Russia has tested an array of new strategic nuclear weapons that can’t be intercepted, President Vladimir Putin announced Thursday, marking a technological breakthrough that would dramatically increase Russia’s military capability, boost the Kremlin’s global position and raise Western concerns about a potential renewed arms race in the 21st century.
Speaking in a state-of-the-nation speech, Putin said the weapons include a nuclear-powered cruise missile, a nuclear-powered underwater drone and new hypersonic missile. He said the creation of the new weapons has made NATO’s U.S.-led missile defence “useless,” and means an effective end to what he described as Western efforts to stymie Russia’s development.
“I want to tell all those who have fuelled the arms race over the last 15 years, sought to win unilateral advantages over Russia, introduced unlawful sanctions aimed to contain our country’s development: all what you wanted to impede with your policies have already happened,” he said. “You have failed to contain Russia.”
The announcement comes as Putin is set to easily win another six-year presidential term in the March 18 election.The CBC’s Chris Brown in Moscow said the speech may have been designed in part to allay fears in the Kremlin that, after Putin’s 18 years in power, people won’t come out to vote for him in large numbers.
“Putin needs a big, strong mandate from people. They’re hoping for 70 per cent, and perhaps this was a way to really galvanize the Russian public,” Brown said. “This is something that Russians, time and time again, have responded to.”
In his address, Putin said that the nuclear-powered cruise missile tested last fall has an unlimited range and high speed and maneuverability allowing it to pierce any missile defense.
The Russian leader said the high-speed underwater drone also has an “intercontinental” range and is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead that could target both aircraft carriers and coastal facilities. He said its “very big” operational depth and a speed that is at least 10 times higher than any other vessel would make it immune to enemy interception.
Putin accompanied his statement to an audience of hundreds of senior officials and lawmakers with videos and computer images of new weapons, which were shown on giant screens at a conference hall near the Kremlin.
A computer video showed the drone being launched by a submarine, cruising over the seabed, hitting an aircraft carrier and exploding near the shore.
Putin noted that the tests of the compact nuclear reactor to power the new drone were completed last fall.
He added, to applause, that names for the nuclear-powered cruise missile and the drone haven’t yet been chosen, and suggested that the Defence Ministry run a nationwide contest for the best names.
“No one in the world has anything like that,” he said. “It may appear someday, but by that time we will develop something new.”
Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said the Defence Department isn’t surprised by Putin’s claims of new nuclear weapons, and the U.S. military is prepared to defend the nation.
White told Pentagon reporters that American missile defence has never been about Russia.
The U.S. has consistently argued that missile defence systems in Europe aren’t aimed at Moscow, but are designed to defend against threats from Iran, North Korea and rogue threats.
‘Like a meteorite’
The Russian leader said that another new weapon called Avangard is an intercontinental hypersonic missile that would fly to targets at a speed 20 times the speed of sound and strike “like a meteorite, like a fireball.”
Putin said that the weapon is capable of performing sharp manoeuvres on its way to targets, making it “absolutely invulnerable for any missile defence system.”
Putin said that Russia also tested a new heavy intercontinental ballistic missile, called Sarmat, with a range and number of warheads exceeding its Soviet-era predecessor, known in the West as Satan.
He said that another new weapons system, called Kinzhal, already has been deployed in Russia’s Southern Military District. He added that it’s a hypersonic missile carried by an aircraft that flies at a speed 10 times of the speed of sound and has a range of 2,000 kilometres.
The Russian leader emphasized that the development of new weapons that have no equivalent in the West came in response to the U.S. withdrawal from a Cold War-era treaty banning missile defences and U.S. efforts to develop a missile defence system.
He said that the U.S. has ignored Russian complaints.
“No one has listened to us,” he said. “You listen to us now.”
Putin emphasized that Russia is concerned about the Pentagon-led nuclear review released earlier this year that envisaged the development of low-yield nuclear weapons, saying that it could lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons.
“We will interpret any use of nuclear weapons against Russia and its allies no matter how powerful they are, of low, medium or any other yield, as a nuclear attack,” he said. “It will trigger an immediate answer with all the consequences stemming from it. No one should have any doubts about it.”
He said that Russian military experts and diplomats would be ready to discuss new weapons systems with their U.S. counterparts.
“We aren’t threatening anyone, we aren’t going to attack anyone, we aren’t going to take anything from anyone,” he said. “The growing Russian military power will guarantee global peace.”