The Kremlin mostly shrugged off Beijing’s reported deployment of intercontinental missiles near Russian borders, though some officials suggested strengthening missile defense systems near the country’s borders with China.
“If this information is true, any military development in China is not perceived by us as a threat to our country,” Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said in televised remarks on January 24.
The Global Times, an English-language state-run newspaper in China, reported deployment of Dongfeng-41 (DF-41) nuclear road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) in three locations across the country.
One of three Chinese brigades of DF-41 were said to be deployed in the city of Daqinq, the northern province of Heilongjiang bordering Russia. The missiles were also reported in the city of Xinyang in the central Chinese province of Henan, as well as in the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Russian media outlets lost no time to explain that the DF-41 was a three-stage solid-fueled missile reported to have a maximum range of up to 15,000 kilometers (9,320 miles) and a top speed of Mach 25 (19,030 mph). DF-41 (also known by its NATO name CSS-X-10) is said to be capable of carrying up to 10 warheads and its launch preparation time was estimated at 3-5 minutes.
Russian analysts and media outlets argued that China’s missile deployment seemed to be a response to US missile defenses in the Asia-Pacific. Moscow and Beijing share concerns that the US missile defense system in Japan and South Korea, officially designed to contain North Korea, was in fact aimed at Russia and China.
They also speculated that as the news of the DF-41 deployment leaked immediately after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, China was sending a message to Washington, and not to Moscow. Furthermore, some Russian experts claim China deployed the ballistic missiles near Russia to target the United States, Canada and Europe.
“The missile’s dead zone is no less than three thousand kilometers so … Russia’s entire Far East and Western Siberia are not within the missile’s reach,” Konstantin Sivkov, president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, Doctor of Military Science, was quoted as saying by the official TASS news agency.
On the other hand, deployed near Russian borders, “Chinese missiles would be able to use a more advantageous northern strategic route for approaching targets in the United States, thus bypassing the US missile defense,” Sivkov said. He described the DF-41 deployment as China’s response to Trump’s anti-Beijing rhetoric.
Other Russian officials sounded a bit more concerned. Russia will not ignore this development near the country’s border and Russia’s missile defense grouping in the Far East will be strengthened, first deputy chairman of the Federation Council’s Defense and Security Committee Frants Klintsevich said.
“Of course we will respond,” Klintsevich was quoted as saying by semi-official Sputnik newswire.
Russian analysts and media outlets also reminded that Moscow and Beijing used to be allies in the early 1950s, but this partnership evolved into confrontation in the 1960s. They argue that in today’s mercurial world, friends and foes trade places very fast, as demonstrated by the latest twists and turns in relations between Russia and Turkey.
Whichever view is accurate, the news of China’s missile deployment came as a second wake up call from Beijing to Moscow in as many weeks.
Last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China would be willing “to play a constructive role” in the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis. Xi made these remarks on January 17 when meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Davos.
The move appeared to be a warning to Moscow that any attempts to improve relations with the US at China’s expense will face the prospect of a Beijing partnership with Russia’s foes, the Ukrainian authorities.