When he asks the Russians why they do what they do, the invariable response is “because we can,” Czech Gen. Petr Pavel, chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, said last week.
Because he could, Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed the test launches of four Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ISBMs) last week to demonstrate the power and reach of Moscow’s nuclear triad.
“The commander-in-chief (Putin) conducted the launch of four Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles” from silos in northwestern Russia, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call with reporters.
Peskov didn’t say whether Putin actually hit the switches, but added that Putin made all “the necessary moves in line with the standard procedure for relevant situations as the commander in chief.”
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Russia’s Defense Ministry said the tests involved the launch of Topol ICBMs from the Plesetsk range in northwestern Russia against a target on the Kura range on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s far east.
At the same time, a nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea north of Norway also launched an ICBM at the same Kura range while a second nuclear submarine launched an ICBM from the Sea of Okhotsk north of Japan against a target in the Archangelsk region in Russia’s northwest.
In addition, Tu-160, Tu-95 and Tu-22 strategic bombers launched cruise missiles at mock targets, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
The Russian exercise came ahead of U.S. Strategic Command’s annual “Global Thunder” exercise, which began Monday, to test the command and control structures, and overall readiness of the nation’s nuclear and global strike forces.
“We need to integrate our strategic capabilities in order to deliver multi-domain effects against any adversary, anywhere in the world, at any time,” Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the StratCom commander, said in a statement last week.
Russia’s tests last Thursday coincided with a meeting at NATO’s Brussels headquarters of the NATO-Russia Council, one of the few periodic conferences where ambassadors to NATO from members states have contact with Russian officials.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after the meeting that little or no progress was made on issues such as Afghanistan, Ukraine, Russia’s air intrusions into NATO territory and the buzzing of ships in the North Atlantic, and the size and scope of Russia’s recent Zapad (West) military exercises on NATO’s frontiers.
Russia and NATO “continue to have fundamental differences,” Stoltenberg said after the meeting with Russian envoy Aleksandr Grushko. “Our dialogue is not easy, but that is exactly why our dialogue is so important,” Stoltenberg said.
At a wide-ranging Defense Writers Group breakfast in Washington last Tuesday, Gen. Pavel said that the standoff with Russia was prompting NATO to consider a new command structure to improve readiness.
Pavel said the potential changes involved creating new commands to speed troop movements across borders in Europe and to protect ships in the North Atlantic and the Arctic.
An “outline design” for the new command structures would be presented to a quarterly meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels beginning Nov. 8, Pavel said.
Pavel said of the airspace violations that “Some are unintentional, some are deliberate. Some of
these activities have the nature of a provocation, where the aim is to find out the reaction of the other side.”
At sea, it was his judgment that the buzzing of ships was “not primarily intended as a hostile act,” Pavel said, but “it is dangerous, of course. It’s up to the captain to decide what is the level of threat, If he decides to act by military means, it will be justified, but that will immediately create a conflict situation.”
Pavel, who met last month with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s chief of the General Staff, said the Russians have either ignored or denied NATO’s complaints about the airspace intrusions and the buzzing of ships. “If you asked why do you do that,” Pavel said, the answer was “because we can.”