Five years have passed since Russian President Vladimir Putin first shed light on the development of the Burevestnik missile. He recently announced the “final successful test” of this nuclear-powered cruise missile, contradicting a New York Times report predicting that a test was imminent.
The Burevestnik missile, introduced to the world in 2018, is touted for its potentially limitless range. The weapon is reportedly powered by a nuclear reactor and can carry a nuclear warhead. However, official details regarding its capabilities are sparse. Moreover, a number of previous tests are reported to have resulted in failure.
There is no independent verification of President Putin’s claims at this stage, nor has the Russian defence ministry commented on the matter. Nevertheless, satellite imagery circulated last month hinted at renewed Russian activities in a secluded Arctic island site, known for hosting Soviet-era nuclear tests. The images revealed recent construction on Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago situated in the northern Barents Sea.
In a live state television broadcast from the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Mr. Putin declared, “We have now virtually finished work on modern types of strategic weaponry about which I have spoken and which I announced a few years ago.” He claimed that the Burevestnik, a nuclear-powered cruise missile with global reach, had undergone a successful test.
NATO has code-named this missile as “Skyfall.” It is believed to be equipped with a nuclear reactor that becomes active once solid fuel rocket boosters propel the missile into the air. However, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, an arms control advocacy group quoted by the New York Times, has stated that the 13 known tests of this system from 2017 to 2019 were all unsuccessful.
In the same meeting, Putin also informed of the nearing completion of an intercontinental ballistic missile named Sarmat. Despite these revelations, Putin maintained that Russia had no intentions of altering its nuclear doctrine, or the circumstances under which Russia might resort to nuclear weapons. He dismissed the idea that the existence of Russia as a state was under any threat, stating, “no person of sound mind and clear memory” would contemplate a nuclear attack against Russia.
The Russian leader also hinted at the possibility of Russia withdrawing from the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty, arguing that the US had signed it but had yet to ratify it.
In other news disclosed during the Sochi meeting, Putin denied outside interference, such as a missile attack, in the plane crash that led to the death of Wagner Group leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in August. Putin stated that the victims were found to have “hand grenade fragments” in their bodies. He did not provide an explanation for how a grenade could have detonated onboard, but suggested that investigators should have conducted alcohol and drug tests on the victims. As of now, there is no published official report on the cause of the crash.