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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Peace dividend: Costly for Russia

The dividend of last week's dramatic summit agreement on nuclear disarmament turns out to be peace of mind with a very expensive, and also very unequal, price for the United States and Russia.


That cost, rather than the elimination of the weapons themselves, will prove to be much harder for the two governments to agree on in the months ahead.


It has promoted some officials in Moscow to observe wryly that each time a breakthrough agreement with Washington has been signed recently, the financial burden on the already overstrained Russian budget grows heavier.


The agreement -President Boris Yeltsin signed with President George Bush last week to cut their nuclear arsenals will, according to initial estimates, cost Russia billions of dollars more than it will cost the United States - and almost certainly more than the $24 billion which the Group of Seven countries have pledged to provide in financial assistance.


Russian officials say that their republic cannot afford to implement these arms cuts without another enormous financial aid commitment from the United States. In the present situation they view this as unlikely. In a detailed analysis of the "joint understanding" which the two presidents signed in Washington on June 16, Russian government officials have confirmed their agreement to this sequence of arms reductions by the year 2003:


A maximum number of 3, 500 warheads allowed on ballistic missiles.


A sublimit of 1, 700 to 1, 750 missiles allowed on submarines.


The elimination of all SS-18 multiple-warhead missiles by 2003.


The two countries have agreed to eliminate all multiple-warhead missiles and all land-based mobile missiles, and not to build new ones.


Russian officials in Moscow say they cannot be sure of the full number of warheads and missiles to be eliminated by the new agreement.


This is because they are not yet sure agreement has been reached on the counting rules for air-launched cruise missiles and short-range attack missiles. Under the START agreement, each U. S. heavy bomber was counted as carrying 10 warheads, although its full complement might be up to 20. Each Russian heavy bomber was counted as carrying eight warheads though its complement might be double that.


Officials in Moscow, who have not yet seen the full file of documents negotiated in Washington, say that the "bomber discount" in the START counting rules - the difference between the actual number of warheads carried and the official count - could make "a huge difference" to the balance of firepower between Russian and American nuclear forces.


But Russian officials say the biggest problem for them in the new agreement is the cost of dismantlement.


According to the procedures that were agreed in START, the United States can reduce its sea-launched ballistic missiles by removing missiles from submarine firing-tubes, and allowing Russian satellites or inspectors to verify this downloading before the hatches are sealed. The submarines themselves will not be destroyed.


Bombers can also be dismantled under the new agreement by cutting off their wings, air foils, and fuselage, and leaving them in the open air for satellites to photograph.


Russia faces the much more expensive problem of eliminating ground-based missile systems. Under the agreements reached so far, this can only be done by the destruction of the silo.


Russian officials point out that in Kazakhstan there are 104 SS-18 silo launchers. If each must be blown up, even in the most secure conditions, the environmental consequences for the


country will be significant.


But physical destruction of silos is only a small part of the disarmament cost. Under the START agreements, nuclear warheads are to be removed and stored, not destroyed. This is because neither the Russians nor the Americans are confident they have safe technologies and reliable verification methods for dismantling them.


Both countries have already begun to count the enormous cost of storing warheads from the intermediate-range and tactical missile systems that were prohibited by earlier agreements. Experts estimate that the cost of a single storage facility for these small warheads is at least $400 million.


Russian officials estimate they will need four storage facilities for the small warheads covered by the earlier agreements. Although the U. S. Congress has appropriated $400 million to help finance the Russian effort, the full bill for that disarmament operation will come to at least $2 billion.


An unofficial calculation based on available data and Russian expert comments puts the cost of storing Russia's larger warheads at over $20 billion.


The social aspect of disarmament is also a huge problem, including the cost of dismantling the military bases which have supported the missiles, abandoning housing, schools and medical facilities for the troops and their families, and relocating them elsewhere.


In all, the Russian government is facing a cost of at least $25 billion to implement the new agreement.


This will be impossible, Russian officials say, without substantial U. S. assistance. Given the cost of U. S. disarmament and the reluctance of the U. S. Congress to meet a much smaller share of proposed economic aid to Russia, there is skepticism among civilian officials in Moscow that the money will be available.