(RepublicanJournal.org) – Russia’s government is once again issuing veiled threats of nuclear war. On September 1, a Kremlin official announced that Russia’s latest strategic nuclear weapon system, the “Sarmat” missile, is now operational. It’s a not-very-subtle reminder that, even if Russia is losing the war in Ukraine, it still has formidable nuclear forces. But does the new missile change the balance of power, or is it an empty threat?
What Is the Sarmat?
The RS-28 Sarmat missile, codenamed SS-X-29 by NATO and sometimes called Satan II by the media, is Russia’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile. It’s a massive weapon — at 229 tons it’s almost six times the weight of the US Minuteman III missile. It also has a much longer range, more than 11,000 miles against the Minuteman’s 8,700, and carries up to 24 warheads compared to the American missile’s three. These warheads can be Hypersonic Glide Vehicles, which Russia believes will be almost impossible to intercept.
Sarmat is a heavy ICBM, designed to replace the 1960s-era SS-18 Satan, which was designed to destroy hard targets, including US missile silos and the Cheyenne Mountain command center. The missiles are getting old, though, and their warheads are less accurate and more vulnerable to US defenses. The Sarmat isn’t adding a new capability to the Russian missile force; it’s replacing an old one that’s slowly fading away.
The Sarmat is now operational — but how many are there? Last May Russia claimed 50 of the missiles would soon be ready, but Russia’s prone to exaggeration. In 2021, the Kremlin said a hundred of the new T-14 tanks would be delivered by the end of 2022, but so far less than 20 have been built, half of them non-operational prototypes.
President Vladimir Putin might have 50 new Sarmats in his missile force, but then he might have five. It’s also worth pointing out that the Sarmat has only been flight-tested three times, and one of those tests is believed to have failed.
Putin’s Deadly Threats
Whether he has a credible force of Sarmats or not, though, Putin is certainly acting like he does. Russian officials and media have boasted that just one of the missiles could “drown” the UK “once and for all.” That’s a serious exaggeration of its destructive ability — no single missile can destroy an entire country — but it’s still a very powerful weapon, and Putin’s repeated claims that he’ll defend Russia’s territorial integrity with nuclear weapons is worrying. Russia might not have many Sarmats, but it’s alarming that any are in the hands of such an unstable regime.
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