MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will carry out a second deployment of new intercontinental ballistic missiles in December as part of President Vladimir Putin's programme to modernise nuclear defences, local media reported on Saturday.
The deployments come at a time of strained relations between Russia and NATO over U.S. plans for a missile defence shield in eastern Europe. Moscow argues this would threaten its security while Washington insists it is designed only to defend against attack by what it sees as 'rogue nations', such as Iran.
The Topol-M mobile missile, part of a new generation of weapon the Kremlin says will assure Russia's security for the next 20-30 years, will be deployed in the city of Teikovo about 240 Km northeast of Moscow.
The first echelon was deployed in December 2006, when Putin climbed aboard a missile launcher on Russian television to show off the country's new programme. No details have been given for the number of missiles.
"We are absolutely confident this division will be put on combat duty in December," Russian news agency Interfax quoted the commander of Russia's rocket forces Nikolai Solovtsov as saying.
The 22-metre Topol-M is an intercontinental ballistic missile carrying a single warhead. It was first developed during the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and was later upgraded. It can be launched either from silos or from mobile launchers which can be camouflaged and hidden in forests.
Along with the multiple-warhead RS-24, to be deployed in the next few years, it will form the backbone of Russia's nuclear armoury and help bolster armed forces eroded over years of post-Soviet decline.
The rebuilding of Moscow's military also reflects a more assertive diplomatic approach, both towards the West and the states of its former, Cold War sphere of influence.
Russian officials have said a U.S. decision to withdraw from the Soviet-era Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and create its European-based shield has sped the development and introduction of the RS-24.
The United States insists the shield is necessary to guard against missiles which could fire nuclear, chemical or biological warheads in its direction.
Russia's military chief recently told the Czech Republic they were making a "big mistake" by hosting the shield.