MOSCOW – Alarmed by the Trump administration’s scrapping of a Cold War-era arms control treaty, President Vladimir Putin of Russia has ramped up warnings that his country is developing new hypersonic missiles that will travel at more than five times the speed of sound and will be “invincible.”
But while instructing his military to expand the launch platforms and sophistication of its rocket arsenal, Putin has also ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to stay within the limits of existing spending plans for 2019 and beyond.
“We must not and will not let ourselves be drawn into an expensive arms race,” Putin told Shoigu at a meeting over the weekend in the Kremlin, according to a transcript released by Moscow.
On Tuesday, Shoigu told military officers that Russia would, by the end of next year, develop a ground-based version of an air-launched hypersonic missile that has already been developed and also create a land version of the Kalibr, an existing sea-launched cruise missile.
Ground-launched missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, or about 300 to 3,400 miles, were banned by a 1987 treaty signed by President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet leader at the time, Mikhail Gorbachev. But that treaty looks set to fall apart after the United States announced it would pull out because of what it says are repeated Russian violations.
Moscow denies violating the treaty but has stressed that it will move swiftly to develop weapons systems that were previously banned.
Plans to expand Russia’s repertoire of high-speed missiles were first announced last March when Putin threatened the West with a new generation of nuclear weapons, including cruise missiles and nuclear torpedoes. So the recent talk from the Kremlin about new missile systems is misleading, experts said.
“It’s a fair amount of old wine in new bottles,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists. “The fact that they say they can do this so quickly after the U.S. announcement shows they’re not planning something radically new.”
Some experts dismissed Putin’s program as a bluff, and it has become increasingly clear that whatever Russia’s technological prowess, there are severe limits on how much the Kremlin can spend.