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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 21, December 1997

Protests at Destruction of Russian Missiles

In early December, Russia completed the destruction of 20 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), part of its strategic nuclear force identified for elimination under the START I Treaty. On 3 and 4 December, the R-39 (RSM-52) missiles, each reportedly weighing 33 tons, were fired from submarines in the Barents Sea and detonated at a height of 33,000 feet, at a distance of around 100 kilometres offshore. Although the missiles were obviously not loaded with warheads, concern was expressed about the environmental consequences of the amount and toxicity of the fuel and oxidiser thus released into the atmosphere, falling back onto the ice on the sea surface. According to climatologist Alexander Suvalov of Greenpeace:

"I can only describe it as an ecological crime... The military will have their excuse, but the sea will be poisoned for years. I am astonished at the Americans' approval."

Greenpeace claimed the missiles were powered by liquid fuel; the authorities said they were in fact propelled by solid fuel.

According to Vyacheslav Romanov, head of the Defence Ministry's National Centre for Nuclear Threat Reduction, speaking to Itar-Tass on 10 December, the method of destruction was by far the cheapest available, saving over 40 billion roubles. Romanov added that the destruction was timed to coincide with weather conditions likely to prevent any environmental contamination.

The destruction was reportedly observed by 7 US weapons inspectors.

Reports: Russia to destroy 20 ballistic missiles in December, Itar-Tass, 2 December; Russia destroys submarine missiles, Associated Press, 3 December; Russia begins scrapping ICBMs under START -1 Treaty, Itar-Tass, 3 December; Russians demolish 20 submarine ballistic missiles, Itar-Tass, 11 December.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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