Streetwise Professor

November 16, 2008


Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:02 am

Belarussian president and Cold War leftover Alexander Lukashenko is allegedly in negotiations with Moscow to base Iskander missiles (a short range, non-nuclear ballistic missile) in his country.   This is based on Lukashenko’s representation.   He goes on to say that Russia approached him about the basing possibility.

One potential problem.   There aren’t enough missiles to go around.   According to StrategyPage:

For the second time this month, Russia has changed its policy regarding its new SS-26 (9M723K1, or “Iskander”) ballistic missiles. First it said it was sending some to  Kaliningrad, as a way to threaten the new NATO anti-missile system being built in Poland (to protect Europe from Iranian missiles). Now Russia says it will halt any exports of the Iskander missile until it has produced the hundred or so it plans to send to Kaliningrad. Syria, Kuwait, South Korea, India, Malaysia, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates were all interested in Iskander. The export version, Iskander-E, would have a shorter range (280 kilometers) and fewer countermeasures for the warhead.

Russia now plans to send five brigades of Iskander (60 launchers, each with one missile, plus reloads, which could amount to over a hundred missiles) to Kaliningrad. Iskander is just entering production, and it would take several years, at least, to produce that many. Actually, it might take five or more years to produce enough missiles for five brigades, because Russian missile production capabilities have sharply deteriorated since the end of the Cold War in 1991. This is one reason why the current Russian government is making so much noise about this imaginary NATO plot to surround and subdue Russia. Losing the Cold War did not go down well in Russia. Rather than forget and move on, many Russians prefer to remember, and use the imagined evil intentions of their Cold War foes to explain away defects in the Russian character.

[Bonus jab at the end. Austin Bay/Jim Dunnigan/SWP must drink the same water;-) ].

So, if SP is to be believed (and it is a pretty reliable source, certainly more informed and informative about military matters than any mainstream publication), the Lukashenko statement is just gas.   So why make it?

For one thing, Lukashenko is something of a publicity hound, and with all the attention to Iskanders in Kalliningrad, this is an opportunity for him to get some attention.

For another, Lukashenko is busy, very busy, playing both sides against the middle.   Due to energy and other things, the Russians have him by the, well, you know, and so he has been trying to clean up his act (or at least his image) in the West in an attempt to get some leverage to use against the Russians.   At the same time, given his delicate position, he needs to give the Russians something.   Especially since he has pretty much stonewalled them on supporting their actions in Georgia/South Ossetia/Abkhazia.   A very public air kiss on something like the Iskanders is just the ticket.   It plays into the very public Russian campaign against missile defenses in Central Europe.

Lukashenko’s assertion that the Russians approached him with the idea is also consistent with the notion that he is being a willing participant in a broader Kremlin anti-anti-missile-missile campaign, a campaign that has ratcheted up several notches with Medvedev’s greeting card to Obama.   Of course, Lukashenko probably expects some love in return.

But, if StrategyPage is right, this is all PRBS, and should be treated accordingly.

Finally, one other SP note.   It has a predictions market.   The newest prediction on which you can bet:

As a result of the financial crisis, Russia loses it internally, and descends into civil disorder.

Sounds made to order for SWP readers!   I know how Timothy, DR, Penny, and LR are gonna vote;-)

As for me, it depends on the price.   I’d be a buyer at any price under, say, thirty percent.   Maybe even a little richer than that.

One question about the prediction/bet though–how does one define “civil disorder”? 1917 redux?   A repeat of 1991?   What about 1993?   How many heads does OMON have to bust to qualify?

The interesting thing to me is that the possibility is even being mooted.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. The Strategy Page article is quite interesting, though there is one comment which strikes me as odd. The author writes: “Guidance is very accurate, using GPS, plus infrared homing for terminal guidance.” GPS was developed by the American military. I doubt that the Russian military would rely on American GPS to guide their missiles against American targets in Europe. The Russian equivalent of GPS is GLONASS and currently is not very reliable. To truly have a global coverage you need at lest 24 satellites. Russia has 16, but roughly half are close to the end of their usefulness: they turn off some of the satellites much of the time to try and extend their operation past their expected operating life. This is why Russia promised to be launch more than a dozen satellites by 2011 (see However, they have been promising to launch new GLONASS satellites for a number of years now. So, you will end up with missiles that might be built on time that will have to rely on a guidance system that might have enough satellites that might make the missiles as accurate as claimed. Of course, they have to do all of this when money is going to be rarer and the Russian state will have to pay other obligations such as pensions and health care.

    Comment by Michel — November 16, 2008 @ 11:24 am

  2. Michel–

    I agree with your last in particular. So many demands piling up atop shrinking resources.

    Here’s more from SP on GLONASS:

    The piece says:

    “The money for GLONASS is coming from a Russian government that does not want to be dependent on the American Department of Defense controlled GPS system. But the money is only there because of high oil prices. Most GLONASS receivers in use are actually combined GPS/GLONASS receivers. Russia will have to put billions of dollars into GLONASS over the next few years to get the system fully operational, and then spend even more money to maintain the satellite network.”

    Another SP piece reports:

    “While Russia has developed a wide array of GPS and laser guided missiles and bombs, they have bought few of these for their own troops, and provided even less opportunity for the air force to even use the stuff for training. As a result, most of the bombs dropped in Georgia were of the dumb variety. If smart bombs had been used, far fewer aircraft would have been exposed to ground fire and Georgian anti-aircraft missiles.”

    The first quote (combined GPS/GLONASS receivers) suggests that the Iskanders might have this capability, and that the Russians are keeping their fingers crossed that they can access GPS until GLONASS becomes more reliable.

    Coverage is still somewhat spotty, and basically limited to Russia proper:

    “Another unanticipated problem was the unreliability of the Russian navigation satellites. Russia’s answer to GPS, GLONASS, was at full strength (24 satellites) shortly after the Cold War ended (1995). But the end of the Cold War meant the end of the regular financing for GLONASS. Maintaining the system meant launching replacement satellites every 5-7 years. By the end of 2002, only seven GLONASS birds were still operational. However, a series of launches in 2003 increased the number of active satellites to twelve, and that went to 18 by the end of 2007. Russia plans to put eight more GLONASS satellites in orbit this year. That would expand the system to 24 navigation satellites. Russia plans to have the system fully operational next year. Right now, it is active for most of Russia, but not, it turned out, in Georgia. Aircraft and ground forces got lost, and that led to more losses. The GLONASS problems also prevented use of Russian smart bombs with much effectiveness. The government is already planning to replace the current GLONASS satellites with 30 second generation birds by 2011.”

    But, perhaps the Russian military recognizes that the deployment of the Iskanders will take time, and that the completion of GLONASS can occur in parallel.

    But ain’t StrategyPage great?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 16, 2008 @ 4:15 pm

  3. Guys, thanks for the link to strategypage. I’m the guy who is responsible for managing the predictions market, and I’m also the one who put that prediction up. I would define civil disorder as more along the 1917 lines than the 1993 version. From what I can glean, Russia appears to be in a permanent state of turmoil, so I’m looking for a MAJOR disruption, not something where the ruling group is challenged, but restores order within a short period of time.

    Once again, thanks for the link.

    Comment by RPL — November 17, 2008 @ 9:36 am

  4. RPL–

    No problem–my pleasure. I link to SP a lot. It’s a regular part of my morning reading every day. Excellent site–keep up the good work.

    Thanks for the clarification re the definition of civil disorder. Yes, everything is relative. “Permanent state of disorder.” I like that–I’m sure that several of my regular commentors will take umbrage;-) So you are looking for something above and beyond the “normal” ferment. Roger that.

    The discussion of disorder reminds me of a quote from Mayor Daley during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago: “Da police are not dere to create disorder, da police are dere to maintain disorder.” Priceless.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 17, 2008 @ 12:58 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress