How dangerous is Vladimir Putin’s new nuclear weapon?

Russian state TV claims ‘Satan II’ atomic missile could wipe UK off map

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin warned Russia’s enemies to ‘think again’ before threatening his country
(Image credit: Mikhail Tereshchenko/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

A single strike from Vladimir Putin’s new RS-28 Samrat nuclear missile could wipe the UK off the face of the Earth, according to Russian TV pundits.

Hours after the Russian president warned that any country seeking to intervene in Ukraine would face a “lightning-fast” response, pro-Putin presenter Vladimir Solovyov claimed that “one Sarmat means minus one Great Britain”.

Following a test launch last week, the Sarmat – nicknamed “Satan II” by Western analysts – was lauded by the Russian Ministry of Defence as “the most powerful missile with the longest range of destruction of targets in the world”.

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Putin claimed that the intercontinental ballistic missile, which can fire up to 15 nuclear warheads in a single strike, could “overcome all modern means of missile defence”.

Introducing Satan II

According to Russian news agency Tass, the Satan II missile has been in development since the 2000s and is intended to replace the Soviet-designed Voevoda, which can carry up to three warheads.

The new missile weighs 200 metric tons and has a reported range of more than 6,200 miles, enough to “fly over the North or South poles and strike targets anywhere in the world”, said The Washington Post.

Moscow originally planned to finish trials of the Satan II in 2021, but then postponed the launch for undisclosed reasons.

Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti reported that this week’s launch took place at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Arkhangelsk Oblast, in northwestern Russia. The missile landed in the Kura firing range on the Kamchatka Peninsula, in the far east of the country.

New threat?

Following the launch, Dmitry Rogozin, director of Russian space agency Roscosmos, tweeted that the new weapon was a “present to Nato and all sponsors of Ukro-Nazism” – a reference to Russia’s propaganda claims about the war in Ukraine.

Putin said that the “truly unique weapon will strengthen the combat potential of our armed forces, reliably ensure Russia’s security from external threats and provide food for thought for those who, in the heat of frenzied aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten our country”.

Ian Williams, a fellow at the Washington D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, told The Telegraph that the missile “is probably the most destructive single weapon on Earth”. It “could destroy ten cities with one missile” as the warheads it carries can be “independently targeted”, he added.

But Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that the US has been notified in advance of the launch and viewed the test as “routine” and not a threat.

The launch was also played down by Julian Lewis, chair of the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee. Lewis told The Telegraph that "Russia and the Western nuclear states have had the ability to annihilate each other ever since they acquired strategic nuclear bombers, followed by intercontinental ballistic missiles, over 60 years ago”.

“Putin adding this new missile to his pre-existing ‘overkill’ capability makes absolutely no difference to the effectiveness of our Trident nuclear deterrent submarines,” he said.

William Alberque, a missile expert at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, agreed that “this is kind of overkill”, because “we couldn’t stop a Russian strike anyway”.

“It is purely intended by Russia to maintain its status as a superpower, to remind the US that they are still building things to kill Americans,” Alberque told The Times.

“Putin’s worst fear is being ignored, becoming nobody. And this will guarantee that people will have nightmares about him.”

The launch “should also be seen in light of Russia’s recent military failures”, said CNN’s senior global military affairs writer Brad Lendon. Analysts believe that the test “was likely being used by Putin as a distraction for his domestic audience”, he reported.

Phillips O'Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St Andrews, drew parallels with tactics employed by Nazi Germany in the Second World War, tweeting that “so much of this reeks of Hitler’s ‘wonder weapons’”.

O'Brien told CNN that Hitler’s weapons were “German propaganda to make it look like Germany had a chance of winning the war when things were going very badly. These weapons often existed, but their impact was used to distract the German people.”

Likewise, Putin was “trying to make the Russians confident and proud in their technological prowess, when the war is highlighting constant shortcomings with the Russian military's ability to operate complex systems”, he said.

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