It is no coincidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin chose an annual naval parade in St. Petersburg on Sunday to announce that the Russian Navy will be armed with hypersonic nuclear weapons and underwater nuclear drones going forward. This calculated public relations move was an opportunity for the Kremlin to assert Russia’s military strength on the global stage.
What New Russian Weapons are On Deck?
Some of these weapons are yet to be deployed, but they include the Poseidon underwater nuclear drone, designed to be carried by submarines, and the Tsirkon (Zircon) hypersonic cruise missile, which can be deployed on surface ships.
Many Western experts have questioned how effective they are, but the combination of speed, maneuverability and altitude of hypersonic missiles, capable of travelling more than five times the speed of sound, makes them hard to track and intercept.
In addition, the Russian Navy is receiving 40 new vessels this year.
Putin Wants to Reestablish the Russian Empire
Although Putin insists that he does not want to enter an arms race with US President Donald Trump, the Russian Government’s actions speak louder than its words. As Chaim Shinar wrote in the European Review, Putin’s actions in Georgia in 2008 and in the Ukraine in 2014, demonstrate that he wants to reestablish the nineteenth-century Russian Empire. In order to achieve his goals, the Russian President uses “soft force” and societal fermentation in Russian-speaking “near abroad” nation states of the former USSR. He has no respect for the principles of international law.
The BBC’s chilling report into Putin’s willingness to deploy nuclear weapons prove that his latest move to arm Russian navy vessels with hypersonic missiles is a bid to intimidate weaker countries and make them more vulnerable to Russian occupation in the future. The Russian President said in a documentary that he put his nation’s nuclear weapons on standby during tensions over the 2014 Crimean crisis. This information was revealed as the Ukraine and Russia agreed to a ceasefire over the Crimea that started on Monday.
How Should the US Respond?
Al-Jazeera reports that the biggest threat to Putin’s hypersonic vessels would be if the US deployed intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe. The Trump administration would be sensible to do such a thing, but the coronavirus has caused Washington to focus on the growing threat of China instead. The US President’s decision to withdraw American troops from Germany also suggests that Putin is not a priority for Trump right now.
The US in general has concentrated too much of its efforts on tackling Russia for the last ten years and the coronavirus has exposed its neglect of Beijing’s growing influence, but that does not mean Washington should ignore Moscow completely. As Owen Matthews argued in The Spectator, another one of Putin’s aspirations is to make the West destroy itself. This is because Western democracy is facing a crisis.
Russia is Preying on the West’s Chaos
Even though Russia has been affected by a collapse in oil prices and COVID-19, the Russian President’s message to his own people is that his country’s situation is far less chaotic than the West’s. He does this to portray democracy as weak to his own people. The EU’s problems and the polarizing divisions between the Republicans and the Democrats are music to Putin’s ears.
The UK Intelligence and Security Committee’s report revealed the extent of Russian interference in the 2014 Scottish referendum, as did the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into a Russian fake-news campaign that used social media to suppress black voter turnout in 2016. Blacktivist, a Facebook page that the group operated, racked up 11.2 million user engagements and more than 360,000 likes by September 2017.
Putin’s military expansion ties in with his wider aim of sowing the seeds of division in the West. As long as the West is facing a crisis and is distracted by COVID-19, China and other issues, it is easier for the Russian President to quietly expand Russia’s military and pray on weaker nations that may not be defended by NATO. It is time for the West to realize it is facing a dual threat from both Moscow and Beijing.