Strategic Weapons: Empty Gestures That Matter


August 18,2008:  Ukraine has offered European nations the use of its three decade old early warning radars. Last Summer,   Russia and Ukraine agreed that these Soviet era radar facilities would no longer be part of a Russian ballistic missile warning system. Meanwhile, Russia is refurbishing this missile warning system, which has decayed from lack of funding since the end of the Cold War 17 years ago.

Ukraine has, in that time, become increasingly pro-Europe, largely to avoid being reabsorbed into Russia. These fears have increased because of the recent Russian invasion of Georgia, and Russian insistence that its naval base in Sevastopol (southern Ukraine), which is leased (until 2017), will always be Russian. Then there is the fact that much of eastern Ukraine is Russian speaking, because Russians were encouraged to migrate to Ukraine by the Soviet era communist dictatorship.

This Ukrainian offer is mainly symbolic. The Dnepr type early warning radars in Mukachevo and Sevastopol are 1970s era technology. Russia is building a new early warning radar network, on its own territory, using cheaper (to build and operate) modern technology. Besides, the old Soviet radars are pointing the wrong way (towards the west). However, the radars do show any ballistic missile activity in North Africa, and can be used to track aircraft. The offer was made largely to annoy the Russians, and to try and get NATO to let Ukraine join.



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