Russia appears to have accidentally revealed “secret” plans for a new submarine-fired nuclear torpedo – although sceptics believe that the weapon was displayed deliberately to unnerve the West.
Footage shot over the shoulder of a military officer, and broadcast on the state television channels NTV and Channel One, caught illustrations of a weapons system called Status-6. The document, which was visible for several seconds, said the weapon was designed for hitting coastal targets and “creating zones of wide radioactive contamination” that would prevent military and economic activity “for a long time”.
The nuclear-tipped guided torpedoes seen in the report “would be capable of literally wiping out the coast of the United States”, the RBC news agency reported, citing a military-industrial source. They would be launched from an Oscar-II class submarine.
The video has since been deleted, and the Kremlin claimed that the plans had been shown by mistake. “It’s true that some secret information was caught by the camera and therefore it was subsequently removed,” Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman to President Putin, said.
Bloggers in and outside Russia doubted that the plans slipped on air by mistake. “Kremlin-controlled TV channels do not show secret plans for nuclear torpedos accidentally,” one wrote.
“It’s in the best traditions of the land of the Potemkin village,” said Frank Miller, a retired senior US defence official, referring to the fake settlement said to have been built in Crimea to impress Catherine the Great.
“Having watched the video I can only conclude this is a well-rehearsed, well-orchestrated propaganda film. The view [of the presentation] was not accidental, it was planned. I think it’s premature to decide whether the weapon is real or fiction, but clearly Mr Putin wants us to think that it is real.”
The film was shown during a report on a government meeting attended by Mr Putin about development of the military-industrial complex. Screenshots of the video showed that the Status-6 torpedo, described by some experts as a kind of underwater drone, is being developed by Rubin, the naval arms manufacturer that makes atomic submarines with ballistic and cruise missiles.
Talking to young people at a patriotic youth camp last year, Mr Putin said that Russia’s rivals “should understand it’s best not to mess with us”. He added: “I want to remind you that Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers.”
In April this year, The Times revealed that Russian security figures had warned that Mr Putin was ready to respond forcefully to any further Nato build-up in the Baltics. They envisaged “a spectrum of responses from nuclear to non-military”, according to American notes of a meeting between Russian and US former security chiefs.
Two months later, Nato accused the Kremlin of “nuclear sabre-rattling” when Mr Putin promised to deploy at least 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles this year.