Russian defence minister says Chinese missile reports "exaggerated"


dpa German Press Agency
Published: Friday January 19, 2007

Moscow (dpa) - Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov on Friday called reports a Chinese missile had destroyed one of Beijing's own weather satellites "greatly exaggerated" as the United States and other nations worried the Asian giant could begin a space arms race. "I've heard these reports, and they're quite abstract," the defence minister, who is also a deputy prime minister and considered a possible successor to President Vladimir Putin in 2008, said in remarks carried by news agency Interfax.

"I'm afraid it's not so. And, maybe, it's not that I'm afraid, but it's a good thing that it's not so," he continued.

Last January, Ivanov famously described the near-fatal hazing of a Russian soldier as "nothing serious," adding that he would have heard about it if it were. The incident sparked popular outcry and promises to reform the army, where hazing is common and brutal.

Chinese officials confirmed to Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa Friday that the country had launched a missile last week, striking an obsolete satellite in a display of Beijing's growing military capabilities.

Ivanov's position, however, did not reflect Russia's official position, which has yet to be formed, Itar-Tass reported.

That position "can only be formulated after the arrival of trustworthy information," an unidentified security expert told the agency.

"No explanations from the Chinese side have arrived in Moscow yet," he added.

The former chief of the Russian Defence Ministry's international military cooperation directorate, Leonid Ivashov, said Friday that the rocket China allegedly used to strike the satellite January 12 was a modified Soviet IS-1 rocket.

"The Chinese took as a foundation our Soviet IS-1 system, modernized it and conducted their test," Ivashov was quoted by RIA-Novosti as saying.

The Soviet Union began testing anti-satellite rockets in the late 1960s, and in the early 1980s both the communist superstate and its rivals in Washington ran successful launches of the weaponry.

However, when it became clear debris from destroyed satellites lingered in the atmosphere, posing a possible threat to other, functional satellites and space missions, the tests were halted.

Twenty years later, Beijing is thought to have used similar technology to hit the satellite some 800 kilometres above the Earth, US officials have said - the height at which most satellites and manned space missions travel.

US spokesmen said their country, as well as other, unnamed countries, had lodged formal protests against the military action.

China's possible objectives remain unclear, though some analysts think the communist country is using the trial to force Washington to sign a treaty prohibiting the testing of space weaponry - something, ironically, that Beijing, along with Moscow, has insisted on.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency