The Washington Times

November 7, 1997
Yeltsin letter reveals
anti-satellite weapons

By Bill Gertz
Russian President Boris Yeltsin wrote to President Clinton in September condemning U.S. efforts to build anti-satellite weapons and revealing that Moscow already has weapons capable of blasting satellites in space.
     "Let me be frank with you," Mr. Yeltsin said in the six-page letter. "We are alarmed at the U.S. military's intention to develop a whole gamut of anti-satellite weapons systems.
     "At one time we possessed an anti-satellite capability," he wrote. "We renounced it as soon as we realized the futility [of] a first-strike notion."
     A copy of the letter, labeled "unofficial translation and opening with "Dear Bill," was obtained by The Washington Times. It was signed, "B. Yeltsin."
     White House spokesman Michael McCurry declined to comment on the letter. "As a normal practice, correspondence at the highest levels circulates in the United States government in classified form," Mr. McCurry said.
     The Russian leader, noting "progress" in recent arms control initiatives, proposed a new round of U.S.-Russia talks to curb anti-satellite weapons.
     But, he added, "we should not allow the development of new military technologies that can undermine
-- Continued from Front Page --
strategic stability."
     A U.S. defense official said the Yeltsin letter was typical of Moscow's past hard-line approach to arms control. "They want new talks to limit our anti-satellite capabilities, while they already have the world's only system," the official said.
     The letter amplifies remarks last month by Air Force Gen. Howell Estes, commander of the U.S. Space Command, who told a gathering of space experts he had seen new information about the anti-satellite weapons capabilities of other nations.
     Another senior military official involved in space defense issues said, "There are indications that foreign countries continue to demonstrate interest in developing ASAT capabilities ranging from theoretical studies to developmental programs."
     Mr. Yeltsin said the "obvious aim" of the U.S. anti-satellite weapons program is to "destroy [the] space surveillance and control systems of other countries, including of course, the Russian ones. Within our military doctrine there is no place for such systems, which constitute an absolutely destabilizing factor," he said.
     However, Mr. Yeltsin suggested that the two nations conduct joint anti-satellite programs.
     "We do not rule out joint projects, say, to ensure ecological safety in the case of [the] fall of large space objects -- satellites and even asteroids," he said.
     In his letter, Mr. Yeltsin proposed that U.S. and Russian experts launch an "in-depth and open dialogue" aimed at curbing anti-satellite weapons.
     "The immediate goal is to agree on the ban on any systems destroying strategic warning satellites," he said. "Normally they stay in high orbits and such an agreement can be reached quickly enough. Then the problem of how to deal with possible destabilization in low orbits should be tackled as well."
     Mr. Yeltsin said anti-satellite weapons jeopardize stability by putting warning systems at risk, preventing one side from knowing when it is under attack.
     It could not be learned how the president responded to the letter, which was written in response to a Sept. 8 letter from Mr. Clinton to Mr. Yeltsin.
     However, administration officials said they expect the talks on space weapons would be welcomed by Robert Bell, the National Security Council arms specialist who supported a recent missile defense agreement that banned space weapons.
     The Yeltsin letter was sent some time after the New York Times first reported Sept. 1 that the Pentagon planned to shoot an orbiting satellite in a test of a high-powered ground-based laser. The newspaper quoted arms control advocates as warning that the anti-satellite test, which was carried out Oct. 21, could set off a race for new space weapons.
     Defense Department spokesman Ken Bacon challenged Mr. Yeltsin's claim that the Pentagon is building anti-satellite arms. "We do not have any programs to produce or deploy anti-satellite weapons," he said. "It seems to me the Russians should have noticed that the president exercised his line-item veto" on an anti-satellite program.
     Regarding the recent laser space test, Mr. Bacon said: "We have said publicly and privately to the Russians that the ... program was designed solely to test the vulnerabilities of our satellites" and was not an anti-satellite weapons test.
     The Pentagon has documented Moscow's anti-satellite weapons since the 1980s. One report found that Moscow had missiles, lasers and particle-beam anti-satellite weapons, including a high-powered laser capable of hitting satellites.
     During the 1980s, the Air Force tested an anti-satellite interceptor fired from a F-15 jet fighter. Congress subsequently banned such tests because of concerns about their impact on arms control talks.
     The U.S. Army is currently working on a "kinetic energy anti-satellite system," or KEASAT, which fires an array of pellets that kill or slow down enemy satellites and force them to burn up in the atmosphere. President Clinton killed the $37 million Congress approved for the Army program with a recent line-item veto.
     The Army had planned to develop 10 of the systems as a "silver bullet" in case an anti-satellite weapon were needed in an emergency, a defense official said.
     Defense officials said the only other potential anti-satellite weapon being researched is the ground-based laser, which the Pentagon denies is an anti-satellite weapon.
     On other issues, Mr. Yeltsin also wrote that he needed to "step up" work on strengthening trade and economic relations and stimulating U.S. investment in Russia.
     "And finally, I believe that current affairs notwithstanding, it is time we started to shape a prospective agenda of our relations at the turn of the millennium," he said, noting his suggestion to "work out a major joint document on partnership reaching out into the 21st century."
     "Bill, I see promising prospects for making progress within the whole spectrum of our relations."
     Mr. Yeltsin wrote there had been "considerable progress" on reductions of strategic nuclear weapons, on increasing "mutual security" through the signing of the Russia-NATO agreement, and on efforts by Russia's parliament to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention, which took place in Moscow on Wednesday.