Blast Off

05.19.14

Congress Targets Russia’s ‘Satan’ Missile

The latest showdown between the U.S. and Russia could go ballistic. Congress is looking to pressure a Ukrainian lab to end its maintenance of one of Moscow’s fiercest missiles.

Earlier this month, the Russians announced they would discontinue the sale of rocket engines to the United States if those engines could be used for military purposes.

At least some members of Congress are looking to retaliate in kind. An amendment to the annual Pentagon budget bill, expected to pass this week, instructs President Obama to begin talks with the Ukrainian government aimed at ending long-standing cooperation between Kiev and Moscow on the maintenance of their Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, or ICBMs. The long-range missiles are known in Russia as the RS-20s and dubbed by NATO as the SATANs.

Rep. Mike Rogers, the Alabama Republican who chairs the House Armed Services subcommittee that oversees the U.S. nuclear arsenal, will introduce the amendment Monday that focuses on Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye Design Bureau. During the Cold War, that bureau helped design and maintain the RS-20 missiles—as well as many, many other weapons. According to one Ukrainian think tank, out of nearly 600 missiles in the inventory of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, only 40 or so are actually made in Russia. Today, the Ukrainian government continues to play a role in providing maintenance to the Russian missiles, as well.

On February 26, the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta published an article quoting a recently retired chief of staff for Russia’s strategic missile command, Viktor Yesin, who acknowledged that Russia and Ukraine continued to have an agreement on the maintenance of the missiles. “This is a continuous benefit for the Ukrainian enterprise, which mainly exists due to the money that Russia pays for providing warrantee oversight for the Voyevoda missile system,” he told the newspaper. “These economic ties are valuable, regardless of who comes to power in Ukraine. And I do not foresee that this inter-governmental agreement will be revoked.”

Rogers would like to see this agreement revoked—in part because Russia’s annexation of Crimea violates the terms of the “Budapest Memorandum” that guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity after the cold war in exchange for Kiev giving up its nuclear arsenal.

Rogers’ amendment urges the Obama administration to begin talks with Ukraine aimed at halting “the activities of the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau and any other Ukrainian industry that supports the military or military industrial base of the Russian Federation while Russia is violating its commitments under the Budapest Memorandum, illegally occupying Ukrainian territory and supporting groups that are inciting violence and fomenting secessionist movements in Ukraine.”

In the February interview, Yesin said if the cooperation with Ukraine was halted, Russia had the capability to continue the maintenance of the RS-20 missiles, but also acknowledged “there will be difficulties” in part because the detailed plans and specifications for the missiles reside at the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau.

If passed into law, the Rogers amendment would require Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to submit a report within 30 days of the bill’s passage to Congress on the U.S. plan to end any Ukrainian cooperation with Russia on the ICBMs and “any recommendations it has for how the United States and its allies could benefit from the capability of the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau.”