In his annual address to the Russian parliament (on March 1), President Vladimir Putin began by speaking at length about plans to kick-start the stagnant economy, increase household incomes and pensions, as well as spend more on education and medicine. This first, civilian part of Putin’s speech was rather tedious and ambiguous. The gathering of some 1,000 Russian VIPs, including not only parliamentarians, but practically all the ruling Russian elite, was visibly bored and stone-faced; they clearly applauded without much enthusiasm. But when Putin began unveiling an array of new long-range nuclear weapons aimed at the United States and its allies, the atmosphere in the hall changed dramatically. Previous annual presidential addresses were held in the Kremlin. This week, it was moved to an adjoining building—the Manedz—regularly used to hold different exhibitions. A spacious conference hall was erected with enormous flat-screen video panels along the wall. The large graphs illustrating life expectancy or national income growth that were put up on the video monitors did not make much of an impression. In the military part of Putin’s presentation, however, the screens showcased footage of preparations and launches of new Russian long-range nuclear weapons. Animations presented those missiles flying over the Atlantic toward the United States or sinking US aircraft carriers. The main punch of Putin’s message was that Russia is number one and can wipe out its “Western partners” (the US) at will (Kremlin.ru, March 1).
On March 18, 2018, Russia will hold its presidential election, and Putin again looks assured to win. His reelection platform revolves largely around the idea of Russia as a nuclear superpower with a destructive potential unmatched by any other state. The Kremlin has been focusing its narrative on patriotic messaging because the domestic economy offers few bright spots. In his address, Putin portrayed Russia as challenged by an existential threat from US missiles and missile defense (MD) interceptors deployed in Europe, on ships and arrayed across US territory. He further asserted the threat of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops on Russia’s doorstep. In reply, the Russian president demonstrated to his audience an array of new super weapons. First was a video of a test-launch of the super-heavy silo-based Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which weighs some 200 tons at takeoff and may carry megaton-yield warheads and different decoys to baffle US MD systems. The Sarmat will have an “unlimited range” thanks to taking a so-called suborbital trajectory. While, traditionally, ICBMs launched from Russia at the US would have traveled over the North Pole, the Sarmat will pass above the South Pole to arrive from “the other side,” thus baffling US MD defenses, Putin assured (Kremlin.ru, March 1).
The Kremlin leader also boasted about the successful development of a super-light, powerful nuclear reactor that has been placed on a cruise missile—“like the KH-101 or the US Tomahawk.” This nuclear-powered cruise missile, which according to Putin does not yet have an official name, has been successfully tested and it will have an “unlimited flight range.” In an animation commented-on by Putin, the nuclear-powered cruise missile flew at a low altitude over the Atlantic, around the southern tip of South America, U-turned and flew north over the Pacific to the US. Putin implied that no one can detect or stop such a missile (Kremlin.ru, March 1).
Putin officially confirmed the development, testing and imminent deployment of a nuclear-armed oversize torpedo-form underwater nuclear-powered unmanned doomsday drone. Information about this “Ocean Multipurpose System Status-6” was first leaked in November 2015—apparently deliberately (Aif.ru, November 12, 2015; see EDM, November 12, 2015). The underwater autonomous torpedo can travel at speeds of up to 85 kilometers per hour (some 56 knots), go as deep as 1 km, and has a range of up to 10,000 km. In the Pentagon, the project is apparently known as Kanyon and is mentioned in the most recent US Nuclear Pasture Review. The drone may carry a massive warhead of up to 100 megatons and is designed to destroy, according to Putin, US aircraft carrier groups or “costal infrastructure.” The speed and depth of the drone presumably would help it penetrate US anti-submarine defenses and detonate close to the US Atlantic or Pacific coasts. The blast would create a gigantic, highly radioactive tsunami, destroying and contaminating large stretches of densely populated US territory, like New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Boston and so on, leaving them uninhabitable for centuries or millennia (Kremlin.ru, March 1).
The Russian president also boasted about the successful development of a hypersonic “gliding or maneuverable warhead” (reentry vehicle)—named the Avangard—which has also apparently been successfully tested. Such a warhead may be attached to essentially any ICBM. During reentry, it will perform hyper-speed maneuvers to avoid US MD systems and then successfully home in to kill its designated target. Putin announced and showed footage of an apparently non-strategic hypersonic weapon—the Kinzhal—a missile carried by a Russian heavy supersonic fighter (apparently a modified MiG- 31 interceptor), to be fired from a standoff position at high altitude against a land or sea target (an enemy cruiser or carrier, for example). In addition, Putin boasted about the development and possible deployment of a land-mobile laser attached to a large truck—apparently to be used to intercept enemy (US) missiles (Kremlin.ru, March 1).
Putin blamed the United States for ignoring Russia and its vital interests by striving to achieve total military domination and developing a global MD system. Moscow, according to Putin, was forced to respond by developing an array of super weapons. Putin stressed these new weapons are not part of the Soviet weapons-industry legacy. And yet, they all seem to be projects initiated during the Cold War in the 1980s, as antidotes to Ronald Regan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI or “Star Wars”). Evidently, they have now been renewed and readied for deployment.
Speaking to the Russian population, President Putin assured that the country’s defenses are stronger than ever and that Moscow will negotiate with Washington and the West from a position of nuclear superiority. The expansion of NATO and the deployment of US and Western military infrastructure on Russia’s doorstep, he asserted, was counterproductive because it did not give the West any military advantage thanks to Moscow’s deployment of these new super weapons. Putin called on the West to admit defeat, sit down and negotiate an end of sanctions and a new world order that will grant Russia an “equal status.” Russia is not aggressive, according to Putin, but it demands what it believes it is due—otherwise, its doomsday nuclear super weapons are ready.