By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
MOSCOW (AP) — An underwater drone armed with a nuclear warhead powerful enough to sweep away coastal facilities and aircraft carriers.A hypersonic vehicle impossible to intercept as it flies in a cloud of plasma “like a meteorite.” President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russia has these new strategic weapons and many more, declaring: “No one has listened to us. You listen to us now.”
Putin unveiled the stunning catalog of doomsday machines in his annual state-of-the-nation speech, saying that Russia had to build them to counter the potential threat posed by the U.S. missile defense system. And in a touch of dark humor, he invited Russians to join a Defense Ministry contest to name some of the weapons.
It wasn’t immediately possible to assess whether the weapons could do what Putin said or how ready they are for deployment, but they would represent a major technological breakthrough that could dramatically bolster Russia’s military capability, boost its global position and trigger a new arms race.
The White House said Putin confirmed what the U.S. has already known: that Russia has been developing “destabilizing weapons systems for over a decade in direct violations of its treaty obligations.” Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Donald Trump understands the threats and that America is “moving forward to modernize our nuclear arsenal and ensure our capabilities are unmatched.”
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White also said the Defense Department wasn’t surprised, adding that the U.S. military is prepared to defend the nation. White told Pentagon reporters that U.S. missile defense has never been about Russia. Washington has consistently argued that missile defense systems in Europe aren’t aimed at Moscow but designed instead to defend against threats from Iran, North Korea and rogue threats.
Putin has shrugged off those arguments and said Thursday that the U.S. plans to develop its missile defense system would “eventually devalue the Russian nuclear arsenal if we sit with our arms folded.” He said the U.S. has underestimated Russia’s ability to mount a response, aiming for a “unilateral military advantage that could eventually allow it to dictate its terms in other areas.”
The United States should now revise its Russia policy and engage in a serious dialogue on global security, he said. “You will have to assess that new reality and become convinced that what I said today isn’t a bluff,” he said. “It’s not a bluff, trust me.” He said the creation of the new weapons has made NATO’s U.S.-led missile defense “useless,” putting an end to what he described as years of Western efforts to sidetrack and weaken Russia.
“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 restrictions and sanctions aimed to contain our country’s development: All what you wanted to impede with your policies has now happened,” he said. “You have failed to contain Russia.” Putin’s dramatic announcement comes as he seeks another six-year term on March 18, an election he is expected to win easily.
His address was accompanied by videos and computer simulations of the new weapons, shown on giant screens at a conference hall near the Kremlin. The audience of senior officials and lawmakers broke into applause, giving him a standing ovation at one point. “No one else in the world has anything like that,” Putin said. “It may appear someday, but by that time, we will develop something new.”
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said it was “unfortunate” to watch animation depicting “a nuclear attack on the United States” that accompanied Putin’s speech, calling the video “cheesy” and adding that “we don’t think it’s responsible.” Putin said the nuclear-powered cruise missile, which was tested last fall, has a “practically unlimited” range, and its high speed and maneuverability allow it to pierce any missile defense.
The high-speed underwater drone also has an “intercontinental” range and is capable of slamming a nuclear warhead into both aircraft carriers and coastal facilities, he said. Its “very big” operational depth and a speed that is many times faster than any other vessel would make it immune to being intercepted by the enemy, he added.
Another new weapon, called Avangard, is an intercontinental hypersonic missile that would fly at 20 times the speed of sound and strike its targets “like a meteorite, like a fireball,” he said. The weapon is capable of performing sharp maneuvers on its way to targets, making it “absolutely invulnerable for any missile defense system,” Putin added.
Robert Schmucker, a rocket scientist at the Technical University of Munich, voiced skepticism about Putin’s statement, saying in an interview that building nuclear-powered cruise missiles in particular would be technically difficult and basically pointless.
“Why make something complicated when you can make it easy?” he said, adding that he also doubts that Russia has succeeded in building hypersonic missiles. Tom Plant, director of proliferation and nuclear policy at the defense think-tank RUSI, also said he was not sure how much of the announcement to believe. “The thing that sounds mad, the nuclear-propulsion thing, is potentially feasible,” he said, adding: “I think it’s insane.”
Plant added that while “Russia already has a ton of systems that can threaten and overwhelm U.S. missile defenses,” Putin’s announcement reflects his country’s concern that the U.S. missile shield could grow powerful enough to become a game-changer. “The Russians have a genuine worry from their perspective about where U.S. missile defense might go,” Plant said. “So it totally makes sense for them to try and find ways to defeat not what it is now, but what it may become.”
Putin said that Russia also tested a new heavy intercontinental ballistic missile, called Sarmat, which can fly over both the North and the South poles to reach any target. He said it can carry more warheads than the world’s heaviest ICBM, the Soviet-designed missile known in the West as Satan. To complete the list, he mentioned a smaller hypersonic missile that is already operational and has a range of more than 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) and a new laser weapon.
Putin emphasized that the new weapons were designed in full compliance to the U.S.-Russian arms control agreements, adding 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.”