10 March 2018

Vladimir Putin Flexes His Nuclear Muscles


Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the Federal Assembly, including the State Duma parliamentarians, members of the Federation Council, regional governors, and other high-ranking officials, in Moscow, Russia, on March 1.  Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 1 boasted that Russia has developed “invincible” nuclear-capable missiles that can render existing missile defense systems “completely useless.”

Putin used his annual state of the nation speech—delivered just weeks before the March 18 presidential election that he is guaranteed to win—to tout Russia’s military might.

Russia, he said, has developed a nuclear-capable, low-flying cruise missile that cannot be intercepted by existing air defense systems and submarine-launched, long-range missiles that are capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

“One of them is creation of a small-size highly powerful nuclear power plant that can be planted inside the hull of a cruise missile identical to our air-launched X-101 or the United States’ Tomahawk, but at the same time is capable of guaranteeing a flight range that is dozens of times greater, which is practically unlimited,” Putin said, according to TASS, Russia’s state news service.

“A low-flying, low-visibility cruise missile armed with a nuclear warhead and possessing a practically unlimited range, unpredictable flight path and the capability to impregnate practically all interception lines is invulnerable to all existing and future anti-missile and air defense weapons,” he added. He said the missile was successfully tested late last year.

Putin said Russia had developed these missiles in response to the United States’ withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed with the Soviet Union. George W. Bush withdrew the United States from the treaty in 2001. Putin at the time called the US decision a mistake.

The Russian president also fumed at the Nuclear Posture Review released by US President Donald J. Trump’s administration in February.

The Nuclear Posture Review, which focuses on Russia and, to a lesser extent, on China, states that the United States “now faces a more diverse and advanced nuclear-threat environment than ever before, with considerable dynamism in potential adversaries’ development and deployment programs for nuclear weapons and delivery systems.”

“While the United States has continued to reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons, others, including Russia and China, have moved in the opposite direction,” the review states.

“They have added new types of nuclear capabilities to their arsenals, increased the salience of nuclear forces in their strategies and plans, and engaged in increasingly aggressive behavior, including in outer space and cyber space,” it added. 

Putin warned that any use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies would trigger a Russian response. But, he added, Russia’s military posture was defensive in nature.

“Russia still has the greatest nuclear potential in the world, but nobody listened to us,” Putin said. “Listen now,” he added.

Atlantic Council analysts shared their analysis on Putin’s latest bluster. Here’s what they had to say:

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