Moscow’s TV ‘mistake’

Russian President Vladimir Putin 3

The Kremlin says secret plans for a Russian long-range nuclear torpedo – called “Status-6” – should not have appeared on Russian TV news; however, it seems likely that the leak was done on purpose. The purported leak happened during a report about President Vladimir Putin meeting military chiefs in Sochi. Viewers heard a Russian general speak of a “devastating” torpedo system. Launched by a submarine, it would be designed to “destroy important economic installations of the enemy in coastal areas and cause guaranteed devastating damage to a country’s territory by creating wide areas of radioactive contamination”.

That would be a frightening weapon. The destructive power attributed to the new torpedo’s warhead would fit the description of a cobalt bomb. A cobalt bomb has never been tested because of the devastating radiation it would unleash. Such a weapon would guarantee, according to reports, that everything living would be killed. There would be no survivors in bunkers, even if command posts and the entire leadership of a country from where the bomb was launched were annihilated.

It remains unclear if such a system is indeed being developed or if it was presented as just one of the options the Russian military could hypothetically offer. But such a weapon of devastation would send a strong message to Russia’s enemies. Just before the torpedo diagram came into view in the state TV report, Putin could be heard telling the generals that the US and its NATO allies were forging ahead with a global anti-missile defense system, ignoring Russia’s concerns and its “offers of co-operation”. He said the Western defense project was an attempt to undermine the existing parity in strategic nuclear weapons and essentially to upset the whole system of global and regional stability.

The US is developing the sea-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system to counter the perceived threat of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles from Iran or elsewhere. But Putin dismisses that NATO argument because the international deal agreed this year imposes limits on Iran’s nuclear program. So US references to an Iranian or North Korean nuclear missile threat are possibly just being used to neutralize the strategic nuclear potential of other nuclear states which would include Russia.

As part of a wide-reaching program to modernize the country’s military, Russia has increased its defense spending substantially under Putin. This month it signed a contract to supply Iran with sophisticated S-300 surface-to-air missiles after international sanctions on Iran were lifted following the nuclear program deal. And Russia will put more than 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles into service this year. As tensions run high over Russia’s role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, NATO has condemned Russia’s move to strengthen its nuclear arsenal, saying it amounted to nuclear saber-rattling and that it was unjustified and dangerous.

It is thus quite possible that the material put on Russian TV was “accidentally” leaked, a veiled attempt at saber-rattling. What better way to unnerve Russia’s opponents than by unveiling a torpedo with a cobalt bomb warhead as was envisaged in the 1950s, during the Cold War by the famous dissident and peace activist, nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov? A warhead of up to 100 megatons of that kind could produce a tsunami up to 500m high, wiping out all living things. It could strike 1,500km deep inside US territory, and could devastate the US coast with intense radiation.

It’s hard to believe that the intensely secretive Kremlin would allow a sensitive nuclear weapons program to be aired on TV by mistake. The leak looks deliberate, a tactic to strike fear in Russia’s enemies and a warning to the US not to seek a nuclear advantage.


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