Russia’s Nuclear Shell Game
A week ago Tuesday, Russia once again tried to fire a Bulava nuclear missile from a submarine, this one located in the White Sea. For the fifth time in ten tries, the missile veered wildly off course and had to be destroyed immediately after leaving the launching pad, ending the effort in total failure and humiliation.
Russia has already put the Bulava into production even though 50% of the test launches have ended in failure since 2004. After a successful test in November, Russian military officials had crazily hyped the December test as “decisive” and indicated that once it went off without a hitch they would commission the missile into service. Three new nuclear submarines are being built just to carry this missile; now, they’ll be unarmed for the forseeable future (assuming the Kremlin even manages to put them to sea).
There’s little hope in the Sineva class of missiles that the Bulava is supposed to replace. Creaking relics of Soviet times, in 2004 not one but two such rockets failed to even leave the submarine while then-“president” Vladimir Putin was on hand to watch a supposed display of Russian military might. It was a new low in neo-Soviet humiliation.
Undeterred by plunging cash reserves, stock market capitalization and currency value, nor by soaring unemployment and inflation, the Russian government is blindly barging ahead with a massive increase in weapons procurement and defense spending, including a four-fold increase in nuclear missile production. Russia’s 2008 defense budget was in excess of 1 trillion rubles, 20% more than in 2007, and will go up at an even higher rate in 2009 — over 25%. Over the next three years the Kremlin plans to spend a jaw-dropping 4 trillion rubles on the military, even as the nation crashes into a brutal recession.
This is, to put it mildly, insanity. It’s exactly the same behavior that bankrupted and obliterated the USSR, a country with a much larger population and industrial base. Russia can’t afford a new nuclear arms race with the United States, not when as we reported last week it is spending 40% less than the world average on infrastructure and losing railway and airline sevice at a rapid rate, leaving larger and larger segments of the population stranded. Not when the average Russian man doesn’t live to see age 60, placing Russia outside the top 100 nations of the world in that category. Not when Russia leads the world in divorce and suicide, AIDS and smoking, fire and road fatalities, and inumerable other plagues.
If the people of Russia won’t demand better from their government, they deserve their suffering. They deserve, for the third time in a century, to see their nation collapse upon itself, condemened as virulent aggressor and scorned as backward and crude.