MOSCOW - Russia’s military reported a successful test Wednesday of a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile that generals said was designed to overpower the US missile defense system.
Russian generals told news agencies that the missile’s technological development was a direct response to the US plans for a shield. The rocket, one unidentified military source told Interfax, uses a new type of fuel to shorten the time it needs to launch into space, increasing its ability to evade interceptors. One Russian news portal said the rocket was called the “Avant-garde.’’
Whatever its military significance, the launching, as with other prominently announced tests, seemed intended as much to deliver a political message as demonstrate the rocket’s ability to streak across Russia and hit a target on the Kamchatka Peninsula.
General Viktor Yesin, a retired rocket forces commander, told Interfax that the rocket was emblematic of the type of arms race Russia was ready to embark on if the United States went through with plans to put missile interceptors in Europe.
“This is one of the technical means Russia’s political and military leadership designed to answer America’s global system of missile defense,’’ Yesin said.
Russian officials have threatened for years that they would bulk up on new intercontinental ballistic missiles, within the limits of arms control treaties, in an effort to overpower the US system, and that it could look like a new arms race.
Russia launched the missile four days after leaders of NATO, meeting in Chicago, confirmed their commitment to building the European missile shield, rendering the blastoff something of a Russian retort to that decision.
The test Wednesday took on added political significance, coming two weeks after Vladimir Putin assumed the presidency for a third term. In another worrying sign for relations between Russia and the United States, Putin canceled a visit to the United States for a summit of the Group of Eight nations last weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.
Russia’s objection to the missile defense plan has reached into the US presidential election. Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican candidate, has criticized Obama as trying to soothe Russia’s concerns through the detente known as the reset.
Like the Bush administration before it, the Obama administration insists that the defensive system is not directed against Russia but instead at emerging missile threats from Iran or North Korea.
Russian officials say they remain unconvinced by the US assurances, and the Russian military has been struggling to modernize its missile arsenal, which had not had major upgrades since the end of the Cold War.