At the one-year mark of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine months back, President Vladimir Putin took to the stage to talk up his country’s nuclear arsenal. Among a series of provocative speeches filled with propaganda, Putin announced his plan to deploy new Sarmat multi-warhead intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2023.
Perhaps ironically, this weapon failed to test launch at the time due to a faulty second-stage rocket booster just three days prior to Putin’s big reveal.
Experts covering the Ukraine offensive have highlighted the lack of advanced precision-guided missiles possessed by Russian Forces.
In fact, Putin’s soldiers have had to largely rely on imports of Iranian-designed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in barrages. Since Moscow often exaggerates its weapons capabilities, the RS-28 Sarmat missile may not be as deadly as purported.
A Brief History of the “Satan-II” Missile
The Kremlin first announced the Sarmat missile’s progress back in 2014.
At this time, the weapon was intended to be ready for deployment by 2020. A few years later, prototype missiles were reportedly constructed, however, the test program was delayed due to quality assurance issues surrounding the missile’s hardware components.
By Late December 2017, the Sarmat flew in its first successful test launch. While the missile did fly several dozen kilometers out of the Plesetsk Cosmodrone in Arkhangelsk Oblast, it ultimately fell within the test range. Two subsequent test launches were carried out in 2018, which Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed were successful.
Specifications of the RS-28 Sarmat
While the quality of the Sarmat remains up for debate, the missile is considered one of the more modern weapons in Moscow’s nuclear arsenal. The three-stage, liquid-fueled missile has a reported range of roughly 18,000 km and a launch weight of just over 200 tons. According to VICE, the Sarmat is launched from the ground and typically arcs through the air before returning back down. The warheads are Multiple Independently Targetable Re-Entry Vehicles, meaning they can disperse and head toward multiple targets simultaneously.
Last spring, Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed that the Sarmat is “the most powerful missile with the longest range in the world, which will significantly increase the combat power of the country’s strategic nuclear forces,” adding that “now the Uzhursky missile formation in the Krasnoyarsk Territory is working on preparing the head missile regiment for re-equipment with the new Sarmat missile system, which, as planned, will replace the Voevoda.”
Putin is all Bark and no Bite
Regardless of the Kremlin’s expectations of the Sarmat, many Western analysts believe Putin is using the theoretical missile to distract the world from Russia’s offensive failures in Ukraine. Over the last few months, Russia has lost thousands of soldiers and aligned mercenaries in its battle for the Ukrainian territory of Bakhmut.
The Russian president also recently announced that Russia would suspend participation in the New START arms control treaty, another nuclear-related threat. Although Putin is unlikely to actually engage in a nuclear conflict, the Russian President wants the world to believe that he could at any moment.
The Kremlin has wavered back and forth with its so-called tactical threat of nuclear actions since the onset of the invasion. The Sarmat missile appears to be Moscow’s best bet at intimidating its adversaries.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.
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