Aug 12, 2019

Russia's deadly explosion linked to "unstoppable" missile

Putin visits a missile facility in 2017. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev\TASS via Getty Images

At least 7 people, many or all of them scientists, were killed last week when a missile test resulted in an explosion near Russia’s Arctic coast, per the NYT. Little has been confirmed publicly about the explosion, except that it released radiation.

Between the lines: “The reference to radiation was striking — tests of missile engines don’t involve radiation. Well, with one exception: Last year, Russia announced it had tested a cruise missile powered by a nuclear reactor. ... NATO calls it the SSC-X-9 Skyfall,” Jeffrey Lewis writes for Foreign Policy.

  • That helps explain President Trump’s tweet today referring to a “Skyfall’ explosion,” which he said “has people worried about the air around the facility, and far beyond.”
  • Indeed, David Sanger and Andrew Kramer report in the Times that “the Russian government’s slow and secretive response has set off anxiety in nearby cities and towns — and attracted the attention of analysts in Washington and Europe who believe the explosion may offer a glimpse of technological weaknesses in Russia’s new arms program.”

Lewis is one such analyst. He writes that “a nuclear-powered cruise missile is an outrageous idea, one the United States long ago considered and rejected as a technical, strategic, and environmental nightmare."

  • "Vladimir Putin’s Russia, though, thinks differently.”
  • “The United States and Russia seem to be drifting into a new arms race, either out of some bizarre nostalgia or because no one can think of anything better to do.”
  • “When we think about the dangers of the arms race, we think about the possibility of a civilization-ending cataclysm. But even though the Cold War didn’t end in wide-scale catastrophe, it still resulted in a series of small-scale catastrophes for many of the people who lived it.”

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Russia denies U.S. senators visas ahead of congressional visit

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said in a statement Tuesday Russia had refused to grant him a visa to visit the country as part of a bipartisan congressional delegation.

Why it matters: Murphy's statement comes a day after fellow Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said Russia had refused to grant him a visa. President Trump has been trying to press G7 members to let Russia rejoin the group, after it was disinvited in 2014 from attending the summit for annexing Crimea.

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U.S. tests missile previously banned under arms treaty with Russia

The Defense Department conducts a flight test of a conventionally configured ground-launched cruise missile at San Nicolas Island, California. Photo: Defense Department

The Pentagon said Monday it had successfully tested a conventionally configured ground-launched cruise missile with a range of more than 300 miles at San Nicolas Island, California.

Why it matters: Sunday's test is the first of its kind since the U.S. officially pulled out of the Cold War-era Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia, under which it would have been prohibited.

  • Per Bloomberg, this signals a determination by the U.S. to develop intermediate-range capabilities. The Pentagon plans to test an intermediate-range ballistic missile in November.

Go deeper: U.S. exit from INF Treaty frees Russia from key nuclear constraints

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Trump says Russia is out of G7 because "Putin outsmarted Obama"

Trump and Putin at the G20. Photo: Kremlin Press Office/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

President Trump claimed today that Russian President Vladimir Putin "outsmarted" President Obama when he annexed Crimea in 2014 and that Russia was expelled from the G8 because Obama was upset at having been outmaneuvered.

Why it matters: Trump wants Russia to be allowed to rejoin the G7 club, and he has repeatedly declined to blame Putin personally for the incursions into Ukraine that united the other G8 members against him. Trump said Putin had been "a good member of the G8" and that the world is better off with Russia "inside rather than outside."

Go deeper: Highlights from Trump-Macron press conference.

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