…. everything I have said today is not a bluff – it is not a bluff, believe me – and … those who live in the past … unable to look into the future … [should] stop rocking the boat we are all in which is called the Earth.”Vladimir Putin, 1 March 2018
Nearly two years ago The Washington Post published a piece on “Putin’s dangerous campaign to rehabilitate Stalin.” It pointed out that Stalin and Putin both murdered political opponents. Of course, Putin’s political killings have not been as numerous as Stalin’s; but why would Putin rehabilitate a communist mass murderer like Stalin? Perhaps because Stalin was Russia’s “great” leader during World War II. Perhaps Putin aspires to be such a leader himself. Essayist Simona Pipko, who met Stalin many years ago, once observed that Putin imitates Stalin’s mannerisms. And now, having studied Putin’s State of the Nation Address (which was delivered three years ago last month), it seems that Putin has Stalin’s flare for instilling fear (and perhaps his taste for killing on a grander scale; please see “How Many People Did Joseph Stalin Kill?”)
In his State of the Nation Address, Vladimir Putin said, “Russia ranks among the world’s leading nations with a powerful … defense potential,” Putin added, “The next few years will prove decisive.” Then the Russian leader adopted the tone of that kinder guy whose soul George W. Bush claimed to have glimpsed. Putin admonished his countrymen that Russia must not fall behind technologically. Cities must be expanded and other “large-scale” projects must be embraced. Putin spoke of “family farms” and shrinking the state’s share of the economy by state sponsorship of “start-up entrepreneurs.” With these and other deceptive flourishes, the Russian President plodded toward a stunning presentation. The speech turned from boring promises of a shiny socialist future (without using the “s” word), to Stalin’s trick of making his victims soil themselves.
“The operation in Syria has proved the increased capabilities of the Russian armed forces,” Putin stated. Then he spoke of improvements to various weapon systems: “The strategic missile troops received 80 new intercontinental ballistic missiles, 102 submarine-launched ballistic missiles and three Borei nuclear ballistic missile submarines. Twelve missile regiments have received the new Yars intercontinental ballistic missile. The number of long-range high-precision weapons carriers has increased by 12 times, while the number of guided cruise missiles increased by over 30 times.”
This opening was not much of an attention-grabber, especially for your average Westerner (who is asleep at the switch). However, when you consider the terrible state of America’s strategic deterrent, a feeling of uneasiness might begin – however slight. After all, America is still sporting ancient Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Even the thirty-year-old Trident II (D-5) is nothing to write home about. In fact, there has been no real augmentation of America’s nuclear deterrent – despite growing nuclear arsenals in North Korea and China. Even more dangerous, America’s nuclear warheads are approaching the end of their shelf-life in 2023, with no relief in sight until 2029. On Tuesday Senator Elizabeth Warren called for a reduction in America’s nuclear arsenal. In response, Admiral Charles Richard, who heads the U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that America was “at risk of losing credibility in the eyes of our adversaries.” Admiral Richard then explained that the country was woefully behind Russia, which is “aggressively engaged” in modernizing its nuclear forces.
Returning to Putin’s speech, the world could not have guessed what was coming next. With mocking irony Putin pointed to America’s “withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.” He said, almost with a wink, “We did our best to dissuade the Americans from withdrawing from the treaty. All in vain. The U.S. pulled out of the treaty in 2002.”
The Russian President was relishing the moment, underscoring the blind stupidity of American policy, and mocking America’s growing helplessness. Putin then spoke of the fall of the Soviet Union. Moscow had lost 23.8 percent of her national territory, he said, and 48.5 percent of her population, 41 percent of her GDP, 39.4 percent of her industrial potential, and 44.6 percent of her military capability. Putin then explained: “A civil war was raging in the Caucasus, and U.S. inspectors oversaw the operation of our leading uranium enrichment plants.” (But then, he forgot to say that America paid for those plants, as Russia claimed to be flat broke at the time.)
Like a stage magician, Putin was preparing a trick – or a series of tricks – for his audience: “Apparently,” he said, “our [Western] partners got the impression that it was impossible … for our country to revive its economy, industry, defense industry and Armed Forces to levels supporting the necessary strategic potential.”
Putin then unveiled his first trick: “During all these years … we have been working intensively on advanced equipment and arms, which allowed us to make a breakthrough in developing new models of strategic weapons.” And oh, what models! “In addition,” continued Putin, “we have embarked on the development of the next generation of missiles.” He called it the “Sarmat missile,” which “weighs over 200 tons.” (It will replace the old SS-18 “Satan” missiles next year.)
Putin then explained that Russia has been developing strategic arms “that do not use ballistic trajectories at all when moving toward a target.” Defensive systems, he said, “are useless against them, absolutely pointless.” Russian scientists, Putin said with pride, are “on the cutting edge.” He then outlined three new missiles: (1) a small-scale but heavy-duty “nuclear energy unit that can be installed in a missile,” giving it unlimited range; (2) a low-flying stealth missile that can carry nuclear warheads, with an “unpredictable trajectory”; (3) a nuclear-powered missile with unlimited range and unprecedented maneuverability. Putin calmly noted, “No other country has developed anything like this.”
The magician vaguely smiled and turned to his next trick: – Russia’s new submersible vehicles that can move at unprecedented depths [3,000 plus feet] – and, said Putin, “at a speed multiple times higher than the speed of submarines….” [That is, up to 185 kilometers per hour.] “It is really fantastic,” Putin remarked. “They are quiet, highly maneuverable and have hardly any vulnerabilities for the enemy to exploit. There is simply nothing in the world capable of withstanding them.”
It was magic, indeed. Putin began to talk about the speed of sound. Mach 1 is very fast, he said. It is 1,062 kilometers per hour. Imagine the trick of going Mach 5! “Military experts,” said Putin, “believe that it would be extremely powerful, and that its speed makes it invulnerable to current missile and air defense systems….” Yet, Putin’s trick was much bigger than this. “Friends,” Putin warmed to his audience, “Russia already has such a weapon.” Russia, in fact, has a “high-precision hypersonic aircraft missile system … the only one of its kind in the world. Its tests have been successfully completed, and, moreover, on December 1 of last year, these systems began their trial service at the airfields of the Southern Military District.” This new weapon is not merely five times faster than the speed of sound. It can travel at Mach 10! Russia has named this new missile system “the Dagger.” American aircraft carriers are defenseless against it.
Developing his theme further, Putin described Russia’s next strategic missile system with a gliding wing unit – also successfully tested. Then he addressed Russia’s “American and European partners who are NATO members.” With this new weapon, the Russian military will “neutralize” any threats posed by the deployment of U.S. global missile defense systems. The United States will not be able to defend itself or its allies. Furthermore, said Putin, “I am pleased to inform you that successfully completed experiments … enable us to confirm that in the near future … the Strategic Missile Forces will receive new hypersonic-speed, high-precision new weapons systems that can hit targets at intercontinental distance and can adjust their altitude and course as they travel.” Again, “no country in the world has such arms in their military arsenal.”
Putin presented one peerless weapon system after another. How can we account for it? Russia has almost no GNP. It is nothing but an overgrown Bulgaria. Surely, America cannot be so outclassed. Or did we miss something along the way? Did we delude ourselves?
“Nobody really wanted to talk to us about the core of the problem,” said Putin, “and nobody wanted to listen to us. So listen now.” If you thought a missile that goes Mach 10 was unprecedented, Russia has a missile that can go “in excess of Mach 20.” An animation of the new superweapon was then presented, with Putin apologizing that, “for obvious reasons we cannot show the outer appearance of this system here. This is still very important. I hope everyone understands this.” As if to summon the Devil himself, Putin spoke of something called Avangard. If other countries are developing new superweapons, he explained mysteriously, “We have every reason to believe that we are one step ahead there as well….”
For sheer effect, Putin nonchalantly announced, “We have achieved significant progress in laser weapons. It is not just a concept or a plan any more. It is not even in the early production stages.” A pregnant pause, as it were: “Since last year, our troops have been armed with laser weapons.”
Alas, our magician refused to offer more details. “It is not time yet,” he explained. Then, concluding this unprecedented display of military prowess, Putin said there are far more weapons “in development than I have mentioned today. But this is enough for now.” (In fact, Putin did not touch on Russia’s new anti-ballistic missile system, the S-500 Promethius. But then, this might have spoiled his pretense of innocence while accusing America of attempting to deploy its own rather ineffective anti-ballistic missiles.)
“Thousands,” said Putin, “literally thousands of our experts, outstanding scientists, designers, engineers, passionate and talented workers have been laboring for years, quietly, humbly, selflessly, with total dedication. There are many young professionals among them. They are our true heroes, along with our military.” He then thanked these heroes on behalf of the Russian people.
Then, engaging in ironic understatement, Putin said, “I hope that everything … said today would make any potential aggressor think twice….” With equal irony he said it was his duty to inform “our partners” of these new weapons. Russia has not violated any arms control agreements, he lied. Russia has no intention of using these weapons for “aggressive goals,” he promised. In fact, he continued, “We are not threatening anyone.”
Does Putin’s speech have a non-threatening feel?
Continuing in this ironic vein, Putin accused the United States – though not by name – of “seeking unilateral advantage against Russia.” And he said this with a straight face! Then, he turned from being a magician and a comedian to a lawyer. He warned that “restrictions and sanctions” introduced against Russia are “illegal from the standpoint of international law….” And then, with obvious satisfaction, Putin said: “Everything you have tried to prevent through such a policy has already happened. No one has managed to restrain Russia.”
His domestic audience was pleased. Occasional smiles and knowing looks were exchanged here and there. The old apparatchiks – the ones who knew all this was coming years ago – looked very bored. But then Putin turned his full attention on America. “We are greatly concerned by certain provisions of the revised [American] Nuclear Posture Review [of February 2018],” said Putin, menacingly. “Behind closed doors, one may say anything to calm down anyone, but we read what is written. And what is written is that this strategy can be put into action in response to conventional arms attacks and even to a cyber-threat. I should note that our military doctrine says Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons solely in response to a nuclear attack, or an attack with other weapons of mass destruction against [our] country or its allies, or an act of aggression against us with the use of conventional weapons that threaten the very existence of the state. This is all very clear and specific. As such, I see it as my duty to announce the following. Any use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies … will be considered as a nuclear attack on this country. Retaliation will be immediate, with all the attendant consequences. There should be no doubt about this whatsoever.”
Committing himself to “sustainable development for human civilization,” Putin then launched into an attack on the United States. “Our policies will never be based on claims to exceptionalism. We protect our interests…. We observe international law and believe in the inviolable central role of the UN.”
How internationalist. How noble. How disingenuous. Our effeminate and loose principled politicians say he stole the 2016 election for Trump when he only stole the strategic high-ground.
Then Putin pointed to Russia’s “comprehensive strategic partnership with the People’s Republic of China.” Of course, he opined, Russia’s relations with “many other countries in the world are entering a new dynamic stage.” He then spoke of Russia’s international reach. “Colleagues,” he said, looking to his elite Russian audience. “this is a turning point for the entire world and those who are willing and able to change….” Oh yes, “change is necessary,” he said. The next decade and the entire twenty-first century will “undoubtedly be an age of outstanding triumphs for Russia…. I believe it will be so. Thank you.”
And so, Putin himself has provided us with an answer to the question posed in last week’s essay, “Are Russia and China Igniting a Third World War?” To prepare such an astonishing array of weapons – which are clearly aimed at America – cannot be explained as a mere attempt at self-defense. Putin’s entire performance was a perfectly choreographed threat.
A few days ago, the U.S. Strategic Command sent an unprecedented tweet in the form of a “Posture Statement Preview” from their website:
The spectrum of conflict today is neither linear nor predictable. We must account for the possibility of conflict leading to considerations which could very rapidly drive an adversary to consider nuclear use as their least bad option.
The U.S. Strategic Command is admitting, without offering details, what was outlined in our essay of last week. Indeed, a nuclear war could begin at any time. What events would “drive an adversary to consider nuclear use as their least bad option”? The answer may be found in the “classics” of Soviet military literature, which support in every respect the choices made by Putin’s new weapon scientists.
To put Russia’s new weapons in perspective, a brief commentary on America’s new weapon systems is also in order. Let us start with the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), or, as one report put it, “How to Put Lipstick on a Pig.” It is a $34 billion dollar warship program that does not work as intended. It costs almost as much to operate as a guided missile destroyer, but without any real combat value. Or how about the “Too Expensive to Use” F-35 single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole boondoggle? Over its lifespan, this piece of junk will cost taxpayers $1.7 trillion. It was supposed to replace the F-16, but it “is slow, maneuvers sluggishly and cannot fire its new lightweight gatling gun without destroying the housing and the airplane.” In fact, this fighter has 12 “class one” life-threatening defects and 871 “flaws” which must be fixed before this jet-powered nightmare can be deployed as intended (if ever). Even more depressing, check out the new Ford class CVN (nuclear powered aircraft carrier). The ship’s “innovative” Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) does not work. There are also problems with the ship’s nuclear propulsion system, the elevator design, and much, much more. When will the Ford CVN be fixed? Well, it has been almost four years and the ship still has not successfully completed its post-delivery test and trial period. For those curious to read about more failed or outrageously expensive weapons systems, please read, “The Sobering Truth About the Pentagon’s Acquisition Failures.”
As a final comment, the United States is rapidly losing its strategic capability. In fact, the Russians and Chinese may be so superior that we cannot credibly deter them from using nuclear weapons on us. Russian military strategists have long held that strategic rocket (missile) weapons are the decisive weapons of the next war. Why? Because they are the fastest weapons on Earth and they hit the hardest. Senator Elizabeth Warren, of course, does not really think we need them. She wants us to rely on something else. Perhaps she has an Indian tomahawk in mind. But can the Pentagon procure one that works?
Special thanks to Barrett Moore for his assistance in the writing of this article.
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