Aaron SteinPodcast: The INF and the Dismemberment of Ukraine

In the inaugural Arms Control Wonk Podcast, Jeffrey and I discuss the alleged “circumventions” of the INF Treaty, the situation in Ukraine, NATO’s security commitments to the Baltic States, and the nuclear weapons related issues associated with the renewal of East-West tensions.


  1. Artjomh (History)

    Testing of RS-26 (or whatever it is called, since the name RS-26 has not been mentioned in any official papers) to 2000 km range does not really tell us anything about the missile’s combat potential.

    Sary-Shagan test range in Balkhash, Kazakhstan houses Russia’s main ABM testing facilities, so all tests that involve missile’s PBV or any kind of terminal stage maneuvering (rather than boost stage) BY NECESSITY will need to be targeted at Sary-Shagan. Which necessitate a lower range seen in those tests.

    So, in themselves, those tests do not really present any sort of evidence that this missile is a IRBM masquerading as an ICBM. Certainly, you cannot make any kind of assumptions about the missile’s combat range with multiple warheads just based on those tests.

  2. peter huessy, president of geostrategic analysis (History)

    Even assuming what the Russians say about the range of the first test is correct, the issue of whether it is a Bulava 30 SLBM still exists. If it is the three stage booster, it is a New START violation.

    My colleague Mark Schneider has written previously on this issue as follows:
    “The Russians claim that they tested the first successful flight of the RS-26 with one RV to 5,600 km. That is the basis of the claim that it is not an IRBM. The claim of 5,600-km is interesting even if it is true. The range between Plesetsk and the normal Kamchatka impact area is 6,400+ km. The dropped the RV in the middle of nowhere almost certainly because they did not have enough range tor each Kamchatka with even a single RV. NASIC says that the range of the RS-26 is 5,500+ plus km which is about half the range of every other ICBM. Also remember that the RS-26 is MIRVed. It may be even be capable of doing to ICBM range with its normal payload.

    Russia announced the second and third test as launches from Kapustin Yar to Sary Shagan which is 2,000-km. That is completely abnormal for an ICBM test program. They have never done this before with any ICBM during its development stage. We know this because they routinely announced launch points and impact points. The two previous Russian new ICBMs, the SS-27 Mod 1 (Topol M Variant 2) and the RS-24 have never flown from from Kapustin Yar to Sary Shagan. All Russian ICBMs and SLBMs have PBV and they are not tested into Sary Shagan. In recent years they have been using the SS-25 as an R&D booster for missile defense and warhead development. They do this before flight testing on the real ICBM and SLBM carrier vehicle.”

    • Pavel (History)

      What’s your source for “they dropped the RV in the middle of nowhere”? The Rocket Forces representative clearly said that “the missile carried a single warhead, which reached its designated target at the Kura test site” (original Russian story). To be fair, the ground range distance between Plesetsk and Kura is about 5,800 km not 6,400 km.

      I would be careful with statements like “they have never done it with any ICBM” – Soviet ICBM development program is quite old. In any event, it doesn’t matter, since no one (including Russian officials) is saying that it’s an ICBM in other than strictly legal New START sense.

      I’m not sure why a three-stage missile would be a New START violation, but it probably doesn’t matter since RS-26 appears to be a two-stage missile anyway. Jeffrey is right – it does appear to be a repeat of the Temp-2S to SS-20 transformation.

    • j_kies (History)

      Mr Huessy; to expound on Pavel’s comment, if I was on the Russian side and I was working the issues on a new ‘front end’ of course I would loft my shots into Sary Shagan as that site was the historic location for technical characterization flights. (Best instrumented range area)

      The INF has always been about making the US and the Soviets (nee Russians) less twitchy about decapitation capable weapons with short times of flight. The US has certainly flown ICBM range capable missiles on highly lofted short range flights for specific characterization issues; does that make the weapon an INF violation? (no) Vastly more problematic are the various BMD targets that have payload-range capabilities within the banned category. Are those test targets an INF violation? (Perhaps not) The US doesn’t think so as they aren’t fielded systems or emplaced within range of Russian interests.

      Sir; as the president of an advocacy lobby, you might responsibly disclose who is paying for the position that you state above. I post as a private citizen with only that credibility that my posts might generate and if I advocate for anything it’s for more rigorous responsible government oversight of our defense and intelligence contractors.

  3. j_kies (History)

    First – other than providing the troops manning the Missile Defense Systems as hostages/human shields to force US escalation – the BMD systems in Europe are immaterial to Soviet re-expansion. Perhaps imperial Russia if you prefer non-Soviet analogs.

    Second – please avoid speculating as to the effort to threaten the strategic rocket forces – as a WAG, the ‘real’ BMD to begin to challenge the existing forces are ~ SAC at peak, 248,000 troops and a budget approaching all of DOD today.

    Third – Ukraine didn’t matter enough to Germany or France to be allowed into NATO – perhaps they would prefer to provide troops for a buffer force and enforce a closed frontier between the resurgent Soviet empire and the Western section of Ukraine?

    How about the west just hires all the merc’s that were busy in Iraq and Libya and ship them to support Kiev? Its conventional and brutal not nuclear or sophisticated.

    The INF arguments are silly – if the warheads count in the ICBM category – that’s appropriate.

  4. nicky (History)

    Are you guys aware that all Soviet ICBMs and SLBM were always tested in a short range mode (far less than 5500km.)?
    Any proof the Russians ever dropped this practice?

    • Jeffrey (History)

      They continue to do reduced range tests. The testing isn’t what is suspicious, so much as the apparent description of the missile.

    • Pavel (History)

      Nicky: No, it’s not true that “all Soviet ICBMs and SLBMs were tested in a short range mode.” Maybe some SS-11 missiles were tested from, say, Svobodnyy to Kura (although I don’t think there is any record of this), but that would be it. If you have any data on short-range tests of, say, SS-18 it would be very interesting to see them.

  5. CIMC (History)

    What are the limitations of the collection platforms that the US uses to collect MASINT on these tests? Are there any systems capable of collecting information useful for countermeasures discrimination development for a test like this (that’s completely over RF territory)?