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Putin claims Russia has nuclear arsenal capable of avoiding missile defenses

The Washington Post logoThe Washington Post 3/1/2018 Anton Troianovski


Video by Wall Street Journal

MOSCOW — Russia has developed nuclear weapons that can avoid missile-defense systems and plans to bolster its arsenal with nuclear-powered cruise missiles capable of hitting any point in the world, President Vladimir Putin claimed Thursday in his annual state of the nation address.

He warned that Moscow would mobilize an immediate response to any nuclear attack on it or its allies — adopting Cold War-style overtones that appeared to ramp up Russia’s posturing against the West.

Putin’s speech — which began with a rundown of domestic projects — was capped by a harsh rendering of East-West tensions and boasts about purported major advances in Russia’s arsenal, such as a nuclear-powered cruise missile that could strike anywhere.

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Putin cast the plans as a response to U.S. development of missile-defense systems that, he claimed, were meant to challenge Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

His remarks appeared to be a message to Washington in the wake of the Trump administration’s recently announced plans to develop new nuclear arms and questions about the future of arms-control agreements between the United States and Russia.

His speech came less than three weeks before a March 18 presidential election, which Putin is widely expected to win. The Kremlin is hoping for high voter turnout that would put a stamp of legitimacy on a new six-year term for him.

Putin’s descriptions of Russia’s new weapons were punctuated with videos, projected on a screen behind him, that were greeted by applause from the assembled lawmakers and top officials.

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Putin said the United States has not taken Russia’s nuclear might seriously or adequately negotiated arms control. U.S. efforts to contain Russia, he said, have failed. “No one listened to us,” he said. “Listen to us now.”

Pentagon spokesman Dana White said U.S. officials were “not surprised” by Putin’s comments, but gave no details about the extent of knowledge on Russian military development. She also rejected Putin’s suggestion that Russia needed to upgrade its firepower because of defensive buildups in the West.

“Our missile defense has never been about (Russia),” White told reporters.

Putin claimed that, late last year, Russia successfully tested a cruise missile that was propelled by a nuclear-powered engine. This engine gave the cruise missile an effective unlimited range, he said, distinguishing it from existing cruise missiles that typically have a range of about 600 miles. The missile would be able to fly close to the ground and follow an unpredictable flight path, rendering existing missile defenses “useless,” Putin said.

Tests of the technology, he said, “will allow the development of a complete new type of weapon — a strategic complex of nuclear arms with rockets fitted with a nuclear-propulsion engine.”

Such a missile would represent a major technological breakthrough, said Alexander Golts, a Moscow-based independent analyst of the Russian military.

There was no independent confirmation of Russia’s development of the technology. But weapons experts he spoke to after the speech, Golts said, “were all in shock, like me.”

“This is the start of a new Cold War,” he said. “This is an effort to scare the West.”

Putin said that a multiyear testing cycle for a nuclear-powered underwater drone, which can carry a nuclear warhead, was completed in December. “Means to resist them simply don’t exist in the world today,” he said of the underwater drones.

The nearly two-hour speech in a historic hall just outside the Kremlin walls began with promises to improve domestic living standards.

Slideshow by 24/7 Wall St.

Russia, Putin said, has responded to U.S. development of missile-defense shields by developing weapons that cannot be stopped by them.

On the screen behind him, video footage and computer graphics showed the new weapons. In one animation, the nuclear-powered cruise missile was shown flying across the Atlantic, rounding the southern tip of South America, and heading up the Pacific toward the U.S. mainland.

“I hope everything that has been said today will sober any potential aggressor,” Putin said.

Putin cast the Russian weapons development as a response to what he described as Washington’s refusal to work with Moscow on arms control. Russian officials were angry about Pentagon plans announced last month to introduce two new types of nuclear weapons — plans that the Trump administration said were a response to the threat from Russia.

“I will tell those who have been trying to fuel [an] arms race for 15 years and deter Russia’s development using illegal sanctions: Attempts to deter Russia have failed,” Putin said, harking back to the George W. Bush administration’s withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002. “Russia’s growing military might is a reliable guarantee of peace on Earth, because this can continue to help maintain strategic balance and the global balance of forces.”

Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.


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