On December 26, Russia deployed six Topol-M missiles, four fewer than had been expected. Russia fielded 10 Topol-Ms in both 1998 and 1999, but its deployments have fallen well short of the goals set forth in an ambitious plan announced in 1998 by Vladimir Yakovlev, head of the Strategic Rocket Forces. Under the plan, Russia was to field 20-30 Topol-Ms each year for three years and 30-40 in each of the subsequent three years.
While funding shortfalls have likely contributed to the low number of deployed missiles, some analysts have suggested that this year's smaller than usual contingent indicates a policy shift toward favoring conventional over nuclear weapons. In August, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly decided that Russia would reduce its deployed nuclear arsenal and shift funds to conventional forces after a contentious Security Council meeting that had considered budget priorities. (See ACT, September 2000.)
The Topol-M, designated the SS-27 by NATO, is a three-stage, solid-fueled missile with a reported range in excess of 10,000 kilometers. It is designed to be deployed in either a silo-based or road-mobile variant. To date, only silo-based versions have been fielded. The missile carries a single warhead with an estimated yield of 550 kilotons but, according to Russian officials, can be modified to carry at least three warheads. (See ACT, June 2000.)
The Topol-M is intended to replace all of Russia's land-based strategic missiles. Once it enters into force, START II will require destruction of the SS-18 missiles that form the core of Russia's current arsenal and will ban multiple-warhead ICBMs (although some can be "downloaded" to carry only single warhead). As its sea- and bomber-based forces deteriorate and its land-based missiles reach and exceed their service lives, Russia's ability to deploy a strategic nuclear arsenal will increasingly depend on deployment of Topol-M missiles.