How Putin might trigger World War III with the RS-28 Sarmat

President Vladimir Putin of Russia addressed the nation’s nuclear arsenal exactly one year after Moscow invaded Ukraine. In several aggressive, propaganda-filled speeches, Putin has stated that new Sarmat multi-warhead ICBMs will be deployed by 2023.

Can It Be True?

Ironically, this weapon’s test launch failed only three days before Putin’s big unveiling due to a malfunctioning second-stage rocket booster. Reporters following the Ukrainian onslaught have noted the lack of sophisticated precision-guided missiles among the Russian forces.

Putin’s troops have relied largely on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) bought from Iran for their attacks. Moscow frequently exaggerates its armament capabilities, so the RS-28 Sarmat missile may not be as lethal as advertised.

A brief history of the “Satan-II” missile

The Kremlin first announced progress on the Sarmat missile back in 2014. At the time, the weapon was intended to be ready for deployment in 2020. A few years later, it was stated that missile prototypes had been created, but testing had to be postponed due to problems with the quality assurance of the hardware components.

The Sarmat completed its first test flight at the end of December 2017. The test succeeded even though the missile landed dozens of kilometers from the Plesetsk Cosmodrone in Arkhangelsk Oblast. The Russian Defense Ministry reported success with two additional test launches in 2018.

How powerful is RS-28 SARMAT?

The RS-28 Sarmat is a Russian intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) designed to replace the aging Soviet-era R-36M2 Voyevoda missile (NATO reporting name: SS-18 Satan). Russian officials tout it as one of the world’s most powerful and advanced ICBMs. Here are some of its features:

  • Payload: The Sarmat can carry multiple nuclear warheads with a total yield of up to 10-15 megatons or one massive warhead with a yield of up to 50 megatons. This makes it one of the most powerful nuclear weapons in the world.
  • Range: The Sarmat has an estimated range of over 10,000 km, allowing it to strike targets anywhere in the world.
  • Maneuverability: The Sarmat is designed to be highly maneuverable, which makes it more difficult to intercept by missile defense systems.
  • Silo-based: The Sarmat is designed to be launched from underground silos, which protects against preemptive strikes.

Overall, the RS-28 Sarmat is a highly advanced and powerful ICBM representing a significant upgrade over its predecessor, the R-36M2 Voyevoda missile. However, it is important to note that the exact capabilities and specifications of the Sarmat are classified, so it is difficult to assess its true level of power with certainty.

Although the quality of the Sarmat is still under debate, the missile is considered one of the most modern weapons in Moscow’s nuclear arsenal. Fueled by liquid fuel, the three-stage missile has a range of about 18,000 km and a launch weight of just over 200 tons.

 VICE states the Sarmat is launched from the ground and drifts through the air before landing again. Warheads are multi-target, independent re-entry vehicles, meaning they can be dispersed and directed at multiple targets simultaneously.

Last spring, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed that the Sarmat is “the most powerful and longest-range missile in the world, which will significantly increase the combat power of the country’s strategic nuclear forces,” adding that “now the formation of the Uzhursky missile system in the Krasnoyarsk Territory is working on preparing the chief missile regiment for re-equipment with the new Sarmat missile system, which is planned to replace the Voevoda.”

Putin barks but doesn’t bite? 

While the Kremlin has high hopes for the Sarmat, many Western commentators believe Putin is trying to divert attention away from Russia’s offensive failures in Ukraine by focusing on the hypothetical missile. Russia has lost thousands of soldiers and mercenaries over the past few months fighting for the Bakhmut area in Ukraine.

The Russian president’s decision to remove Russia from the new START weapons limitation deal disclosed a further nuclear threat. Putin wants the world to believe he may start a nuclear war at any moment, even though he has repeatedly stated that this is not his intention.

The Kremlin’s so-called tactical threat of nuclear retaliation has fluctuated since the invasion began. Moscow’s best option for frightening its foes appears to be the Sarmat missile.