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A military leader was reported Thursday as saying Russia would increase its submarine-launched nuclear strength to compensate for cuts in land-based missiles under the U.S.-Russian START II pact.

Russia's armed forces chief of staff, quoted by Itar-Tass news agency, defended the START II accord and said the 3,000 warheads left in Russian hands were enough to ensure an effective deterrent.Col. Gen. Mikhail Kolesnikov said: "Clearly, we will increase the specific weight of the sea-based component of the Russian nuclear triad, above all ballistic missiles based on submarines."

Under the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, signed in Moscow Jan. 3 by the U.S. and Russian presidents, the two powers will slash their nuclear forces by 15,000-17,000 warheads by the year 2003 at the latest.

Land-based missiles with multiple warheads will be scrapped and there will be big cuts in sea- and air-launched weapons.

Kolesnikov, who spoke to a group of journalists Wednesday, indicated the scrapping of Russia's 308 giant SS-18 missiles would force it to reshuffle its defenses.

The support of the Russian military for the sweeping arms accord is crucial in the run-up to ratification by the Supreme Soviet or standing parliament.

Some ex-communist and nationalist opponents of President Boris Yeltsin see the treaty as a sellout to the United States and have served notice they will try to block ratification.

Pravda newspaper, leading conservative attacks on START II, this week sneered at Yeltsin and President Bush for calling the new treaty their Christmas present to the world.

"At the wishes of Washington, Russia intends to remove from its forces the most effective of its rockets that irritate strategists across the Atlantic. There is nothing to boast about here," it said.

Supporters of the treaty, including Yeltsin himself, argue there will be huge savings from the elimination of scores of missile silos which are costly to maintain, guard and operate.