Putin’s nuke boasts unlikely to change balance of power


Associated Press

WASHINGTON

Russia’s claim to have developed new strategic weapons impervious to Western defenses seems unlikely to change the balance of global power.

Russian nuclear missiles already have the ability to annihilate the U.S., and U.S. defense strategy is based mainly on the deterrent threat of massive nuclear retaliation, not on an impenetrable shield against Russian missiles.

Some analysts said President Vladimir Putin’s statements about the new weapons may speed up what they see as an emerging arms race with the United States. Just last month, the United States cast Russia as the main reason it needs to develop two new nuclear weapons: a lower-yield warhead for a submarine-launched ballistic missile and a sea-launched nuclear cruise missile.

The Trump administration has vowed to expand U.S. nuclear strength, while criticizing Russia’s buildup. Putin’s remarks seem unlikely to change that equation or divert the Trump administration from its path toward modernizing the full U.S. nuclear arsenal at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars while also expanding missile defenses.

Putin, in a state-of-the-nation speech Thursday in Moscow just days before he is expected to win another six-year presidential term, said his new weapons include a nuclear-powered cruise missile, a nuclear-powered underwater drone that could be armed with a nuclear warhead, and a hypersonic missile that has no equivalent in the world.

The Pentagon recently mentioned Russia’s work on two of those weapons: the underwater drone with intercontinental range and a hypersonic “glide vehicle,” which is a weapon that Washington and Beijing also are working on. The Pentagon has not publicly talked about the nuclear-powered cruise missile mentioned by Putin. It is reminiscent of U.S. work in the 1960s on a similar weapon, dubbed “The Big Stick,” but ultimately scrapped.

The White House dismissed Putin’s comments.

“President Putin has confirmed what the United States government has known all along, which Russia has denied: Russia has been developing destabilizing weapons systems for over a decade in direct violations of its treaty obligations,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, said in response to Putin’s announcement.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert noted that Putin was speaking ahead of the March 18 election.

Although Putin said his announcement was intended to get America’s attention, he also said he was open to talks with the U.S.

Putin claimed his new weapons will render U.S. and European defenses useless, suggesting an escalation of the stakes in a long-running struggle for stability in the post-Cold War world. Moscow has long threatened to find technological ways around Western missile defenses that it sees as threatening and that the West denies are aimed at Russia.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration told Congress on Thursday that it plans to sell Ukraine 210 anti-tank missiles to help it defend its territory from Russia, in a major escalation of U.S. lethal assistance to Ukraine’s military.

The long-awaited move, which lawmakers of both parties have been urging for years, deepens America’s involvement in the military conflict and may further strain relations with Moscow.

The $47 billion sale includes the 210 American-made Javelin missiles along with 37 command launch units.

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