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Russian President Vladimir Puti. Photo: Alexei Druzhinin / TASS via Getty Images

During an annual state address this week, President Vladimir Putin unveiled Russia’s pursuit of new nuclear weapons systems, couched as a response to the increasingly adversarial “American machine.” During the speech, Putin presented animated videos demonstrating how such weapons could successfully target parts of the United States.

Among the capabilities in development are a liquid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile that is more difficult to intercept and a nuclear-powered cruise missile with the ability to penetrate “all existing and prospective missile defense and counter-air defense systems.”

Why it matters: Putin maintains that the decision to enhance the Russian nuclear arsenal is a natural reaction to the evolving threat posed by the U.S. — particularly Washington’s continued development of anti-ballistic missiles that could neutralize Russia’s existing nuclear forces.

Yet there are other factors that may have played into Putin's grandiose unveiling:

  • The Trump administration's Nuclear Posture Review, which details plans to develop new capabilities including “low-yield” nuclear weapons on submarines, and calls for the possible use of nuclear weapons as a retaliatory response to non-nuclear events.
  • Russian presidential elections, just several days away, bring out Putin’s showmanship of national strength to rally support. While he is poised to win the elections, the Kremlin is worried about low voter turnout.

What's next: The White House noted that Moscow's nuclear developments are nothing new and that U.S. defense capabilities remain strong, especially with a sizable budget increase. However, President Trump has not commented directly on the issue, as he has on tense exchanges with North Korea. Nuclear policy experts fear that aggressive signaling between the two countries could spiral into a new nuclear arms race, neglecting opportunities to instead pursue nuclear weapons reductions through arms control agreements.

Lovely Umayam is a nuclear policy analyst and project manager with the Promoting Security and Prosperity program at the Stimson Center.

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Why it matters: In the post-George-Floyd era, with policing under utmost scrutiny, the choosing of a police chief has become something akin to an election, with the need to build consensus around a candidate. And the candidate pool has gotten smaller.

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Move over, GameStop. The newest speculative game in town is NFTs — digital files that can be owned and traded on a plethora of new online platforms.

Why it matters: Most NFTs include some kind of still or moving image, which makes them similar to many physical art objects. Some of them, including a gif of Nyan Cat flying through the sky with a pop-tart body and rainbow trail, can be worth more than your house.

New coronavirus cases fall by 20%

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

New coronavirus infections continued their sharp decline over the past week, and are now back down to pre-Thanksgiving levels.

The big picture: Given the U.S.’ experience over the past year, it can be hard to trust anything that looks like good news, without fearing that another shoe is about to drop. But the U.S. really is doing something right lately. Cases are way down, vaccinations are way up, and that’s going to save a lot of lives.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

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