I’ve had several PM’s and we’ve had comments by scared people in our Doomsday Debunked Facebook group who have read alarmist stories suggesting that Putin threatens to attack the US. If you have read these stories, it is worth listening to his actual speech to get the Russian perspective on it. It could hardly be more different. He presents it as, in his view, the only way to preserve peace.
It is worth listening to the speech yourself to get their perspective. The bit about the weapons systems starts at 1:15 approx and so lasts for about 38 minutes. It is in Russian with translation into English as parallel translation as he speaks and is easy to follow. I’m going by the English translation. I will summarize some of the main points.
He's not threatening war in this speech. It is the opposite. He's talking about a nuclear deterrent and about modernizing his missiles without increasing numbers so that it remains a deterrent against US aggression. He said they did this in response to the US building ABM defences that made their previous weapons obsolete by preventing them from ever getting to the US. He says they will never use nuclear weapons against a conventional attack (while the US have said they would) unless it is an attack that will literally wipe out Russia as an independent nation. But he says that if they are attacked with nuclear weapons they will respond in kind. That is just what countries say that rely on nuclear weapons as a deterrent - the US says the same.
He invites the US back to the negotiating table saying they are always open to talks. He talks about how he sees their deterrent as a way to continue to ensure world peace. That is his main focus, that he wants the US to return to negotiations with them and work towards limiting and reducing nuclear weapons in the future.
He talks briefly about how as a world we face many challenges together and it is a situation of increasing integration worldwide and that we need to work together. He sees nuclear negotiations as an essential part of that.
Here is an example of how his speech has been misreported. They get the technical details of the new weapons right but they don't clearly explain his motivation for developing them, which was the main focus of the talk. In particular they don't mention his request for the US to return to the negotiating table to find a way forward.
- Putin Nukes Florida in New Animated Video Showing Russia's Futuristic Weapons (Gizmodo)
- Vladimir Putin Is Campaigning on the Threat of Nuclear War (New Yorker) - this is currently top in Google News.
IN DETAIL - RESPONSE TO US WITHDRAWAL FROM ABM TREATY
Putin says the only reason they are doing it is because the US withdrew from the Anti Ballistic Missile treaty. This treaty gave the US and Russia the ability to defend just one area from ballistic missiles of the other - the US chose to defend a key missile site and Russia to defend Moscow.
At the breakup of the Soviet union when Russia was at a low ebb financially and militarily weak (he says) the US withdrew in 2002 and the Russians tried for some time to find a compromise way forward but no success. So - they were faced with the situation where the US were building more and more of these ABM systems to the extent that their nuclear deterrent was no longer a deterrent.
So they responded to this by developing these new weapons which are designed to evade the new defences put in place by the US to level the playing field with the US again.
THE NEW WEAPONS AND HOW THEY EVADE US ABM SYSTEMS
He goes into details about the weapons and his videos are designed to show how using various methods they can evade the US ABM defences. The four weapons are
- the cruise missile traveling at 5 times the speed of sound and capable of evading defences, nuclear powered with unlimited range,
- the new ICBM with a payload of 200 tons, so that it can split into multiple warheads on re-entry again to evade ABM defences,
- the supercavitating unmanned mini submarine able to be silent and travel at great speed in the sea (he doesn’t say how fast but faster than any submarine or torpedo),
- a new kind of ICBM (Avangarde) that flies up to the top of the atmosphere and then skips across the atmosphere with its temperature rising to 3000 C with a heat shield. It travels at Mach 20 which is just short of orbital velocity and he showed an animation of it skipping across the atmosphere (much like the way the Apollo missions skipped on the atmosphere to slow down their re-entry speed from the Moon before finally re-entering) - doing multiple skips and using aerodynamics to change direction to escape missile detection
He also mentions new laser weapons mounted on trucks but only briefly, and hypersonic missiles able to travel at Mach 10 with a range of 2000 km, which are more to do with conventional warfare than deterrence.
Three of the new weapon systems are unnamed and he asked the public to submit names - from top to bottom, the laser weapons, the fast mini sub, and the fast terrain dodging cruise missile. Tweet about it here
With all of the ones with nuclear weapons - the main focus is about how they can get through ABM defences. The reason for doing that is to prove to the US that despite their new ABM defences, the Russians still have a nuclear deterrent that they would use if they were attacked with nuclear weapons.
There’s been some skepticism about whether these new weapon systems really exist. He only shared animations - and said that they would not show the actual weapons for obvious reasons (presumably the idea that if he shared real images, it would reveal details of how they worked).
But that’s beside the point, whether they exist or not. His given reason for developing them is in response to the US withdrawal from the ABM treaty and to ensure they still have a nuclear deterrent against the US. He gavea s his purpose for this presentation, to tell the US that if they drop nuclear bombs on Russia or its allies, that they will respond and that their responses can’t be shot down by the ABM's.
Within that background it is just continuing conventional nuclear deterrence. This is exactly the same thing the US says to its aggressors.
PUNCH LINE - NOT TO THREATEN ANYONE - GUARANTEE OF PEACE - AND ASKING THE US TO RETURN TO THE NEGOTIATING TABLE
His punch line is at 1:52 in -and this, together with the introduction about the US withdrawing from the ABM treaty are the parts that most of the stories about his speech don’t mention.
He says they have no intention at all of using them to attack the US. He says they are not intending to threaten anyone and they have no plans and have never had plans to attack anybody and they are not going to take anything away from anybody - they have everything they need and this is a guarantee of peace in the world to restore the balance of power. He also says they are worried about the new nuclear posture review in which the US said it could use nuclear weapons in response to conventional attacks (the US has been much criticized for this, internationally, not just by Russia, and it's no surprise he picks up on it).
He says that Russia would only use nuclear weapons in response to nuclear weapons attacks on itself or its allies, or an attack with conventional weapons that poses an existential threat to Russia as a nation. He says that this is very clear and specific - i.e. if it's an attack that means the end of Russia as a separate nation, that's the only situation in which they would use nuclear weapons.
He then says any nuclear attack against Russia or its allies will be treated as a nuclear attack and they will take action instantaneously no matter what its consequences are. He says nobody should have any doubt about that. His message to the US is, let's not create new threats to the world, on the contrary, let's come to the negotiating table to develop a new international security system to allow for steady development of the world in the future.
He says they are just protecting their interests and that they also respect other countries' interests based on international law.
He talks about how as a world we face challenges together and we see integration taking place all over the world.
So, these stories, by stripping away the introduction and the conclusion and just focusing on the middle part, they are not presenting the speech as he intended it to be taken.
The stories present it almost as if it were a declaration of imminent war against the US. Far from it. The Russians see it as a way of preserving world peace and their main aim is to get the US to return to the negotiating table over nuclear weapons and to work towards a future where we work together to solve world problems while respecting each other’s integrity. I found it interesting to look at the reactions of the audience as he speaks, to get an idea of how his speech was understood by Russians. Although they speak a different language, the communication of facial expressions is international.
That is what he was saying in the speech. It should be reported accurately before trying to draw conclusions from it.
ARS TECHNICA - ONE OF THE MORE REASONABLE ARTICLES - BUT LEAVES OUT THE REQUEST FOR NEGOTIATIONS TO RESUME
Ars Technica have a decent response to this, explaining:
The US government and the Department of Defense's Missile Defense Agency have argued that the ballistic missile defenses the US has built in Europe (in the form of Aegis Ashore), at sea (aboard Aegis-equipped guided missile destroyers and cruisers), and at home (the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) interceptor) are really focused on countries such as Iran and North Korea—and not Russia or China.
But both Russia and China have objected heavily to US missile defense programs as they've crept closer to their respective homelands. And Russia's response, in a purely nuclear deterrence game theory way, is somewhat rational: if the US government felt that it could shoot down at least some inbound missiles from Russia, a certain US leader might become emboldened and believe that a nuclear war was winnable.
However, Russia's nuclear cruise and torpedo weapons are, from an arms control standpoint, not exactly deterrent-focused weapons. They're potentially first-strike weapons, capable of evading detection until the moment they strike. As fast as they are, they require long transit times and could be conceivably deployed in "loiter" mode, hanging out somewhere on station while simply awaiting a signal to strike.
Putin boasts new strategic weapons will make US missile defense “useless”
It seems a reasonable assessment - but - given that the US has the ABM's., how are they supposed to build deterrents except by making ones that evade the ABM defences, and so have to be non detectable until the last minute?
What they leave out there is the background that the US withdrew from the ABM treaty and that the Russians have been trying to get Trump to renew START 2 which is the treaty that limits nuclear weapons and that he has just not responded. It continues to the end of his current term in office, and until then the Russians will stay within the treaty - but what happens after that?
Putin's talk ends by asking the US to return to the negotiating table. The news stories reporting it generally skip all of that - don't mention the US withdrawal from the ABM treaty which he talked about at some length at the start of that section, and don't mention his focus on the need for world peace and his request to the US to return to the negotiating table and to talk and try to find a solution which was the main focus of the final part of his speech.
That's why I felt I needed to make this post, especially to help scared people. Some people become suicidal in their fear of nuclear war and it doesn't help when you get this inaccurate reporting - inaccurate by omission, which to vulnerable people especially seem to suggest that Russia is about to attack the US in an all out nuclear war. No they are not! He says that clearly.
NOT ARGUING FOR PUTIN'S VIEWS - I'M A LONG TERM NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT ADVOCATE SAYING WE SHOULDN'T USE NUCLEAR WEAPONS IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCES
Incidentally in case this reads as if I'm arguing for Putin's views - to put it in context, I'm a long term advocate of nuclear disarmament and I personally think like Jeremy Corbyn that the use of nuclear weapons even as a deterrent is immoral (he has said that if elected as PM of the UK he would never use the Trident nuclear missiles under any circumstances). I support unilateral disarmament of the UK especially and negotiated disarmament of the super powers as fast as is practical. For details see my
So, I'm not someone who agrees with Putin's views here - but I am not in agreement with the US stance either. I think that above all it is important that both are reported correctly if we are to make progress! In particular, the details are less important, the most important thing is that he wants to reopen talks and negotiation with the US and that this was his main focus in the talk. He says, clearly, that his aim in all this is to offer a credible nuclear deterrent in order to bring the US back to the negotiating table. And given their situation I think it is at least credible that this is their main motivation. It should not be ignored as if he never said it.
Of course there is a context to this. It's surely not coincidence that he makes this speech before he seeks re-election (which with the Russian system is a shoe in for him, but he wants a decent turnout for it). Also the US has rightly objected that these new weapons violate Russia's obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. which prohibits nuclear weapons and their launchers with ranges of 500 to 5500 km.
But that doesn't take away from the message which is one of peace, not of war, despite all the weapons he showcased.
Michael McFaul, Stanford Professor and US Ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, tweeted:
"Putin's announcement today about his new nuclear weapons aimed at us should be a wake up call to Trump. Time to stop pretending that Vlad can be His friend.&also time to restart arms control negotiations with Moscow. New START treaty needs amendment now. Immediately."
That is surely the response Putin was hoping for.
ASIDE ABOUT NORTH KOREA - NOT A RUSSIAN ALLY
Incidentally I should say at this point - some people get scared that a war in North Korea would develop into a global war. When Putin talked about defending their allies in his speech - North Korea is not an ally of Russia. It is not an ally of China either - though China has an old mutual defense pact with NK they have drifted far apart and there's general agreement amongst military experts that they would not honour it if NK were attacked. Instead, China's priority would be to secure the nuclear weapons themselves to make sure the North Koreans don't use them (they would get there before the Americans as they are closer to their border).
China would also probably want to secure a 50 km wide strip of North Korea along the Chinese border as a border region between them and Korea / US. Apart from that, they don't care. The main reason they drag their feet about the sanctions is because of concern about millions of North Korean refugees streaming into China. (I think the US would have a similar concern if it shared a border with NK).
North Korea in turn claim that they are socialist but not communist and they reject any suggestion that they could become part of China. Their main political philosophy is peaceful reunification with South Korea (which South Korea also have as an objective too, difficult though it may be to achieve) and independence from both China and the US. They also have an unusual religion, Chendoism, a variety of Confucianism, that distinguishes them from communist states. They are a totalitarian regime, for sure, but arguably not communist and at any rate the Chinese and Russians wouldn't see them as like them.
So - North Korea is definitely not included there as one of its "allies". And the situation is similar with North Korea - their nuclear weapons are meant only as a deterrent. The main concern about North Korea, the main thing that makes it different from Russia, is concern that it will sell its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons technology to others. There is no risk of it attacking the US unilaterally except by accident as it would be the end for them, and they know it.
- Winter Olympics Talks- Korean Hopes For Reunification- US Can't Attack Without Warning US Civilians In South Korea
If you get scared of stories like this you may find it helps to join our Doomsday Debunked Facebook group. The posts there are public, and if you want a closed group so that nobody sees what you post there except members then there's a closed version. There's also a "no scary posts" version where only debunks are posted and not the posts by people scared of stories they have read, and a Debunkers and debaters version where anything goes (because in the other groups you have to be careful what you say bearing in mind that members may be in the middle of a panic attack or feeling suicidal when they read your post). There's also a No debunks version for occasional help of people who have got so scared they don't want even to read debunks but just need mutual support during a panic attack.
We also welcome debunkers. It needs a lot of patience as sometimes scared people will ask the same questions over and over, until they get over their panic attacks, or may be unable to stop reading the sensationalist press and get scared of the most absurd stories and of course the worst thing to do when that happens is to LOL at them for believing such things, so it needs tact, and patience. If you feel you are up to it, do join the group as a debunker.