Russian priest brought in to 'bless' new missile system

By staff writers
8 Aug 2007

Russia has deployed a new weapons defence system in a ceremony which included an Orthodox priest ‘blessing’ the new Russian S-400 Triumph missile with holy water in a broadcast on national television news.

The event highlights the close identification of church and state in post-Soviet Russia – an alliance which has been a cause of concern to other Christians, to people of minority faith and those of no religious beliefs.

The surface-to-air missile upgrades the previous S-300 system with stronger rocket engines and an improved guidance system, say military analysts.

It may also be made available for export – at a time when international attempts are still in hand to restrict the growth and impact of weapons sales.

Russian officials say the Triumph missile is capable of intercepting stealth aircraft and also objects flying as low as 10 metres, according to a Voice of America report.

Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian military analyst, says that the S-400 could also present a danger to civilian aircraft.

"There is a lot of air traffic around Moscow," he explained. "[T]here could be complications with this missile, because operators control it to a certain point, but afterwards it flies on autopilot."

The new missile extends the range of the previous S-300 system used by the Ukrainian air force to accidentally shoot down a civilian airliner over the Black Sea in 2001.

Dr Felgenhauer notes that a similar accident in Russia resulted in the downing of a passenger plane over the Urals in the 1960's. In time of war, he says, mistaken identity is all the more likely.

The Triumph missile, code-named the Growler by NATO forces, is currently being deployed to cover Moscow.

Igor Ashurbeili, director of the Almaz Design Bureau, which produces the weapons system, says it could be sold on the export market.

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