multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) missiles to be equivalent to single-warhead Pershing II systems, allowed NATO to regain strategic nuclear superiority over Russia in Europe.
The Oka short-range tactical missile system (NATO reporting SS-23 Spider), which was also destroyed under the INF treaty, technically did not fall into the category of missile systems slated for scrapping, since the maximum range of its missile did not exceed 450 km (280 miles).
Nonetheless, the Americans insisted that the Oka be included on the list of systems subject to elimination.
On February 10, 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that the INF Treaty no longer served Russia's interests. On February 14, Gen. Yury Baluyevsky, the chief of the Russian General Staff, said Russia could pull out of the INF unilaterally, sounding a strong warning to the U.S. regarding its plans to deploy elements of its anti-missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Putin expanded on his arguments favoring Russia's potential withdrawal from the INF treaty in October by saying Russia could pull out of the U.S.-Russian arms reductions agreement, unless it was extended to impose restrictions on other countries as well.
INF TREATY AND MODERNIZATION OF ISKANDER
Zaritsky also said on Wednesday that the Iskander missile system could be modernized and its range extended, if Russia finally withdrew from the INF treaty.
"The current version of Iskander is in full compliance with the INF treaty, but should the Russian leadership decide to pull out of the agreement, we will immediately enhance the capabilities of the system, including its range," the general said.
The flight range of a new cruise missile adapted for Iskander and successfully tested in May 2007 could exceed 500 km (310 miles).
"The tests will continue until 2009," the official said. "So far they have been very successful."
POSSIBLE BELARUS DEAL
Zaritsky said Russia may also deliver an export version of the Iskander system (Iskander-E) to Belarus as a response to U.S. missile shield plans in Central Europe.
"Any action triggers a counteraction, the same is true for the deployment of the U.S. missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland," the general said.
Washington wants to place a radar in the Czech Republic and 10 missile interceptors in Poland, purportedly to counter a missile threat from Iran and other "rogue" states. Moscow has responded angrily to the plans, saying the European shield would destroy the strategic balance of forces and threaten Russia's national interests.
Russia and Belarus, which maintained close political and economic ties since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1991, have been in talks for several years on the delivery of Iskander-E complexes to equip at least one Belarus missile brigade by 2015.
With its maximum range of 280 km (about 180 miles), Iskander-E's range is likely to cover U.S. missile defense facilities in Poland, which borders on Belarus.
Zaritsky reiterated that the Iskander deal could be possible under certain conditions and with the corresponding agreement of Belarus.