The launch itself was awe-inspiring. We could see the missile, on its mobile launcher. When it took off, the ground shook. I mean, it really shook. For a moment, there was nothing in the universe but the tremendous force boosting that missile. I had the obvious thought: You never want something like this, armed with nuclear warheads, actually heading in your direction.
That satellite launch failed. The Russians at Plesetsk told us it was all going well, but by the time we got back to Moscow that evening, the news was that the converted missile had gone down somewhere over the Sea of Okhotsk.
Plesetsk had more troubles later that year. In October, 1995, there were reports that its electrical power had gone out — one of a series of power blackouts at Russian military bases, as the post-Soviet government tried to sort out new ways of managing the electrical grid. At the Journal’s Moscow bureau, my colleagues and I had a half-jocular half-nervous debate over what that meant — and whether anything untoward might happen if the power suddenly came back on. But we were worried about accidents in those days, not some abrupt return of a Russian nuclear threat.
These days, it appears that Plesetsk has sorted out its electrical problems, and that SS-25 test launch on Wednesday, part of a much larger drill, was not about trying to put civilian-use satellites into space. It was about the ability to hit nuclear targets. Gertz quotes a Russian spokesman as saying, according to Russian news agencies, “All launches took place as expected. All of the practice targets were hit.”
Elsewhere, earlier last month, U.S. Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller told the United Nations’ Committee on Disarmament (the so-called First Committee, where Iran now serves as rapporteur) that while the conditions for a world free of nuclear weapons do not yet exist, the U.S. is prepared to do its part, and is planning to further reduce its deployed strategic nuclear weapons.
And while all this goes on, Iran is watching. And spinning its uranium centrifuges. And the New World Order taking shape in 2013 is ever more dramatically different and more dangerous than it looked from Plesetsk, just 18 years ago.