Thursday Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his annual state of the nation address in Moscow. This year’s speech focused heavily on promoting Moscow’s nuclear weapons program. The main theme of the 2018 address certainly seemed to be posturing Russia’s might against “the West,” ramping up anti-Western rhetoric to a level hardly seen since the Cold War era.
In his speech, Putin claimed Russia has five new futuristic weapons, most of them appearing to be nuclear capable. Although the Russian President has been known to embellish, the possibility that any human could even imagine such weapons should be chilling for most people.
The Nuclear Weapons
During Thursday’s speech, Putin discussed five different weapons systems, which he characterized as being able to hit virtually any target and circumvent any weapons defense system in the world. According to the Russian leader, Moscow has developed a nuclear missile with unlimited range, while remaining totally resistant to enemy interception. His broad, and perhaps even fanciful, statements have led many to fear that Russia is in possession of a “doomsday” nuclear missile.
Each weapons announcement was supported by an animation of the weapon. The animations in lieu of concrete video evidence have led many to wonder exactly what state these weapons exist in, if at all.
The animations themselves, although relatively rudimentary, were rich with imagery evoking Cold War-like tensions and resentments towards the US. One missile is even seen directly targeting Florida.
After boasting of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of circumventing all existing US missile defense systems, Putin played an animation showing a missile launching from Russia towards the West on two different potential trajectories. The Russian leader underscored that Russia is seriously amping up its nuclear capabilities against the US, saying, “our defense companies have launched mass production of this new system.”
Putin also discussed a nuclear propelled “global cruise missile,” claiming the missile has unlimited range. The announcement came side-by-side with an animation depicting the missile flying across Europe and the Atlantic towards the US where it there evades US air defenses, before traveling south and wrapping around Argentina and Chile.
Following the global cruise missile, Putin turned to the most feared Russian weapon, the so-called “doomsday” device, an underwater, high speed weapon. Another animation followed depicting a nuclear missile launched from a hypersonic plane. This animation again targeted the US, showing the nuclear missile attack aimed at the US Navy. Hypersonic planes are meant to fly faster than the speed of sound, making them undetectable by today’s defense standards.
The last weapon Putin boasted of was a laser weapon. The Russian President presented brief video depicting the laser weapons, but did not elaborate in great detail.
The “Doomsday” Weapon
The so-called “doomsday” weapon, named Status-6 in Russia and nicknamed “Satan 2” by NATO, is a high speed, nuclear equipped, underwater drone. The accompanying animation demonstrated the weapon being used directly against the US. In the simulation, the underwater weapon attacks the US Navy as well as a coastal city.
This particular weapon announcement, actually was not such a surprise to the international community. In 2015 images of the plans for the weapon were leaked, seemingly intentionally, leading to much international speculation. Weapons experts believed the drone and accompanying nuclear weapon may be a “dirty bomb,” a nuclear weapon designed to keep radiation in the air for years, making large expanses of land completely uninhabitable.
Previous reports had indicated the purpose of the weapon was to enter an American port undetected and cover major economic centers in radioactive fallout:
The important components of the adversary’s economy in a coastal area and [inflict] unacceptable damage to a country’s territory by creating areas of wide radioactive contamination that would be unsuitable for military, economic, or other activity for long periods of time.
What makes this weapon so sinister is that it has been specifically developed to kill a large portion of the American civilian population and inflict that largest amount of environmental damage for years after detonation.
When the plans for the weapon were initially leaked in 2015, many experts doubted whether the weapon would actually ever be built. During Thursday’s speech Putin claimed the weapon was successfully tested in 2016.
While Moscow, like Pyongyang, may claim their nuclear program serves the purpose of deterrence and defense, many experts in the US and Europe believe Putin’s posturing of nuclear might is the picture of an irresponsible nuclear power.
Former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter once said in response to Putin’s nuclear program, “Moscow’s nuclear saber-rattling raises questions about Russian leaders’ commitment to strategic stability, their respect for norms against the use of nuclear weapons, and whether they respect the profound caution nuclear-age leaders showed with regard to the brandishing of nuclear weapons.”
So far, today, the Pentagon and Trump administration have been relatively quiet in response. Although a leaked copy of President Trump’s nuclear review seems to mention concerns over the Status-6 weapon.
Moscow, on the other hand, has been accusing the US this week of violating non-nuclear proliferation agreements by helping countries around the world establish missile defense systems.
Wednesday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the US of training European military forces on how to use nuclear weapons against Russia. Lavrov spoke about “the deployment of U.S. strategic arms in Europe and the continuing destabilizing practice of ‘joint nuclear missions.’”
According the Lavrov, the US continues to make nuclear disarmament impossible, while threatening “strategic stability and international security today.” Lavrov positioned Russia as the foil to the US in this regard, bragging that since the Cold War, Russia has reduced its nuclear capability by 85%. The Foreign Minister also claimed Moscow has not deployed or tested nuclear weapons, while Washington continues its “aggressive position.”
It’s unclear whether Lavrov’s comments on Wednesday were ironic bad timing or deliberately misleading.
“Elon Musk My Ass”
Though his speech, Putin was frequently interrupted by applause as he hit upon the heady cocktail of victim narratives, boasting, and anti-Western posturing that has proven to be so effective in Russian political rhetoric. Speaking directly to the US, the Russian leader said, “Efforts to contain Russia have failed, face it.”
Putin continued to hammer on about Russia’s superiority, claiming their nuclear capabilities are unmatchable:
As you understand, this is unheard of and no one has this system in the world. They may come up with something like this in the future, but by that time our guys will come up with some new ideas as well.
Putin’s rhetoric succeeded, once again, in stoking the flames of anti-American sentiment, or at least long held feelings of aggressive competition. The editor-in-chief of the state-backed news outlet, Russia Today (RT), promptly tweeted “Elon Musk my ass” in response to today’s nuclear missile announcements. Although perhaps a joke, the tweet captures Putin’s and many Russians’ attitude towards the US.
Putin closed his speech speaking to a standing ovation, “They kept ignoring us. Nobody wanted to listen to us, so listen to us now.”