Russia military chief wants limited nuclear cuts

MOSCOW Wed Jun 10, 2009 12:52pm EDT

Russia's Strategic Forces commander Colonel-General Nikolai Solovtsov speaks during a news conference in Moscow February 19, 2007. REUTERS/Yuri Samoligo

Russia's Strategic Forces commander Colonel-General Nikolai Solovtsov speaks during a news conference in Moscow February 19, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Yuri Samoligo

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia should limit cuts to its strategic nuclear arsenal to a few hundred warheads in talks with the United States on a new arms control treaty, a top Moscow military chief was quoted as saying Wednesday.

Russia must instead keep at least 1,500 nuclear warheads to ensure its security, Interfax news agency quoted the commander of Russia's Strategic Nuclear Forces Colonel-General Nikolai Solovtsov as saying Wednesday.

The United States and Russia hope to announce progress on a new arms control treaty when President Barack Obama makes his inaugural visit to Russia from July 6-8.

If Moscow's final negotiating position reflects Solovtsov's view, it would mean Russia is not willing to cut by more than a few hundred strategic warheads -- far less than some arms control bodies had hoped.

"In this contract on a new strategic forces treaty, Russia must not have less than 1,500 nuclear warheads, but this decision is up to the political authorities of the country," Solovtsov told Interfax.

Russia and the United States are discussing a new nuclear arms treaty that aims to reduce weapons below the 1,700-2,200 figure both sides already agree must be reached by 2012.

As of January 1, Russia had a total of 3,909 warheads while the United States had 5,576 warheads, according to the U.S. State Department data. The Russian Foreign Ministry has not published its own figures.

ANTI-MISSILE SHIELD

Discussion on agreeing a replacement to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START 1) that expires on December 5 are expected to form a key element of Obama's visit to Moscow.

Obama has made nuclear arms cuts and renewed efforts to prevent further proliferation of nuclear weapons key planks of his foreign policy.

But military experts say that Russia is reluctant to cut its nuclear forces too far because the poor state of its conventional forces means national defence and deterrent capability rely heavily on nuclear arms.

Negotiators from Moscow and Washington have already held a series of talks on a new agreement to further reduce stockpiles and are set for more talks but public comments have avoided giving detail on the precise shape of any agreement.

Russia has also said it wants to link the nuclear talks to U.S. plans to deploy an anti-missile shield in Europe and has pushed for the United States to put a limit on the number of delivery systems -- the rockets or other means that carry the warheads to their targets.

(Reporting by Conor Sweeney; Editing by Michael Stott and Jon Boyle)

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