Russia says it must have nuclear parity with U.S.

MOSCOW (Reuters) - First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, tipped by some analysts as a possible successor to President Vladimir Putin, said on Friday Russia must achieve nuclear arms parity with the United States.

Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov attends the opening ceremony of the Khauzak gas field, November 29, 2007. Russia must achieve nuclear arms parity with the United States, Itar-Tass news agency quoted Ivanov as saying on Friday. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

“Military potential, to say nothing of nuclear potential, must be at the proper level if we want ... to just stay independent,” Itar-Tass news agency quoted Ivanov as saying.

“The weak are not loved and not heard, they are insulted, and when we have parity they will talk to us in a different way.”

Ivanov was speaking to veterans and members of Russia’s military-industrial commission, which he heads and which is marking its 50th anniversary.

Kremlin-watchers have picked the loyal Putin lieutenant as a possible candidate to succeed the Russian leader, who is due to step down after a presidential election in March.

Putin himself has also made strongly worded statements about Russia’s need to reassert its role as a superpower and boost its defenses.

Ivanov, who had earlier stressed Moscow was seeking “a qualitative rather than a numerical parity”, said every year Russia would now be commissioning six or seven of its latest “Topol-M” nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles, although it was capable of producing 25 or 30 annually.

The missiles -- the first developed by Russia since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 -- can carry up to six warheads and are mounted on mobile launchers.

Putin congratulated the Cold War-era commission on its anniversary, saying “it has significantly contributed to the development of the economy, the military-industrial complex and the increase in the country’s security”.

Vladislav Putilin, the commission’s deputy chief, said the task was “to revive and adapt this (Cold War-era) system to the realities of a market economy”.

Stressing the need for nuclear parity with the United States, Ivanov told commission members about a talk he had with former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

“That same Donald Rumsfeld, who had spent his childhood in Chicago which is famous for its mobsters, told me, ‘They listen better to your arguments if you don’t just smile, but also hide a gun in your bosom’,” Ivanov said.

Ivanov singled out for praise the former Soviet ministry in charge of the nuclear weapons program, which achieved nuclear parity with the United States by the late 1970s.

Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Andrew Dobbie