In his big election speech on March 1, 2018, to thunderous applause, Putin catalogs the new doomsday weapons Russia is working on. The Russian president makes it clear he is not bluffing. The West “has failed to contain Russia” and “will have to listen to it”. Putin’s speech was accompanied by a video showing a nuclear attack against the United States. The speech was hardly taken seriously, either in Russia (it was the “most delirious speech in the decades of [Putin’s] rule,” according to commentator Ilya Milshtein [Grani.ru 2/03/2018]) or in the West.
It must be said that the West had some excuses. People were used to the Russian bluff. At the time of the Suez crisis in 1956 Khrushchev had threatened London and Paris with a nuclear strike. In 1957 he boasted of Soviet superiority, claiming that the United States did not have intercontinental ballistic rockets. “If they did,” he sneered, “they would have launched their own Sputnik”. Khrushchev swaggered as well in front of the Germans, boasting that the USSR “manufactures missiles like sausages”. The impetuous Nikita recounts in his Memoirs that during a dinner organized in his honor by the British during his visit to Great Britain at the end of April 1956, he whispered in the ear of Lady Eden who was seated next to him: “Our missiles can not only reach the British Isles, but will fly even further.” And he continues his story: “She bit her tongue. I gave the impression of being a bit rude and making threats. That was my purpose: not to scare, but to show that we were not supplicants, we were a great power. Therefore, we had to come to an agreement, without any ultimatums, without using the language of ultimatums with us.” This aspect of Russian psychology, which appears so clearly here in Khrushchev’s words, is well known to the West and perhaps explains why the bellicose speeches of Putin and his propagandists are not taken more seriously in NATO countries. Wrongly so, because it is no longer a bluff, as we see now.
In the March 1, 2018 election speech mentioned above, Vladimir Putin announced that his country was developing six powerful new weapons designed to bypass American defenses.
One of these apocalyptic weapons is the 9M730 Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile, which NATO calls the SSC-X-9 Skyfall. This missile is said to be “invincible” and to have “unlimited range, an unpredictable trajectory and the ability to evade interception”. It is “a terrifying missile capable of staying in the air for years and striking at any time,” warned Jim Hockenhull, the U.K.’s chief of defence intelligence. In addition this missile “spews radioactive plumes behind it.”.
Another doomsday device is the Avangard strategic complex, an intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a gliding cruise warhead that propels itself through the dense layers of the atmosphere and flies at 20 times the speed of sound, hitting its targets “like a meteorite, like a fireball,” to quote Putin. This craft is capable of executing sudden maneuvers on its trajectory towards its targets, which makes it “absolutely invulnerable to any missile defense system”.
In reality, Avangard is not a rocket in the usual sense of the word: it is a device for strategic missile systems, the basis of which is a hypersonic manoeuvre unit. It is intended for a new heavy intercontinental ballistic missile, called Sarmat (RS-28), also announced by Putin, the heaviest in the world, which can fly over both the North and South poles to hit any target, bypassing existing U.S. missile defense systems that are oriented to the North. According to him, this missile can carry more warheads than the world’s heaviest ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile], the Soviet-designed Voevoda RS 20 B missile known in the West as Satan. The RS-28 warheads are designed with trajectories that make it very difficult to destroy them, even from the most advanced missile defense systems. There are many dummy warheads in the RS-28. But above all, it carries the above-mentioned Avangard hypersonic glider vehicle Yu-71, and non-nuclear warheads, which allows the use of Sarmats in local wars and conflicts, in the fight against enemy carrier groups, etc. The Sarmat will enter service in the Russian army next year. Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roskosmos, said that “its power is such that a missile, if you will pardon the expression, will wipe out one of the [U.S.] coasts.” According to Lt. Gen. Aytech Bizhev, former deputy chief of the Commonwealth Air Force, the militaries of the world’s leading countries do not have the means to protect themselves against the new Avangard strategic complex, which is being installed on Sarmat ICBMs and missiles of a different class. And it is unlikely that they will be able to do so in the coming years: “The Avangard has a fundamentally new guidance system, its flight path cannot be predicted. Given the enormous speed of our Avangard, it cannot be intercepted by modern anti-missile, anti-space and air defense means. None of the major powers will have the means to intercept it in the next 10 to 15 years“.
Now let’s turn to Poseidon, a 79-foot-long nuclear-powered underwater drone armed with a huge warhead that could irradiate U.S. coastal cities and naval bases in the final stages of an apocalyptic nuclear war. It is an underwater nuclear torpedo designed to explode off the coast of enemy countries by striking the ocean floor, triggering a radioactive tsunami that could spread deadly radiation over thousands of miles of land, rendering it unfit to live in. Russia plans to deploy this Poseidon 2M39 missile in the Arctic in the summer of 2022. Not only is the Kremlin building a new base to store up to 30 Poseidons, but it is also equipping at least four nuclear-powered submarines designed specifically to carry these massive doomsday torpedoes. The fact that Moscow is willing to spend billions of dollars to build these four Poseidon-equipped submarines — representing more than a tenth of its future global submarine fleet — is a testament to the importance Putin’s regime places on this doomsday weapon. To summarize, Russia has acquired a new 100-megaton undersea nuclear device and has repeatedly threatened to attack the United States with it. No one has ever built a weapon like this because it has no military rationale. Since 2015, when images of this Russian nuclear torpedo were first broadcast on state television, questions have been raised about why Moscow would build a weapon that could potentially end all life on Earth. While all nuclear weapons can kill thousands of people in the blink of an eye and leave radiation poisoning the environment for years to come, the “Poseidon” seeks to maximize this effect: most nuclear weapons can destroy a city, the Poseidon can destroy a continent. In addition, in November 2020, Russia successfully tested the Tsirkon anti-ship cruise missile, which complements the Poseidon, and which it proposes to deploy in the Baltic under the pretext of protecting the Nordstream. Vice Admiral Stensønes, head of Norwegian intelligence, told CNN that the Tsirkon uses “new technology, with hypersonic speeds, which is difficult to counter”.
Finally, Putin mentioned in his catalog a new laser weapon.
As if all this were not enough, we learn that Russia is working on the development of a new Doomsday aircraft, the Zveno-3S. This is an airborne command and control center that can be used to evacuate senior officials in an emergency and is equipped with the technology to direct the armed forces in the event of a disaster, such as a nuclear war. According to Russian analyst Alexander Goltz, this was already a pet project of the Soviet leadership, which created the Perimeter system for this purpose, located somewhere far away in the Ural Mountains; it is said that there is still a protected command post that will launch missiles in case of a first strike by the United States of America. Work on the Doomsday aircraft is underway in Voronezh, a city 500 kilometers south of Moscow. The new aircraft is believed to be a modified version of the Ilyushin Il-96-400M airliner. Russian forces are expected to receive at least two of the new aircraft, one of which is already in production. China’s Sina agency has concluded that the modernization of Russia’s Doomsday aircraft is a preparation for nuclear war. American Rebekah Koffler, a former analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), agrees: “There is no doubt that Russia is preparing for a nuclear conflict with the United States and NATO. The only question is whether it can be deterred or whether it will have to fight that war.”
“When you have a ‘nuclear truncheon,’ you have to maintain it and improve it.” The question of Russian motives in deploying this arsenal calls for an urgent response. The indifference and passivity of the West in the face of this development seem staggering, especially if one remembers the emotion aroused in the 1970s by the installation of the SS-20 Euromissiles, infinitely less threatening than Putin’s “Wunderwaffen”. At that time, opinions were educated by Western governments about the danger posed by the new Soviet weapons; today all this is known only to specialists. In early 2017, Russia deployed a land-based cruise missile designated SSC-X-8 in violation of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Pentagon General Paul Selva warned that the missile “poses a risk to most of our [U.S.] facilities in Europe” and “is part of a broader Russian deployment of sea-, air-, and ground-launched nuclear-capable missiles”. Who cared in Europe?
One wonders if Putin is not already blackmailing the leaders of NATO countries, without the populations being alerted. In any case, Russia feels itself in a position of strength. “The entire globe is under our control,” Vladimir Zhirinovsky yelped after the presidential address on March 1, 2018 . And the very official journalist Pyotr Akopov adds: “We have made a breakthrough in the development and introduction of new weapons, making us the undisputed leaders in terms of military power. Not in terms of the number of weapons, but in terms of quality and fundamental novelty. It will take the United States more than years, decades, to catch up with Russia in this area — and that means a major shift in the overall alignment of forces on the world stage. The time has come to urgently begin negotiating with Russia. The alternative to negotiations is a full-scale arms race — it turns out that simply catching up with Russia will be difficult and very expensive. More importantly, there is no chance of gaining an advantage. […] Therefore, it can be said that Russia can now dictate its terms. And we want first and foremost the transition to a new post-American world order.”
Putin’s military doctrine is even more dangerous than the one the Soviets claimed during the Cold War. Under Khrushchev and Brezhnev, Moscow had given itself the means to destroy the United States in a massive nuclear strike, but the Soviet leaders took deterrence into account, even if they did not say so publicly. For Putin, on the other hand, the nuclear option is not a theoretical doctrine. It can perfectly well be used on the battlefield. The Kremlin is coolly considering a limited nuclear war with Washington. Putin’s strategists are banking on the use of doomsday weapons so that the adversary will perceive any further escalation as a losing bet. Russia believes that by escalating, it can win.
It is by taking into account the evolution of Putin’s domestic policy that we can get an idea of what awaits us in foreign policy. The Putin regime has been based from the beginning on two pillars, cooptation through corruption and intimidation. In domestic policy we see intimidation increasingly taking precedence over seduction. A parallel evolution is taking place in foreign policy, the increments of which are visible: the Russian-Georgian war, the annexation of Crimea, Putin’s life-long dictatorship. In 2014, at the time of the annexation of Crimea, Dmitry Kisselev, one of the Kremlin’s leading television propagandists, caused a sensation when he reminded viewers of the Vesti Nedeli television show that Russia was capable of “turning America into radioactive ashes“. The link between autocratic power and war psychosis is becoming increasingly apparent: for example, at the rally in support of Vladimir Putin in Luzhniki on March 3, 2018, one of the speakers, Igor Ashmanov, exclaimed, “We are a country at war, it must be said outright. We have a commander-in-chief. He annexes territories, wins wars, introduces new weapons. How do you change the commander-in-chief in a belligerent country?”
But it is not just a matter of manipulating the psychosis of war for internal use (although this is already quite disturbing). The contempt for democracies is so deep-rooted among Russian leaders that they seem increasingly tempted to go further in their provocation. In a documentary commemorating the annexation of Crimea and shown on Russian television on March 15, 2015, Putin recalls the imaginary dialogue he was having with the West during those dramatic days: “In the name of what would you go and fight there? Don’t you know that? As for us, we know it. And we are ready for anything…” Zhirinovsky is known for saying out loud what is thought down in the Kremlin. He declared in an inflammatory interview on June 6, 2015, broadcast by the Dozhd television channel: “Shoigu [the Russian Defense Minister] only has to target his nuclear forces on Berlin, on Brussels, on London, on Washington. Will there be a war? Not at all — we will be told: don’t do anything about it, we agree with you, we are withdrawing. They [the Westerners] want to live. […] The Europeans live in luxury, they just enjoy themselves. They don’t want to go to war. If Moscow shows its teeth, they will disband NATO. All you have to do is tell them: if you don’t liquidate NATO in twenty-four hours, we will bomb the capitals of the member states. And they will comply so they can continue to live and have fun.” In late 2018, speaking at the Valdai Forum, Russian President Vladimir Putin alluded to a possible nuclear war: “We, as martyrs, will go to heaven, and they [the enemies Russia - RD] will simply die”. More recently, Vladimir Putin dropped an ominous remark when he said that Russia could have sunk the British destroyer [during the incident off the Crimean coast in late June] — “no one would have done anything to us, because they, our opponents, are afraid of nuclear war“. Mikhail Deliagin, the director of the Institute for the Problems of Globalization, goes so far as to suggest that a cataclysm would turn Russia’s backwardness into a competitive advantage over its more developed opponents: “In times of catastrophe, most often, highly complex and differentiated organisms perfectly adapted to specific environmental conditions, die or decay. Today’s Russia, a primitive social organism almost back to the stone age after post-Soviet degradation, might have a fairly high chance of survival in a global catastrophe.” (See Françoise Thom, Comprendre le poutinisme, DDB, 2018, pp. 118-9)
The Kremlin leaders are far from being “pragmatists”, as Westerners believe. If they were, they would produce more planes capable of putting out the fires ravaging Siberia instead of launching Poseidons. Their hatred of the West is such that it can suffocate any instinct of conservation. It gives rise to a Russian-style millenarianism that is not new. Some slavophiles have advocated or dreamed of the destruction of Europe. Thus Dostoyevsky evoked ecstatically, in front of the very russophile Eugene Melchior de Vogüe, an apocalypse which would destroy in flames the doomed cities of Europe: “I remember an outing that he [Dostoyevsky] made on Paris one evening that inspiration seized him; he spoke about it as Jonas was to speak about Nineveh, with a fire of biblical indignation; I noted down his words: ‘A prophet will appear one night at the Café Anglais, he will write on the wall the three words of flame; it is from there that the signal of the end of the old world will start, and Paris will collapse in blood and fire, with all that makes its pride, its theaters and its Café Anglais…’ Like Dostoyevsky, the Slavophile philosopher Constantin Leontiev, very popular today among Kremlin ideologues, dreamed that Paris would be ‘transformed into a heap of ruins and ashes’, because ‘France is the most advanced country of the Western nations’” (V. Françoise Thom, La Marche à rebours, Sorbonne University Presses Paris 2021, pp. 684-5).
The use of nuclear weapons, explained Putin in 2018, “would be a global catastrophe for humanity. For the planet, it would also be a global catastrophe. But I, as a citizen of our country and as the head of the Russian state, want to ask this question: “WHAT IS THE GOOD OF A WORLD WITHOUT RUSSIA?” Nothing better expresses the deep nihilism that underlies Putin’s ideology. This sentence reveals that a Russia aware of its decline is even more dangerous than a Russia displaying its power. For as its president says, it will not hesitate to drag the rest of humanity into its wreckage. This is how the refusal of universalism, the ideological foundation of Putinism, leads in the Russian case to an apocalyptic millenarianism. And the Kremlin is constantly refining the instruments that will bring the doomsday closer.