In a monumental 2-hour State of the Nation speech hosted at the Federal Assembly in Moscow, Russian president Vladimir Putin coolly hosted a powerful speech that was aimed at both domestic and foreign audiences. Putin nailed the opportunity to make his final case to the federation before Russian presidential elections on March 18th, while also using the platform to announce new and some unseen, state-of-the-art weapon systems to the world, particularly aimed at Washington.
The first half of the speech covered mostly domestic issues. Putin conveyed his message with a sharp openness, laying out Russia’s weaknesses whilst recommending the path forward, and laying out the progress being made towards those goals. Putin identified the need to keep up and embrace technological innovation, describing the recent advances as ‘civilizational’ in nature, that any nation falling behind and not embracing the advance will fall behind at a relative disadvantage in the global playground. This most likely includes embracing the rise of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, where it is known that Putin has already met with Ethereum founder, Vitalik Buterin to discuss its potential. Putin therefore recognises that in order to maintain Russia’s position of power in the new world order, openness and reform will be critical to success, in not falling behind the changes sweeping the globe.
Putin identified Russia’s greatest weakness as its traditionally insular and backward outlook. This of course has some historic grounding. Tsarist Russia was the last absolute monarchy in Europe to fall, while the rest of Europe’s monarchies incorporated constitutions. As Western Europe was undergoing the era of Enlightenment, science, reason and secularism, Tsarist Russia was stuck in the medieval times with no separation between the Orthodox Church and State. As the French revolution galvanised Europe and shook its monarchies to their core, Tsarist Russia was still ruling by the divine right of Kings and championing Europe’s last vestiges of absolute monarchies. As the industrial revolution swept the West, Tsarist Russia was still stuck in the pre-industrial era with an agrarian economy. The contrast finally culminated in the Crimean War, where the growing technological gap between the Western European armies of the French and British overwhelmed pre-industrial Russia in a humiliating defeat not far from home. The seeds of the French revolution would ultimately spread to Russia, where the old Tsarist empire would collapse, but not until 1917. Russia by then had finally embraced the industrial revolution.
By that time as well, Russia had chosen the lure of socialism over capitalism, which was favoured by the West. Again, this decision would haunt Russia, as socialism proved unworkable and the USSR dissolved in 1991, taking a huge toll on the nation yet again. It thus took Russia two imperial collapses and lots of turmoil to finally regain a more sustainable path on par with the West, which for a long time dominated and shaped the global politic, although the trend is now changing. And it was largely thanks to President Putin himself, who was the monumental figure in leading Russia back to the path of glory and out of the ruins of post-Soviet Russia. Putin is thus acutely aware of this history and its painful lessons for the Russian nation. For one thing has always remained consistent in Russian history – and that is, rule by a powerful, centralised figure. Vladimir Putin made sure to drive the point home, of the need to modernize and reform Russia to keep up with the world, especially in technology and standards of living.
Putin stressed the progress made in helping to lift the birthrate, and lifting millions of Russians out of poverty especially in the past decade. Although there was still work to be done, he made it quite clear that improving the standards of living and freedoms of Russians was now a key priority. He also touched on the importance of supporting young mothers, mortgage borrowers, upgrading infrastructure and and cutting red tape. As Russia is a complex multi-ethnic, multi-religious federation, Putin stressed the need for unity, and this was quite evident just by looking at the audience – a sea of faces from all major religions – Christianity, Islam, Judaism were present, as were a multitude of ethnicities, whether European, Turkic or Asian, all united under the Russian banner. And this is the Russia that many in the West fail to see, a Russia that still manages to function as a diverse and tolerant melting pot without the associated high rates of immigration and social tension as the West.
A new arms race or a clever gambit of deterrence?
By halfway however, Putin changed the tone to defense matters. He began to lament at how the West had played Russia during its weakest hour in the decade post-USSR. The main point he drove home was the fateful decision in 2002 by then US President George Bush, at the pinnacle of Neocon hubris, to unilaterally withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) originally signed in 1972. This was a cornerstone agreement between the two rival cold war superpowers that enshrined the concept of mutually assured destruction or M.A.D. Essentially, both sides agreed to not develop missile defenses against long range ICBMs, but were allowed to develop defences against short-to-medium range ICBMs. The point of this was to prevent a never-ending offensive-defensive arms race that would bankrupt both sides. The treaty largely held until Ronald Reagan in the 1980s announced the ‘Star Wars’ programme, against the spirit of ABM. Reagan was not a fan of M.A.D and preferred US primacy, unleashing a variety of space-based weapon designs (some quite fanciful) that some argue was the final straw that bankrupted the USSR, triggering an arms race it could no longer afford. And thus it became evident that the US was the side which cheated the deal in order to defeat its nemesis. And as the cold war ended, in 1993 Yeltsin signed the START II Treaty with the US. This was a strategic arms reduction treaty that would reduce bilateral ICBM and MIRV arsenals. So when Bush pulled out of the ABM altogether in 2002, Russia was left with no option other than to pull out of START II. Since then, the US has pursued a unilateral drive towards building up missile defenses and ring-fencing Russia from the east (Korea/Japan) to the west (Poland, Romania, Czechia) with an encroaching umbrella of anti-missile defense systems in what the aggressive Neocon cabal would most likely ensure a US nuclear first strike while preventing a Russian retaliatory strike. This not only constitutes a dangerous existential threat to the Russian nation, it also smacks of unparalleled arrogance and aggression given the proximity to Russia. While the US was pursuing this strategy, Russia began to secretly work on deterrent capabilities, just as Iran began to work on a secret nuclear programme to deter US aggression. And today Putin’s speech revealed the very fruits of that labour, in a shocking and ground-breaking blow to what was previously thought as unrivalled US hegemony.
Putin unleashed a barrage of known and some unseen and breakthrough Russian deterrent capabilities, – five in total, with hints of more in the works. Here is a summary:
The RS-28 SARMAT ICBM: This is a known project, intended to replace the older Soviet R-36 ICBM. However, it is an extremely heavy-duty ICBM (100 tonnes), boasting the biggest Russian ICBM warhead of all – a monster 10 tonne payload, thus being able to pack 10 such warheads in a single Sarmat by way of an MIRV system that would enable it to fly over the North Pole or the South Pole and evade US missile defence over Alaska, and the east coast. The Sarmat complements Russia’s upgraded Topol-class ICBM arsenal, forming the backbone to Russia’s strategic land-based nuclear deterrent. The US currently has only serves the Minuteman III ICBM.
Nuclear-powered cruise missile: The first of its kind. This is one of the unseen weapon systems, effectively rendering the US tomahawk cruise missile not only inferior, but now outdated. Russian engineers have apparently mastered nuclear-powered propulsion systems, compact enough to be fitted onto a cruise missile. The real kicker here is that this cruise missile will essentially have unlimited range, being able to strike anywhere in the world, while hugging terrain (as all cruise missiles do to avoid radar and counter-measures) and cruising at unpredictable trajectories to evade any threats, as Putin outlined. Nobody else in the world has this kind of technology yet. Apparently this was tested late last year.
Nuclear-powered unmanned submersible: Again, the first of its kind. Boasting speeds faster than any torpedo, submarine or surface ship in the world, this submersible is an ultra-quiet, unlimited range weapon that can be fitted with conventional or nuclear warheads. In effect, this will be like a single torpedo, mini-submarine, submersible nuclear weapon and reconnaissance vehicle all in one, without being manned. The possibilities this opens up in terms of deterrence are significant, provided that the sonic signature is advanced enough to not be easily detected. Again, nobody else in the world has this kind of technology yet. This stands to be a big threat to the US’s naval primacy and carrier groups, giving Russia, a traditionally land-based power, an effective deterrence against US maritime power. Apparently this was tested late last year.
Kinzhal Hypersonic Missile: While it is known that China, India and the US are also developing such weapons, this is the first fully operational hypersonic missile in the world, currently deployed in southern Russia. It is also different from the Zircon hypersonic missile that Russia is working on. The Kinzhal is an air-based missile that is likely powered by a SCRAMJET (supersonic ramjet) given that the video shows a MiG-31 high speed (Mach 3) interceptor launching the hypersonic missile, with a supposed range of several thousand kilometers. This weapon now renders US missile defense shields under threat, particularly around Russia, and provides a powerful deterrent against them. Apparently this was also tested late last year.
Avangard Hypersonic Glider: Again, the first of its kind and a true marvel of engineering. Putin hinted that work on this began as early as 2004, shortly after the US pulled out of AMB. This glider is launched towards low orbit space where it heats up to a staggering 2000-3000 degrees before gliding back down towards its target on Earth, using gravity and GLONASS (Russian GPS), at speeds of Mach 20 in what would be aptly described as an unstoppable meteorite-like weapon. I’m speculating that this can be fitted with both conventional and nuclear payloads, and due to the sheer energy involved, can also turn into a terrifying kinetic weapon by itself. This is a real strategic game-changer that now renders all current US missile defense systems utterly powerless.
Putin even hinted at more technology in the works that he won’t reveal. And while the US could eventually reproduce nuclear-powered propulsion or hypersonic missiles, the Russian engineers by that time will be far ahead. A summary of the key technological milestones: hypersonic missiles and compact nuclear-powered propulsion systems. This of course only scratches the surface with what is publicly known. There is much more to these systems that we don’t yet know. Putin even mentioned that the nuclear-powered weapons do not even have names yet, and that Russians can send proposals for the names by email!
The Pentagon issued a lame press-release about the US being ready against all attacks, but don’t be fooled, this announcement has jaws grinding at the Pentagon and DARPA. In just the following day, DARPA announced its starting an arms race and playing catch-up, so already the paranoid regime in Washington is taking the bait.
What could the US do, and what does Putin hope to achieve here? In an ironic twist of fate, this could propel the already-paranoia-to-the-neck Russophobic US establishment to outspend the Russians in a frantic effort to gain the upper hand. But that could do to the US what it did to the USSR – the crowding out of vital funding into a bloated, rogue military. Could Putin be pushing the US in this direction? It’s possible, but I don’t think that is his main aim. Russia does not seek an arms race – it clearly doesn’t have the same resources as the US. Russia seeks a level playing field. Recall the US pulling out of ABM unilaterally. Putin is merely reminding the US that its actions will be met with resistance and that any unilateral moves made in the spirit of violating the balance of power won’t go unnoticed. America has failed in every single policy aimed at Russia, it is time for a re-think. Russia is doing tremendously well given the situation it finds itself in, with sanctions, a smaller budget and a concerted propaganda war against her. I think Putin, like all good, rational statesmen, does not only bear the Russian national interest at heart, but also that of global security, and this is why I think Putin wants to ultimately bring the US back to the negotiating table for an ABM-type agreement now that Russian deterrence is clearly out of the bag, defiant, confident and resurgent, and US “containment” and “isolation” efforts have completely failed. But will the knee-jerk-prone US establishment be capable of swallowing their hubris and admitting that Russia is an equal power, now that it clearly is? This will be hard to do for a country which justifies much of its foreign policy racketeering because of Russia. The US political situation is already deeply toxic, given all the rampant Russophobia (“Russiagate”) nonsense, and for cool heads to prevail, a big portion of this will have to come crashing down, and any attempt to relent on rapprochement with Russia may be misconstrued by the Pentagon as capitulation. The US could panic and up the ante with rhetoric, arms races and more aggression, however, ultimately these weapons systems are real and will hopefully bring the rogue empire to de-escalate, because Putin just drew a big red line:
“It is my duty to state this: Any use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies, be it small-scale, medium-scale or any other scale, will be treated as a nuclear attack on our country. The response will be instant and with all the relevant consequences”
If the US Deep State chooses to ignore Russia, and continues on the current childish, unsustainable and frankly rogue and dangerous path its on, the world as we know it could enter one of the most dangerous times for humanity. A superpower in its death throes as a unipolar empire, lead by imbeciles with big egos and armed with a massive arsenal of deadly weapons, could do stupid things to preserve its former glory. Russia in that situation might find that it has much more support and allies than the US would hope.