Russian experts usually portray the “Rubezh” as a modernized version of the Yars ICBM. However, in March 2015 an anonymous source from the Russian Defense Ministry revealed that it has fewer stages and a shorter range than the Yars. The Russian expert Pavel Podvig believes that “if true, this appears to confirm that [the] RS-26 is a two-stage missile based on [the] RS-24 (a three-stage missile – YF) very much in the way [that the] SS-20 was a two-stage version of [the] Temp-2S”. Thus, since the maximum flight range of the “Rubezh” is 200–300 kilometers longer than 5500 kilometers it is not covered by the INF Treaty. However, as it is a two-stage version of the Yars ICBM and was tested mainly at distances of about 2000 kilometers, this missile is designed to be used mainly in the INF mode, including against targets in Europe.
Or to put it differently, the development and deployment of the “Rubezh” missile is nothing but an effective circumventing of the INF Treaty.
The crisis of the INF Treaty and security interests of the Central-Eastern European states
Albeit at the moment of writing it would be too early to make any definite forecasts about Russia’s behavior there are grounds to believe that Moscow will deploy its new GLCMs and “Rubezh” missiles and aim them at targets in Europe. This will essentially strengthen Moscow’s ability to blackmail and threaten European states with a view to
• undermine the unity of the Atlantic alliance;
• deter NATO’s potential intervention in a possible war in the Southern Baltics that would be caused by Russian aggression against the three Baltic States, or in the war in Ukraine, if the Ukrainian crisis is nоt resolved in a reasonably short period of time;
• defeat NATO troops by a limited use of nuclear weapons if an armed conflict between Russia and NATO in the Baltic region breaks out.In actual fact, Moscow wants to put NATO member-states in a grim position: they could either defend the three Baltic States, thus facing the risk of being the victims of a nuclear attack by Russia, or refrain from any involvement in such a conflict, thus undermining the very raison d’être of the North Atlantic alliance. hELL YEAH !!!
This, in many ways, replicates the strategic situation in Europe that emerged in the late 1970s, when the USSR deployed its highly effective SS-20 missiles with a view of decoupling the USA and the European NATO members in the security sphere. Then the NATO members were forced to make the “double-track decision” – to deploy American intermediate-range missiles in Europe to restore the nuclear balance on the continent and to offer negotiations aimed at banning the INF weapons from Europe. In the late 1980s, however, the Kremlin signed the INF Treaty, which banned the intermediate range nuclear missiles, since Soviet leaders and military commanders had realized the threat of a very short-warning attack on several critical strategic targets, including several national command and control centers that were started by the American INF forces.
Thus if Russia deploys its intermediate-range missiles and aims them at Europe the prospect of American INF forces appearing in Europe becomes real. This may challenge the states of Central-Eastern Europe (CEE) with a dilemma: they could either support the deployment of US nuclear missiles in Europe, possibly on their soil, or face the risks caused by Russia’s aggression against the Baltic States. Public opinion and political establishments in CEE may then be deeply split into two camps – those of supporters and opponents of the new American missiles – just as a similar situation had sprung up in the 1980s, when mass anti-missile movements had arisen in Western Europe; and the Kremlin will no doubt capitalize on it. Yet if the USA and the European states refuse to deter the threat caused by the new Russian nuclear missiles Russia’s potential aggression against the three Baltic States may become real. Russia’s invasion of Georgia, its annexation of Crimea, its “hybrid” war in Donbas, its explicit threats to use nuclear weapons in case of the West’s involvement in the war in Ukraine and its regular war games and military drills near the borders of the three Baltic States prove that the Kremlin, if not deterred, is prone to realize the worst case scenarios.
Conclusions and recommendations
Development and testing of the new Russian intermediate range missiles GLCM P-500 and GLBM “Rubezh” is an element of Moscow’s strategy aimed at threatening European states with a nuclear attack or actual use of nuclear weapons with a view to disable NATO and deter it from supporting the three Baltic States and/or the countries of the north-western segment of the Black Sea region against probable Russian aggression.
If Russia starts to deploy the missiles just mentioned, a deployment of new American intermediate range nuclear forces may become necessary, just as such a deployment was necessary in the 1980s. At the same time we may expect that this will engender hot political debates in the CEE countries.
In view of this the CEE countries are to:
• Develop, preferably within the NATO framework, a coherent strategy that would presume to send a clear and strong signal to Moscow saying that if it deploys its new intermediate-range missiles the USA and the European states will deploy the American intermediate-range systems;
• Reproduce the “double-track” policy, which led to the banning of intermediate-range nuclear missiles in the 1980s, if Moscow ignores this signal.