Russia has tested experimental nuclear-powered cruise missile, says Putin

Russia has successfully tested an experimental nuclear-powered cruise missile, Vladimir Putin said, and warned that the country’s parliament could revoke its ratification of a treaty banning nuclear tests.

In a speech at a forum of foreign policy experts, Mr Putin announced that Moscow has effectively completed the development of the Burevestnik cruise missile and the Sarmat heavy intercontinental ballistic missile and will work on putting them into production.

“We conducted the last successful test of the Burevestnik nuclear-powered global-range cruise missile,” he said without elaborating.

His statement was the first announcement of a successful test of the Burevestnik, which translates as Storm Petrel. It was first mentioned by Mr Putin in 2018.

Little is known about the Burevestnik, which was code-named Skyfall by Nato, and many western experts have been sceptical about it, noting that a nuclear engine could be highly unreliable.

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Vladimir Putin at the annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in the Black Sea resort of Sochi (Grigory Sysoyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo/AP)

When Mr Putin first revealed that Russia was working on the weapon in his 2018 state-of-the-nation address, he claimed it would have an unlimited range, allowing it to circle the globe undetected by missile defence systems.

Many observers have argued that such a weapon could be difficult to handle and would pose an environmental threat.

The US and the Soviet Union worked on nuclear-powered rocket engines during the Cold War, but they eventually shelved the projects, considering them too hazardous.

The Burevestnik reportedly suffered an explosion in August 2019 during tests at a Russian navy range on the White Sea, killing five nuclear engineers and two servicemen and causing a brief spike in radioactivity that fuelled fears in a nearby city.

Russian officials never identified the weapon involved, but the US said it was the Burevestnik.

In the speech on Thursday, Mr Putin noted the US has signed but not ratified the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban, while Moscow has signed and ratified it. He argued that Russia could mirror the stand taken by Washington.

“Theoretically, we may revoke the ratification,” he said.

Moscow last tested a nuclear weapon in 1990, before the collapse of the Soviet Union a year later. It ratified the global test ban in 2000.

Mr Putin’s statement comes amid widespread concerns that Russia could resume nuclear tests to try to discourage the West from continuing to offer military support to Ukraine after the Kremlin sent troops into the country.

The president said that while some experts have talked about the need to conduct nuclear tests, he has not yet formed an opinion on the issue.

“I’m not ready to say yet whether it’s necessary for us to conduct tests or not,” he said.

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