News & Politics

Vladimir Putin Boasts of 'Invincible' Nuclear Weapons, Says He's 'Not Bluffing'

"You have failed to contain Russia," Putin said.

Photo Credit: The Russian Presidential Press and Information Office

In a troubling echo of Cold War posturing, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his country now has an array of state-of-the-art nuclear weapons that cannot be stopped or intercepted by any existing technology. He said the announcement is designed to guarantee that his country is taken seriously as a global power on the world stage.

"You have failed to contain Russia," Putin said.

The new weapons supposedly include new hypersonic missiles, nuclear-powered cruise missile, and a nuclear-powered underwater drone. However, it's not clear these devices are, in fact, real.

With an election coming up in just a few weeks, Putin is, as we would say in the United States, pandering. He likely thinks projecting an image of Russia as a superpower will strengthen his electoral victory — though, because of his government authoritarian grip over the political system, no one doubts that he will win.

But whether or not Putin really possesses the weapons he spoke of, everyone should be concerned that he sees boasting about his nuclear capabilities as advantageous.

"We're kind of sleepwalking into this new arms race," said Richard Burt, the chief U.S. arms control negotiator under President Ronald Reagan, on PBS Newshour. "I don't think either side in the near term is going to gain some important advantage. But in these conditions, we could lead to a situation where one or the other side felt that in a crisis—a serious disagreement—that the other was going to strike. And that's when people make mistakes."

The United States is far from blameless in this escalation. Many Russians saw the U.S. decision to pull out of the Anti- Ballistic Arms Control Treaty in 2002 as a provocative action. And while President Barack Obama said he wanted a "world without nuclear weapons," he also oversaw a $1 trillion plan to upgrade the country's nuclear arsenal.

President Donald Trump has made some noise about bettering relations with Russia in the past, but he has also bragged about the size of his "nuclear button" and called for the development of new nuclear weapons.

With these factors int he background, the old Cold War dynamics are prone to reassert themselves. What's particularly worrying, though, is that it's not clear anyone has a plan to ramp down tensions.

"What we need to do is find a way to get back into a serious conversation with the Russian on controlling nuclear weapons," said Burt.

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Cody Fenwick is a reporter and editor. Follow him on Twitter @codytfenwick.