By Anton Troianovski, Washington Post–
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 on the globe, President Vladimir Putin claimed in his annual address to lawmakers Thursday.
He also warned that Moscow would consider any nuclear attack, of any size, on it or its allies an attack on Russia that would lead to an immediate response — adopting Cold War-style overtones that appeared to ramp up Russia’s posturing against the West and its allies.
Putin speech began with a rundown of domestic projects, then veered into a harsh rendering of East-West tensions and boasts over purported major advances in Russia’s arsenal such as a nuclear-powered cruise missile that could strike anywhere. Putin did not specify any of Moscow’s allies that it would defend or cite any immediate threats.
But his remarks could be seen as a message to Washington over souring relations with Moscow, including U.S. investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Putin said the United States had failed to take Russia’s nuclear might seriously or to adequately negotiate arms control. U.S. efforts to contain Russia, he said, had failed.
“No one listened to us,” Putin said. “Listen to us now.”
Putin claimed that late last year, Russia had successfully tested a cruise missile that was propelled by a nuclear-powered engine. This engine gave the cruise missile practically unlimited range, distinguishing it from existing cruise missiles. The missile would be able to fly close to the ground and follow an unpredictable flight path, rendering existing missile defenses “useless,” Putin said.
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Tests of the technology “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.”
“This is the start of a new Cold War,” said Alexander Golts, a Moscow-based independent analyst of the Russian military. “This is an effort to scare the West.”
The biggest surprise, Golts said, was Putin’s announcement of a nuclear-powered cruise missile, which he said would represent a major breakthrough. Weapons experts he had spoken to after the speech, Golts said, “were all in shock, like me.”
The nearly two-hour speech to top Russian officials and members of parliament began with a series of promises to improve domestic living standards and ended with stark warnings to the United States. Russia, Putin asserted, had responded to U.S. development of missile defense shields by developing weapons impervious to them.
On the big screen behind him, video footage and computer graphics showed off the new weapons. In one animation, a missile launched from Russia 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.
The speech, broadcast on Russian television, comes less than three weeks before a March 18 presidential election that is expected to hand Putin his fourth term.