Putin Touts Russia's Missile Capabilities

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

New York Times

January 31, 2006

MOSCOW (AP) -- President Vladimir Putin boasted Tuesday that Russia has missiles capable of penetrating any missile defense system, Russian news reports said.

''Russia ... has tested missile systems that no one in the world has,'' the ITAR-Tass, Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies quoted him as saying at a news conference. ''These missile systems don't represent a response to a missile defense system, but they are immune to that. They are hypersonic and capable of changing their flight path.''

Putin said the new missiles were capable of carrying nuclear warheads. He wouldn't say whether the Russian military already had commissioned any such missiles.

He said he had shown the working principles of the missile systems to French President Jacques Chirac during a visit to a Russian military facility.

''He knows what I'm talking about,'' news agencies quoted Putin as telling reporters after state-run news channels had cut their live broadcast of the news conference.

In April 2004, Chirac became the first Western leader to visit Russia's top-secret Titov space control center, which is also involved in launches of its intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Putin said that the new missiles were capable of changing both the altitude and the direction of their flight, making it impossible for an enemy to intercept them.

''A missile defense system is designed to counter missiles moving along a ballistic trajectory,'' Putin was quoted as saying.

Putin and other Russian officials have boasted of the new missiles in similar comments in recent years, but they haven't identified them or given any further details other than about their ability to change their flight path on approach to a target.

Most analysts viewed the earlier announcements about ''hypersonic'' missile systems as Moscow's response to U.S. missile defense plans.

Military analysts have said that the military had experimented with a maneuvering warhead during a missile launch several years ago, but voiced doubt about Russia's ability to deploy such weapons anytime soon.

Analysts said the new warheads, designed to zigzag on their approach to targets, could be fitted to new land-based Topol-M missiles and the prospective Bulava missiles, now under development.

On other topics at the news conference, Putin:

-- Urged the militant Palestinian group Hamas to engage in peaceful dialogue, and said Russia's position on the Middle East differed from that of the United States and Europe.

Hamas should ''refrain from extremist declarations, acknowledge Israel's right to exist and put its contacts with the international community in order,'' Putin said. He said ''Russia has never declared Hamas a terrorist organization, but it doesn't mean we support and accept everything Hamas has done and all the statements it has made.''

-- Lashed out at the government of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili for its criticism of Moscow over last week's gas pipeline explosion, which resulted in a weeklong cutoff of Russian gas from the Caucasus Mountains nation.

While repair teams were working to fix the pipeline in freezing temperatures, ''we only saw them spitting at us,'' Putin said. ''Georgian citizens must know that such a policy toward Russia won't help to improve conditions of ordinary people.''

-- Praised his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, for taking Russia on the democratic path amid the turmoil that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

''During the time when Yeltsin led Russia, Russian citizens got the most important thing: freedom,'' Putin said during a wide-ranging annual news conference. ''This is a great historic accomplishment of Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin.''

Many Russians hold Yeltsin, who turns 75 on Wednesday, responsible for the post-Soviet economic meltdown that led to a dramatic plunge in living standards. Putin owes his rise to power to Yeltsin, who picked him as his prime minister and then named him acting president.