In April 2022, two months after Russia escalated its invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin test fired a RS-28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a weapon the West calls the Satan 2. After the test, Russian state TV showed off never before seen footage of the internal workings of the massive nuclear weapon the Satan 2 is meant to replace, the R-36M2.
The world noticed the launch of the Satan 2 but the rare look at the Satan, NATO’s designation for the R-36M2, went largely unnoticed. Russian military blogger Dmitry Kornev captured still images from the video and posted them to his blog and twitter account on November 20. The images are an unprecedented look at the inner workings of one of the biggest deployed nuclear weapons in the world. The Satan missile is about 112 feet long and weighs just over 211 tons. America’s largest ICBM, the LGM-30G Minuteman III, is just short of 60 feet and only weighs around 40 tons.
The images showed off the interior of the missile where its nuclear warheads are stored. ICBMs are capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads. An ICBM is launched from the ground, arcs through the atmosphere, and descends at its target. As it descends, multiple warheads break off of it and hit their targets. Satan can carry 14 nuclear warheads.
This kind of detailed view of a deployed Russian nuclear weapon is unprecedented. It’s part of a new kind of nuclear brinkmanship that is becoming increasingly common. In the past few years, Russia has repeatedly reminded America that it has gigantic nuclear weapons.
The Kremlin plans to replace the R-36M2 with the RS-28 Sarmat, a missile NATO has called the “Satan 2.” It’s a missile Putin praised during a 2018 video presentation where he showed off a computer visualization of the nuke wiping out Mar-a-Lago. In 2020, Moscow declassified footage of the Tsar Bomba, the largest nuclear weapon ever tested. The resultant fireball was five miles wide and the mushroom cloud was 42 miles high. Tensions between Russia and the West have gotten worse since the Kremlin escalated its war in Ukraine earlier this year. Putin has repeatedly invoked nuclear war when talking about Western involvement in the war.
America has taken a more complicated approach to its nuclear signaling. Around the same time as Russia’s Satan 2 test, the Pentagon announced it would delay its own ICBM test. Then, in September, it notified Russia it was going to go ahead and test some ICBMs. A month later, U.S. Central Command revealed it has a secretive nuclear-armed submarine in the Arabian Sea. It did this in a tweet.
At the same time, Russia and America are set to sit down in Egypt later this year to hash out the details of the New START treaty. New START is the last remaining nuclear weapons treaty between the two countries. It limits the amount of deployed nuclear warheads in the world with the aim of reducing that number over time. The treaty was in doubt several times during the Trump presidency and enforcement, which relies on both countries inspecting each other's nuclear sites, stopped during the pandemic.