With less than a month to go before a presidential election, Russian President Vladimir Putin stood before his country’s Federal Assembly and said the military had developed new nuclear weapons capable surpassing American defenses and that the public could enter a contest to name them.
The speech is an annual tradition similar to the US President’s State of the Union. Putin spent the back half of his two hour speech telling the world about Russia’s newest military capabilities and he was not subtle about who those weapons were aimed at.
The first weapon Putin praised was the RS-28 Sarmat, a heavy intercontinental ballistic missile designed to deliver a nuclear explosion anywhere in the world. “With the capabilities for beating missile defense systems, this new system can be used under any conditions,” Putin said. “Let’s now watch a video.”
The crowd clapped as footage of mobile ICBM launchers sat in the snowy Russian wilderness. A missle lifted from ground and into the air and the video cut to computer animation of the same missile flying around the Earth. Its target was Florida’s West coast, an area—Gizmodo pointed out—that’s very close to Trump’s "Winter White House" Mar-a-Lago. It's also important to note that Russia has used this particular 3D rendering of missiles coming down on Florida for years. Here's a video of the same animation uploaded to YouTube 2015.
Putin spent the ten minutes leading up to this video telling the world the US only had itself to blame for the new heavy ICBM. In 1972, Moscow and Washington signed an anti-ballistic missile treaty that limited the amount of anti-ballistic missile shielding each country could use. In 2001, the Bush administration pulled out of the treaty.
In the decades after, US and NATO allies have placed strategic missiles defense systems around Russia’s border.
“US global defense systems are mainly against ballistic missiles,” Putin explained. “And ballistic missiles are the core of our nuclear deterrent...this is why Russia has been developing...extremely effective methods to defeat missile defense and all our ICBMs are equipped with such systems now.”
Putin was just getting started. He also showed off a nuclear-powered cruise missile with “unlimited range and unpredictable trajectory.” According to Putin, the new missile is similar to the Tomahawks Trump launched against Syria, but capable of traveling vast distances and avoiding interception.
The next weapon he revealed was a silent, swift, and nuclear-powered unmanned stealth submarine. According to Putin, the drone sub is faster than a torpedo and capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear weapons.
The crowd clapped and Putin revealed a contest to name the weapons of war. “The names for these two new nuclear weapons systems, the global cruise missile and the sub-surface unmanned vehicle, we don’t have the names for them yet,” he said. “So you can send in your proposal to the website of the defense ministry.”
Putin was crystal clear about who these weapons were meant to defend against. “We’ve repeatedly warned the US and the European NATO members, that we will take steps to neutralize threats that arise from the deployment of their missile defense system,” he said “Everyone ignored us. No one wanted to listen to us. So, listen to us now.”
It’s important to note a few things here. First, Putin is up for reelection in March and this speech to Federal Assembly must be read as part of his campaign. Defense analysts have known about many of these weapon systems for a few years now, but it’s hard to judge their actual value short of, you know, going to war.
In all the footage Putin showed during the speech, real life always gave way to computer generated footage. A real missile launched from the ground, but a CGI missile penetrated Florida. A real submarine crew sat twisting dials, but the tiny stealth submarine was pure computer graphics.
Russian state TV has a habit of airing fake clips of real war. Earlier this week, it aired footage from a video game and tried to pass it off as video of the war in Syria. “I can assure you that all these things really exist and all these things work very well,” Putin said. He might be right but, from the outside looking in, it’s impossible to tell.