MOSCOW — Russia has tested an array of new strategic nuclear weapons that can’t be intercepted, President Vladimir Putin declared Thursday, claiming a technological breakthrough that could dramatically increase Russia’s military capability, boost the Kremlin’s global position and also 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 that have no equivalent elsewhere in the world. 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.
He noted that Russia had to develop the new weapons as the U.S. has developed a missile defence system that threatened to undermine the Russian nuclear deterrent and ignored Moscow’s concerns about it.
“No one has listened to us,” he said. “You listen to us now.”
The bombshell announcement comes as Putin is set to easily win another six-year presidential term in the March 18 election.
He said that the nuclear-powered cruise missile tested last fall has a “practically unlimited” range and high speed and manoeuvrability allowing it to pierce any missile defence.
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 intercept.
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 also exploding near the shore.
Putin noted that the tests of the compact nuclear reactor to power the new drone were completed last fall.
Putin’s statement marked the first time the new systems were officially announced with a high degree of detail, and it wasn’t immediately possible to assess the veracity of it or assess the degree of their readiness.
“You will have to assess that new reality and become convinced that what I was said today isn’t a bluff,” he said. “It’s not a bluff, you trust me.”
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. The playful offer evokes the Soviet-era tradition of giving the innocuous names to some of the deadliest weapons systems.
“No one in the world has anything like that,” Putin said. “It may appear someday, but by that time we will develop something new.”
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 manoeuvrs 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, adding that its range allows it to fly over both the North and the South poles to reach any target. He said it carries more nuclear warheads than 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 (1,250 miles) away.
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.
“I want to tell all those who have fueled 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.”
He 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.”
Jane’s by IHS Markit noted that coming after the U.S. nuclear posture review Putin’s statement “not only signals strength to a domestic Russian audience, but is a clear sign to the U.S. that Russia will continue to modernize its nuclear forces to ensure their credibility. “
Putin 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.”