|Russia Terminates Development of New Rail-Mobile Ballistic Missile
In early December, Russian news sources reported that further development work on the Barguzin railroad combat complex (BZhRK), a train armed with a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), was being terminated. Apparently, the nuclear missile train had not been added to the State Armaments Program (GPV) to 2027 for financial reasons (Rossiyskaya Gazeta
, December 2).
The ongoing crisis in the Russian economy has now also been affecting defense spending. First due to the unstable economic situation, the adoption of the next GPV was moved back from 2015 to 2017. Second, the Ministry of Defense has reduced its GPV budget requests from 55 trillion to 19 trillion rubles ($928 billion to $290 billion) (TV Zvezda, November 21), the third such reduction so far. Unlike the BZhRK, the Sarmat and Rubezh intercontinental ballistic missiles (see EDM, October 25), the development of which began simultaneously with the Barguzin, are still included within the GPV.
Nuclear missile trains were withdrawn from Russian inventories back in 2005. Thus, rail-mobile ICBMs have not been part of Russia’s nuclear strategy for 12 years now. In addition, no ready infrastructure exists for this missile complex, which means it was less critical to abandon its development and creation than any of the other strategic nuclear projects.
The development of the BZhRK was begun in 2012 by the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology. At the end of 2014, the schematic design of the complex was approved; and the development of design documentation started in 2015. At the end of October 2016, in Plesetsk, the first and only drop test of the missile was carried out (Novye Izvestia, December 3).
The flight development tests of the Barguzin ICBM should have started in 2017, and it should have been deployed by 2019. However, as early as the end of 2015, all development dates were moved back by at least one year due to the complicated domestic financial situation. Nonetheless, in May 2016 a “defense source” was cited saying that development of the Barguzin missile’s design documentation had been completed and work had begun on other elements of the overall rail-mobile ICBM system (TASS, December 6). It appears that this report was meant to put pressure on political leaders by suggesting that production had started and that it would be inconvenient to abandon the BZhRK at its current stage. In July 2017, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin continued to insist that Russia was ready to adopt new rail-mobile nuclear missiles (RIA Novosti, July 3). This information pressure campaign seemed to be motivated by the fact that, at the time, the president of Russia should have been presented with a report evaluating the prospects for the deployment of the BZhRK. But apparently, military leaders failed to satisfactorily prove the Barguzin’s operational effectiveness.
Indeed, the project had come under skepticism from multiple sources for many years. In 2011, the general designer of the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology, Yuriy Solomonov, admitted that it was necessary to create new infrastructure for the BZhRK from scratch. Moreover, he criticized the Barguzin’s relatively weak resistance to potential terrorist attacks (VPK, February 28, 2011). For example, the system would require the construction of special depots as well as reinforced railway tracks. The physical protection of the missile-carrying train cars is also problematic while in motion: not only would the BZhRK be vulnerable to derailment but could be blocked by natural obstacles such as landslides, etc. Effective security and protection of the Barguzin against unauthorized access would also be an issue, and deploying additional security forces would negatively affect the level of its secrecy and inconspicuousness—the project’s major raison d’être.
The Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology general designer’s pointed criticism of the Barguzin BZhRK suggests that the idea of again using rail-mounted nuclear weapons must have originated from the military. This is confirmed by the fact that, at the time, the commander of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, Colonel General Sergey Karakayev, tried to make the case for developing a new BZhRK because the Soviet-era “Molodets” rail-mobile ICBM used train cars that were longer and heavier, with a larger number of wheel sets than those generally found in Russia—thus making the missile easy to spot for trained intelligence analysts (RIA Novosti, December 18, 2013). However, this assertion is wrong: freight wagons of the sizes used for the Molodets missile system existed in the Soviet Union and still exist in Russia. Obviously, the “negative characteristics” of the Molodets BZhRK were fabricated or exaggerated simply to provide justification for the development of a new rail-based missile.
The usage of the BZhRK to carry light-duty RS-24 ICBMs is also in doubt. In the Soviet Union, BZhRKs were used as a carrier for the heavy-duty 15Zh61 missile, as it could not be transported by truck. Presumably, the newly developed rail system would take on a similar role.
Another challenge for the implementation of a new BZhRK would have been the New START treaty of 2010. The United States Senate’s ratification resolution on New START specifically stipulates that, in the event Russia developed a working rail-mobile missile, all relevant provisions of the treaty should apply to it. In other words, upon the creation of a BZhRK, Russia would have had to include it in its quantitative restrictions and allowed for regular inspections, which would have deprived the Barguzin of its disguise in order to remain treaty-compliant.
Nonetheless, there are supporters of the BZhRK as well. Immediately after the announcement that further development work was being terminated, the editor-in-chief of the magazineNational Defense and a member of the Public Council under the Ministry of Defense, Igor Korotchenko, stated that the Barguzin project should be continued (I-korotchenko.livejournal.com, December 3).
Considering the questionable effectiveness of the BZhRK, the quest for its serial production seems more tied to the defense ministry’s efforts to maximize its budget than to any practical expediency. The Molodets BZhRK was one of the most expensive weapons projects in the Soviet Union, so its Russian successor will likely also not come cheap, despite Russia’s previous experience with building and maintaining this type of system. Until Russia’s economic situation is rectified, this project has little to no chance of coming to fruition.
Russia Seeks to Build Alternative Internet
Numerous Russian sources report that efforts are underway to produce a new and independent internet that would align Russia more closely with the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India China and South Africa) while giving Russian political authorities greater control over what they refer to as “digital sovereignty.” In late November, the RBK
news agency reported on the proceedings of a recent meeting of the Security Council of the Russian Federation (SCRF), which underscored the national security threats posed by the increasing vulnerability of the global Internet (RBK
, November 28). The publicly available SCRF website confirms that a high-level meeting on cyber security did take place, but it does not expand upon it in detail (Scrf.gov.ru
, October 25). Russia’s state-managed propaganda mouthpiece RT
, however, cited “members of the Security Council” as stating that “the increased capabilities of Western nations to conduct offensive operations in the informational space as well as the increased readiness to exercise these capabilities pose a serious threat to Russia’s security” (RT
, November 28). RT
also noted that President Vladimir Putin set August 1, 2018, as the deadline for creating an alternative to the Internet.
The creation of an alternative internet—which would allow the governments of Russia and the BRICS countries to control the addressing and routing of electronic communications within their territory—raises many complex questions. For one thing, the establishment of a disjointed and competitive sphere of cyberspace threatens to disrupt and potentially fragment the existing conventions of global Internet practice. Moreover, the creation a “counter-net” would necessitate the establishment of an alternative system of identification, addressing and routing information through a new information network operating in a new “domain name system,” a new DNS. The existing DNS is based on a unique number associated with each originating and terminating point for every Internet transmission, coded in the form of a packet of digital information. The idea of the “RU NET” has long been discussed in post-Communist countries. But until now, this idea has only referred to the Russian-language-speaking Internet activities originating from servers in Russia or in other post-Soviet countries where Russian is recognized as an official language—not to a separate internet architecture (APN, December 14, 2016).
The global Internet is already a network of networks, consisting of a broad common space but with some segmented spheres of activity. Gaining complete control over a specific domain in the cyber-sphere, however, would require gaining autonomy. Full control over the Internet (or any segment therein) could only be achieved by creating “the ability to set policies for naming, addressing and routing” transmissions (Milton Mueller, Will the Internet Fragment?, 2017, p. 22). That, in turn, would require establishing control over the domain name system.
Earlier attempts by Russian authorities to gain control over the digital sphere focused on taking charge of the physical hardware of the Internet, such as transmission facilities, and asserting authority over the places where data resides, particularly web servers. In 2014, Russia’s Ministry of Communications and Mass Media specified data localization requirements in the federal communications legislation (Federal Law No. 242) (Minsvyaz.ru, accessed December 13). The law requires data operators in Russia to store all personal data of citizens of the Russian Federation in databases located inside Russia. This legislation was further extended in December 2016 by a set of measures by President Putin to establish a “digital economy” in Russia (Kremlin.ru, December 1, 2016). The most recent Law on “Security of Critical Infrastructure” was passed in July 2017, and is scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2018 (Pravo.gov.ru, July 27).
In order to control the flow of information not in compliance with the legislation, the idea of blocking transmission through physical facilities located on the territory of the Russian Federation led to the establishment of a single register of websites, maintained by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor). In an effort to conduct this “filtering,” Roskomnadzor developed and implemented a so-called “blacklist” (Rkn.gov.ru, accessed December 13). But while the blacklist succeeded in blocking some websites it identified as unwanted, it also had the effect of blocking websites linked to those, effectively creating a self-censoring network. Roskomnadzor has now stepped back from this practice, correcting many of those problems of excessive blockage but has nonetheless reasserted the intention to more vigorously pursue the policing of websites (Rkn.gov.ru, December 8). Creating the establishment of a separate domain naming system goes considerably further than efforts to “filter” websites, even though Igor Shchyogolev, the staff member of the President’s Office assigned to mass communications, has insisted the idea is not to fragment the Internet (TASS, March 27, 2017)
The robustness of the current Internet naming conventions probably can be attributed to the fact that the Internet emerged in its early days more as a computer science experiment than as an effort to create a new format for global communication, commerce and governance. The identification of parties communicating on the Internet was established through naming protocols established for convenience and by convention, not for control. But the Internet grew so quickly that management responsibility was turned over to a new body, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), in September 1998, which, on October 1, 2016, was re-chartered as a fully independent, non-governmental organization.
The functions of ICANN quickly attracted international competition. Some governments sought to promote a government-centric framework for addressing and naming conventions, while other parties sought to maintain a multiple-stakeholders approach. The failure of the Russian government and others to prevail in winning greater control for states is what has led to Moscow’s intention to create a “counter-net.” The question of whether an autonomous and detachable “segment” of cyberspace could be fashioned by the Kremlin without resulting in self-imposed isolation is an issue with far-reaching implications.
The Dynamics Driving Uzbekistan’s Warming Relationship With Afghanistan
Uzbekistan’s leadership has been increasingly focused on its southern neighbor Afghanistan since Shavkat Mirziyaev came to power in late 2016 (see EDM, June 27). As President Mirziyaev attested on December 5, he and his Afghan counterpart met five times already in the past year (Kun.uz, December 5). The two countries’ 137-kilometer (85-mile) common border and Afghanistan’s turbulent past and present are certainly critical issues for Uzbekistan’s leadership circle, and Tashkent has invested significant effort into isolating and resolving those threats. Nevertheless, when President Ashraf Ghani visited Uzbekistan, on December 4–6, he found a country ready to cooperate actively in social, humanitarian, political and cultural spheres.
The bilateral meetings between the governments of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan concluded with the signing of a number of agreements. The most significant and capital intensive projects with real potential of being completed include new overland transit infrastructure and electricity transmission networks. Notably, the sides announced a joint project to build the Mazar-i-Sharif–Herat railway, which will stretch 730 km (453 miles) from northern to southwestern Afghanistan. The new rail line is an extension of the 75 km (46-mile) Hayratan (located right across the Uzbekistan border)–Mazar-i-Sharif railroad, built by Uzbekistan seven years ago and financed by the Asian Development Bank. Uzbekistan will also reconstruct several road projects in the capital, Kabul. The second electricity transmission line from Uzbekistan, Surkhan–Pul-i-Khumri, will supply electricity to Pul-i-Khumri, in Afghanistan, from Uzbekistan’s Surkhandarya region, without extending electricity to Kabul (the earlier transmission line from Uzbekistan built in 2008 already services Kabul via Pul-i-Khumri) (Office of the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, December 5, 2017;Gazeta.uz, November 10, 2009).
Uzbekistan is a steady supplier of wheat, medicine, electrical equipment, building materials, mineral fertilizers, cars, ambulances, agricultural machinery, as well as industrial and food products to the Afghan market, the volumes of which are set to increase following the presidential visit (Office of the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, December 5). But more importantly, each country’s territory is slated to serve as a significant highway and railroad corridor for the other, enabling them to access world markets. While Uzbekistani goods need to traverse Afghanistan to reach the Chabahar port (in Iran), Afghanistan is interested in accessing Russia, China and other countries to its north via Uzbekistan (Afghan Channel One, December 5).
Uzbekistan’s Surkhandarya region and its capital, Termez, is emerging as a border zone of cooperation with Afghanistan. As such, the significance of the Hayratan (“Friendship”) Bridge, which crosses the Amudarya river and connects Termez with Afghanistan, is set to grow further. Judging from the latest signed agreements, Termez will be turning into a cooperation hub on Afghanistan for Uzbekistan and the rest of the world. A new Afghan consulate will open in Termez to ease entry and exit for any visitors (Tolo TV News website, December 5). Three specialized institutions geared toward Afghans have already been established in the Surkhandarya region, servicing those who come to learn the Uzbek language, train railroad specialists, and those in need of hospital-based medical assistance (Kun.uz, December 5).
Another important factor that binds Uzbekistan and Afghanistan is the presence of the large ethnic-Uzbek diaspora in northern Afghanistan. No exact numbers are known, but estimates range from at least a million up to seven million. The Uzbek language is the third official language in Afghanistan—the only country outside Uzbekistan that officially recognizes it as such (Kun.uz, December 7). To emphasize their common roots and shared culture and history, President Ghani’s introduction of his official statement was delivered in Uzbek for a good two and a half minutes (Kun.uz, December 6).
President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Tashkent showcased an Uzbekistan that is overcoming the predominantly held views of Afghanistan as a territory exclusively emanating terrorism, illicit drugs and instability. Afghanistan is about to turn into a larger market for Uzbekistan-originated products not limited to agriculture but also value-added goods. Afghanistan can also be expected to turn into a significant transit country for Uzbekistan and open the way for new regional partnerships in the near future. Meanwhile, for Afghanistan, Uzbekistan is an important regional economic and political partner, contributing to its reconstruction and development by building complex engineering infrastructure and providing social services.
The new partnership between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan is undoubtedly part of the long-term strategic thinking of both countries. Uzbekistan borders on all the former-Soviet Central Asian countries and has maintained relatively peaceful relations with them in the past. While Uzbekistan has recently entered into a new stage of heightened cooperation with its regional neighbors, Afghanistan was the last remaining piece of the security belt that Uzbekistan is attempting to establish around its borders (see EDM, October 26, 2016; December 15, 2016; May 3, 2017). Moreover, by becoming an active partner, Uzbekistan is notably positioning itself to become a significant player and peace-maker in the country alongside other global and regional heavy-weights attempting to stabilize Afghanistan.