As a result of budget constraints, Russia's Strategic Missile Forces are having problems procuring new missiles, Defense News reports.

The missile forces had planned to commission ten Topol-M missiles to supplement the twenty they already maintain, but they will only be able to commission six. Of these, only four will be ready to go into service immediately.

For 2000, the Defense Ministry has budgeted just one third of the money for missile procurement it had for the previous year. President Putin and his Security Council have already called for big cuts in missile forces. If their plans are finalized in November, the forces will only be able to commission 2 Topol M missiles in 2001.

In the wake of the Kursk disaster, President Putin declared that Russia would have to "live within our means." Then, on September 8, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev announced that Russia would unilaterally slash its nuclear forces to 1,500 missiles, the level being proposed in START III. But on September 19, Foreign Minister Ivanov raised doubts about these cuts when he said that both the cuts and START III were contingent on the preservation of the 1972 ABM Treaty.

Russia is permitted to maintain 3, 500 missiles under START II. But after factoring out the missiles that will age beyond their operational lives in 2007 and those that must be destroyed in order to comply with START II, Russia will be left with only 1,500 missiles, compared to 3,500 for the U.S.

Unless the U.S. unilaterally reduces its arsenal, Russia can only stay even with the U.S. by producing more missiles, abandoning START II limits on multiple warheads on land-based missiles or negotiating a new START III. In light of Russia's economic woes, START III looks like the obvious alternative, but U.S. plans to build a National Missile Defense system could pose a major obstacle to negotiations or reductions.