The Russian military establishment is taking very seriously the possibility that strongly pro-American Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko could dramatically tilt the balance of global strategic power by giving the United States an advance radar base in the historic former Russian naval fortress of Sevastopol on the Black Sea.
An article published in the Moscow newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta Monday cited several military sources indicating that Ukraine was willing to give U.S. experts access to its early-warning radar facilities in Sevastopol and Mukachevo in western Ukraine. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has permitted Russia the sole use of the old Soviet facilities in both centers.
Several Ukrainian sources told the official RIA Novosti news agency that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Yushchenko already discussed this issue during their meeting in Kiev Dec. 6.
Col. Gen. Volter Kraskovsky, commander of Russia`s missile defense troops from 1986 to 1991, told RIA Novosti that the Ukrainian-based radars could certainly be used as part of extended U.S. ABM warning systems.
Kraskovsky said U.S. access to the Sevastopol and Mukachevo radars could significantly damage Russia`s missile defenses in the direction of central and southern Europe, and towards the Mediterranean.
Russia is raising the price of its natural gas exports to Ukraine from the current level of $50 per 1,000 cubic meters to the price it charges European Union nations, $160 per 1,000 cubic meters.
RIA Novosti said Yushchenko could also retaliate against the gas price hike by refusing to sign a recently negotiated agreement with Russia to extend the operation of its 15P118M missile launchers for Russia`s old but still formidable RS-20 heavy ballistic missiles, known in the West as the SS-18 Satan. Under the agreement, Ukraine agreed to assist Russia in maintaining the systems that have been on combat duty for the past 15 years, for another 10-15 years.
Without that agreement, Russia will have to decommission its existing SS-18s and replace them with new but much more expensive Topol-M ICBMs at an estimated cost of $3 billion-$4 billion, RIA Novosti said.