Russia test-fires nuclear-capable missile amid tensions in Crimea
US says it was notified ahead of launch
Agence France-Presse in Washington and Moscow
Russia has carried out a successful test-launch of an “advanced” intercontinental ballistic missile, state news agencies reported, amid a fierce stand-off between Moscow and the West over Ukraine.
The Strategic Rocket Forces launched an RS-12M Topol missile from the southerly Astrakhan region, Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Yegorov told state-run news agency RIA.
The dummy warhead hit its target at Sary Shagan test range, a proving ground that Russia leases in Kazakhstan, he said.
The launch site, Kapustin Yar, is near the Volga River about 450 kilometres east of the Ukrainian border. Kazakhstan, a Russian ally in a post-Soviet security grouping, is further to the east.
The ballistic missile launch was routine and the US government was notified “before the crisis started in Ukraine”, a senior defence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The defence official provided no details of the missile’s advanced features, saying only that it was launched from Kapustin Yar, near Volgograd.
The road-mobile missile – designed to carry a nuclear warhead – was last reportedly tested by Russia on December 28. It is referred to as the SS-25 Sickle by Nato and has a reported maximum range of 10,500 kilometres.
But US officials declined to comment on the effect of the missile test on Russia’s relations with Washington.
“This was a previously notified and routine test launch of an ICBM,” said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council.
Another US official said the initial notification by Russia pre-dated the crisis in Crimea.
The missile was first put into service in the 1980s and then repeatedly modified.
Russia has been testing warheads that could evade a missile defence shield that the United States is deploying together with Nato in Europe over Russia’s strong objections.
Nato countries say the missile shield is designed to counter missile threats from Iran, not Russia.
The Russian defence official said the test on Tuesday was designed to check the warhead’s ability to “penetrate missile defence systems”.
The test was conducted amid a fierce stand-off between Russia and the West over Ukraine, whose Crimean peninsula has been taken under de facto control by Kremlin-backed troops since the February 22 ouster of Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.
Russia conducts test launches of its ICBMs fairly frequently and often announces the results, a practice seen as intended to remind the West of Moscow’s nuclear might and reassure Russians that President Vladimir Putin will protect them.
Russia and the United States signed the latest of a series of treaties restricting the numbers of ICBMs in 2010, but Moscow has indicated it will agree further cuts in the near future and is taking steps to upgrade its nuclear arsenal.
With additional reporting from Reuters