Russian Information Warfare and Nuclear Threats
Russia puts great emphasis on information warfare which is waged on a global basis 24/7. Russia is more or less simultaneously running an arms control and nuclear threat offensive, while not correcting its violations of the INF Treaty and stating that it will not close any of the loopholes in the New START Treaty.
The standard Russian nuclear missile targeting threat, conceived by the Commander of their Strategic Missile Force in 2007, has recently evolved in several ways. Hypersonic missiles are now a part of it. It has moved from targeting missile defense to targeting fictional U.S. ground-launched INF-range nuclear missile deployments in Europe. Even more dangerous is that the new “Gerasimov doctrine”, announced in March 2019 in a major speech, is based on deployment of forces beyond the boundaries of Russia, pre-emption and the threat of nuclear targeting of the U.S. National Command Authority, something that is only done if a nation is fighting an all-out nuclear war.
Between October 24, 2018 and March 2019, the nuclear missile targeting threat was made at least 11 times at the highest levels – by President Putin, by the Chief of the General Staff General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, by the Strategic Missile Force Commander Colonel General Sergei Karakayev, by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov and by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. This time the initial targeting threat was not made by the Commander of the Strategic Missile Force and repeated by Putin as it was in 2007. In 2018, Putin made the first threat and it was subsequently picked up by the generals.
In December 2018, Colonel General Sergei Karakayev said, “…following deployment of US intermediate missiles in Europe and the ensuing new threats to our security, are undoubtedly taken into account during the planning of the Strategic Missile Force use.” According to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, “There are hypersonic warheads, different types of air and underwater autonomous systems, the new heavy missile, which is being developed. Successful test-launches of the Avangard and Kinzhal systems were recently conducted. All this and much more makes up the set of forces and means that reliably neutralize any potential threat on the part of the U.S. and any other direction wherever they come from.”
In his February 2019 State of the Nation address to the Duma, President Putin hinted that the Tsirkon hypersonic missile would be used to launch surprise strikes against the U.S. national command authority (the President, the line of succession, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, senior military leaders, and the nuclear command and control system). Within days, a retired Russian admiral said that the Tsirkon would be capable of hitting command posts in the U.S. within five minutes from Russian submarines and “Russia’s Vesti Nedeli state TV station published a list of American targets it said the Kremlin could strike with hypersonic nuclear missiles within five minutes if war breaks out.” They were apparently command and control facilities.
In an important March 2019 speech, the Chief of the Russian General Staff General of the Army Valery Gerasimov said Russia was forced to “plan future delivery of strikes against decision making centers…” This is a very serious threat because Washington is undefended against hypersonic missiles and because of the lack of deep underground bunkers in Washington to protect the national command authority from a surprise nuclear attack. The President has to be removed from the Washington D.C. area before Russian warheads arrive and this means there must be enough warning time to carry out this evacuation. Command centers are only hit with nuclear weapons in the context of an all-out nuclear war.
Russia has been talking about strategic cruise missile submarines since 2011. With dual capable missiles, they would be a circumvention of the New START Treaty since they would not be limited by it. In April 2019, TASS reported that Russia may deploy, after 2027, cruise missile carrying Borei-K submarines. The Borei is Russia’s most modern strategic nuclear missile submarine. A cruise missile-carrying version of the submarine and the nuclear weapons it carries would not be limited by the New START Treaty despite being able to carry large numbers of nuclear cruise missiles. TASS also reported that Russia was developing a multi-role fifth-generation submarine that will carry “Tsirkon hypersonic missiles [which] will be among its strike weapons.”
In the last several months, senior Russian officials threatened a nuclear arms race, gloated about Russia’s new super nuclear weapons, and warned about the end of arms control and a nuclear arms race. Moreover, Russia conducted bomber provocations, including deployment of Tu-160s nuclear capable bombers to Venezuela, with its implied threat of a new Cuban Missile Crisis.
We don’t make such threats against Russia. Indeed, we have never even warned Russia about what might happen to it if it implemented its nuclear threats.
Russian Violations of the INF Treaty
Russia is violating the INF Treaty in a very critical way. It is apparently much more than the SSC-8/9M729 ground-launched nuclear-capable cruise missiles which the U.S. Government has officially determined to be a violation of the INF Treaty. According to Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, “We knew that the INF Treaty was violated long before the United States decided to withdraw. We also knew, and spoke about it many times, that four different types [of missiles banned under the INF Treaty] were already targeted at the Baltic states—they were deployed in Kaliningrad and Russian territory near our borders.”
Regarding the SSC-8/9M729, the evidence of violations of the INF Treaty is so overwhelming that NATO has declared the violation to be a “material breach” of the INF Treaty. Unfortunately, this is not the only reported violation.
According to the Russian press, including the state media, the Russian R-500/9M728 ground-launched cruise missile has a range which violates the INF Treaty. The Russians, in their 2019 demonstration in Moscow of the launchers and missile canisters for the 9M729 and the 9M728, virtually confirmed the R-500/9M728 was an additional violation of the INF Treaty. The Russians said that the 9M729 was an improved version of the 9M728. The 9M729 canister was 8 meters long and the 9M728 canister was only slightly shorter. Thus, the Russian claims that these missiles have a range of under 500-km is an insult to our intelligence. According to Deputy Under Secretary of Defense David Trachtenberg, “Russia has tested this ground-based system well into the ranges covered by the INF Treaty, produced it, and fielded it.” If the 9M729 can fly “well into ranges covered by the INF Treaty”, it is virtually certain that the 9M728 can fly into the INF Treaty prohibited range arena, particularly when one takes into account that the INF accountable range (to fuel exhaustion) would be significantly longer than any likely operational test of the missile.
The Russian Bastion is a deployed supersonic ground-launched coastal defense anti-ship and land-attack cruise missile system using the Oniks (3M55) missile. In July 2016, Interfax, Russia’s main unofficial news agency, reported, “The Bastion coastal defense [cruise missile] system has an operational range of 600 kilometers and can be used against surface ships of varying class and type…” The 2017 National Air and Space Committee Intelligence report stated that the 3M55 missile (also called the P-800 Oniks) was possibly nuclear.
It is not clear what the fourth missile mentioned by Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics is. It might be a legacy Soviet missile or a version of the Iskander-M.
The recently announced Russian ground-launched hypersonic missile programs that are supposed to be operational by 2020 are not a response to U.S. suspension and withdrawal from the INF Treaty as Russia contends. These are clearly programs that have been going on for many, many years. Most appear to be part of the program that President Putin announced in his infamous March 1, 2018, Duma address, about six months before the announcement of the U.S.’ intent to respond to the Russian INF Treaty violations. The rest appear to be covert programs that would have violated the INF Treaty but that are now being made public, so they can be used as threats.
Similarly, the announced Russian program for a ground-launched version of the Kalibr, also supposed to be deployed by 2020, is apparently an old program. Reports of a ground-launched version of the Kalibr/Club missiles go back to 2012. The suggestion that arms control brings transparency is just opposite of reality involving Russia.
This is not a pretty picture. We have been sleepwalking for the last 25 years and most of that time we were in denial concerning a Russian nuclear threat. We are now beginning to reverse this but much remains to be done. Putin is dangerous. Indeed, Kremlin spokesman Peskov has stated, “I can only say that as a normal man, he [Putin], certainly, can express his negative attitude towards this or that person or process. And so that it makes the blood run cold.”
Even the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review has not done enough in recommending programs to correct the enormous disparity that now exists in non-strategic nuclear weapons. Furthermore, if the American left succeeds in aborting the Triad modernization and sustainment programs, the result could lead to Putin’s first use of nuclear weapons.