Russian President Vladimir Putin certainly captured the world’s attention with his state-of-the-nation address on Thursday. The speech centered on the unveiling of a supposedly new generation of Russian nuclear weapons designed to be invulnerable to all US defenses. Some of the weapons that Putin described seemed to spring straight from the script of a Dr Strangelove sequel. An ICBM with more range, and capable of carrying more warheads than any before it, a stealthy long-range cruise missile, and a high speed, extended-range torpedo ideal for use against port facilities and US carrier groups. Along with the unveiling of new weapons, Putin issued a stark warning that Russia would use these weapons, as well as its older nuclear weapons against Europe and the United States in response to an attack on Russia.
Putin’s saber-rattling was well received domestically, which makes sense considering the speech was geared towards the domestic audience. This is, after all, an election year for Putin, and even though he is expected to easily win another term, keeping his base satisfied is important. Internationally, the speech raised eyebrows, and triggered concern about an impending nuclear arms race. The US government reactions were somewhat blasé. For many in Washington, Putin’s talk of a fielding a new generation of nuclear weapons was nothing new, and lacked substance. This is not the first instance of Putin rattling his saber directly at the United States, and it likely will not be the last.
For Russia, Putin’s bluster came at just the right time. February was difficult month on the international front. Russian combat losses spiked in Syria as the conflict there teeters on the brink of expanding and escalating. The bloody stalemate continues in eastern Ukraine, and the first shipments of US weapons are expected to begin arriving in Ukraine within days. Putin’s speech will do much to perk up Russian citizens and help them forget that their country’s two major foreign adventures appear fated to drag on with no end in sight for quite some time yet.