A Closer Look At Russia’s New Weapons

Written by Global Security

On 01 March 2018 Russian President Vladimir Putin dedicated around one-third of his nearly two-hour address to a joint session of parliament and other VIPs to descriptions and animations or other video clips of new “strategic weapons,” most of which he suggested were nuclear-capable. Putin added, “Understand that everything I have said today is not a bluff… no one in the world possesses anything remotely similar ….”

All of the weapons had a substantial “Gee Whiz” quality to them, as they were unlike other weapons deployed by other countries. But there is a good reason no one else has such weapons. Of the six weapons, the Sarmat heavy ICBM is old news [the last American heavy ICBM was retired three decades ago], the Avanguard maneuvering reentry vehicle and the Combat Laser Complex are instances of technolgical exuberance with little military significance, and the other three are probably hoaxes.

During the Cold War the West was bedeviled by Soviet weapons hoaxes and disinformation. Now it looks like Moscow is up to its old tricks.

With his announcement that Russia has developed new strategic weapons, including a nuclear-powered missile that he said can fly indefinitely and evade U.S. missile defenses, President Vladimir Putin grabbed the attention of policymakers, military experts, and legislators from Washington to Berlin. “We’ve really seen an about-face, particularly in the last 10 years, where the arms-control regime that we inherited from the Cold War is under severe stress,” John Baker, an analyst and strategist with the Ploughshares Fund, a disarmament advocacy group, told RFE/RL. “We’re at the beginning of a new arms race,” he warned.

But Matthew Kroenig, a professor at Georgetown University and author of the book The Logic Of American Nuclear Strategy, suggested the United States and Russia were already well into an arms race, whether or not Washington was aware of it. “Russia has been in an arms race with the United States for the past decade, and we are just now waking up to that fact. So we may be entering a new arms race, but that is not the worst possible outcome,” Kroenig said. “The worst outcome is doing nothing as an enemy builds weapons to engage in aggression against you and your allies.”

In the first part of the speech read before hundreds of senior officials and legislators, Putin was assisted by computer videos and images transmitted on giant interactive platforms in a conference room near the Kremlin. Putin promised to increase life expectancy by 10 years, increase Russia’s GDP by 50% by 2025 and halve the poverty rate. At the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1961, Nikita Khrushchev promised that “The current generation of Soviet people will live under communism”.

In the second part of the speech, the Russian leader used interactive platforms to show Russia’s latest weapons. Some of these had been unveiled to the public for the first time. Such a multi-media presentation was without precedent for the Moscow leadership. Since the 1950s, Moscow’s might had been demonstrated in May Day or Victory Day parades, with flyovers of new aircraft and dragging rockets through Red Square. But the challenge facing Putin was that the advances he wished to proclaim did not lend themselves to such prosaic presentation. Arthur C Clarke observed that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” and Putin was bumping up against Clarke’s Third Law.

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