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A 'New START' to an arms race between the US and Russia?

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For more than a year, Moscow and Washington have been negotiating on possible ways to cooperate on missile defense. The Russians would like to set up a joint European missile defense network with NATO, to make sure that the elements of the system – in a number of NATO countries, including Turkey – will not neutralize Russia’s nuclear warheads.

NATO, in contrast, has proposed the creation of two entirely separate systems that would exchange information. But the discussions have gone nowhere, and on Nov. 23, President Dmitry Medvedev finally threw in the towel, announcing the end of negotiations on missile defense cooperation.

Now Russia is warning it will deploy advanced conventional Iskander missile systems in its western and southern Kaliningrad and Krasnodar regions and neighboring Belarus if there is no satisfactory closure on the missile-defense issue. These missiles would be capable of targeting the NATO missile defense bases.

Russia has also been increasing its deployed strategic nuclear stockpile. Russian warhead numbers had already dipped below the New START limits earlier this year, but have now increased to 16 warheads above the treaty limits. While the increase is not large, the trajectory of change is discouraging: Instead of continuing the decline in warhead numbers, Russia is now evidently increasing its deployed strategic stockpile.

That more of the three-warhead RS-24 missiles are now being used – and fewer of the single warhead SS-25s – strongly suggests that this is a direct reaction to NATO missile defense, since the RS-24s were specifically developed in response to earlier missile-defense plans.

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