Russia test-fires ICBM amid tension over Ukraine

The United States is weighing its response to Russia’s so far bloodless incursion into Crimea

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Russia test-fired an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) on Tuesday, amid escalating tensions with Western powers over its deployment of troops in Ukraine’s Crimea region.

The Strategic Rocket Forces launched a RS-12M Topol missile from the southerly Astrakhan region. The dummy warhead hit its target at a proving ground in Kazakhstan, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Yegorov told state-run news agency RIA, according to Reuters.

The 20-meter long RS-12M, known in NATO parlance as the SS-25 Sickle, was first put into service in 1985, six years before the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is designed to carry a nuclear warhead and has a range of 10,500 km.

The launch site, Kapustin Yar, is near the Volga River, about 450 km east of the Ukrainian border. Kazakhstan, a Russian ally in a post-Soviet security grouping, is further to the east.

A U.S. official said the United States had received proper notification from Russia ahead of the test and that the initial notification pre-dated the crisis in Crimea.

Russia conducts test launches of its ICBMs fairly frequently and often announces the results, a practice seen as intended to remind the West of Moscow’s nuclear might.

Russia and the United States signed the latest in a series of treaties restricting the numbers of ICBMs in 2010.

Turkey scrambles jets

The announcement of the ICBM testing came after a Russian surveillance plane flew near Turkey’s Black Sea coast, prompting the Turkish Air Force to scramble eight F-16 fighter jets.

The incident occurred on Monday and the Russian plane remained in international airspace, according to a statement on the website of the military General Staff.

Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, which juts into the north of the Black Sea, is at the center of an ongoing standoff between Russia and Ukraine’s new, pro-Western, government. NATO member Turkey is on the southern coastline of the Black Sea.

Russian warships cross Bosphorus

Meanwhile, two Russian warships crossed Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait on Tuesday, headed towards the Black Sea, Turkish media reported.

Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency, carrying a picture of one of the warships, said Russia had “summoned” the vessels back to its Black Sea fleet to strengthen its military presence in Crimea.

A Ukrainian vessel was also seen crossing the Dardanelles Strait off Turkey’s west coast and was expected to enter the Black Sea, the agency said.

The Russian moves came as the United States suspended all military engagements with Russia, including military exercises and port visits.

The announcement made on Monday from the Pentagon came hours after President Barack Obama warned that the U.S. government will look at a series of economic and diplomatic sanctions that would isolate Moscow, Reuters reported.

The United States also put trade and investment talks with Russia on hold.

“We call on Russia to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine and for Russian forces in Crimea to return to their bases,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.

Also on Monday, Obama said that Russia violated international law by militarily intervening in Ukraine.

Obama told reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to allow international monitors to mediate a deal in Ukraine acceptable to all Ukrainian people, according to Reuters.

The U.S. is weighing its response to Russia’s so far bloodless incursion into Crimea. Despite an international outcry, Putin has shown little sign of backing down and Russia has built up an armored vehicle presence near Crimea and staged military maneuvers in what appears to be a show of strength.

“Over time this will be a costly proposition for Russia. And now is the time for them to consider whether they can serve their interests in a way that resorts to diplomacy as opposed to force,” Obama said.

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