October 12, 2008
MOSCOW -- President Dmitry Medvedev watched a missile soar from Russia's rain-soaked northern forests toward a target thousands of miles away on Sunday, capping a weekend of launches reminding audiences at home and abroad about the country's nuclear might.
Prominent coverage of the tests on state-controlled television also seemed designed to boost the bookish Medvedev's credentials as commander-in-chief in the eyes of the Russian populace.
On Sunday, Medvedev saw what officials said was the successful test-firing of a 21-year-old Topol intercontinental ballistic missile. The missile hit its target thousands of miles to the east on the Kamchatka Peninsula, Medvedev told servicemen who conducted the launch.
"Respected comrades ... you have fulfilled your task and I congratulate you," Medvedev, dressed in a dark bomber jacket, told servicemen in bulky blue uniforms in a clearing near the Plesetsk launch facility.
The tests come amid increasingly strained ties with the United States following the war with Georgia and persistent Russian opposition to U.S. plans for a missile-defense system based in Poland and the Czech Republic, former Soviet satellites now in NATO.
Russia has been flexing its military muscle worldwide. It is sending a naval squadron to Venezuela for November exercises, a Western Hemisphere deployment unprecedented since the Cold War. Last year, then-President Vladimir Putin ordered the resumption of long-dormant global patrols by strategic bombers.
Russian officials have said newer versions of the Topol can penetrate any missile defense.
"We will strengthen our military capability, we will adopt new types of weapons, but we will continue to test the traditional ballistic missiles we have in service," Medvedev said. "Their effectiveness has stood the test of time, and that is very good. It shows that our shield is in order."
On Saturday, Medvedev watched the test of a Sineva missile launched from a submarine in the Barents Sea. Officials said it flew more than 7,100 miles and hit a target in the Pacific Ocean near the equator.
Sunday's land-based launch was followed by two missile launches from nuclear-powered submarines, one in the Barents Sea and one in the Sea of Okhotsk, off Russia's eastern coast north of Japan, Russian news agencies reported. The weekend launches are part of wide-ranging military exercises called Stability-2008.
Medvedev - a former lawyer who comes across as milder than his predecessor and mentor Putin - has watched several military exercises since taking office.
He faces an uphill battle in matching the tough-guy image of Putin, a KGB veteran and judo black-belt who is now prime minister and is widely seen as more powerful than Medvedev.