Russia tests nuclear-capable ICBM that Putin says will make foes ‘think twice’

Intercontinental ballistic missile test comes at a time of extreme geopolitical tension

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Russia said on Wednesday it had conducted a first test launch of its Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, a new addition to its nuclear arsenal that President Vladimir Putin said would give Moscow’s enemies something to think about.

Mr Putin was shown on television being told by the military that the missile had been launched from Plesetsk in the country’s north-west and hit targets in the far-eastern Kamchatka peninsula.

The Sarmat has been under development for years and so its test-launch is not a surprise for the West, but it comes at a moment of extreme geopolitical tension due to Russia's eight-week-old war in Ukraine.

“The new complex has the highest tactical and technical characteristics and is capable of overcoming all modern means of anti-missile defence. It has no analogues in the world and won’t have for a long time to come,” Mr Putin said.

“This truly unique weapon will strengthen the combat potential of our armed forces, reliably ensure Russia’s security from external threats and provide food for thought for those who, in the heat of frenzied aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten our country.”

The Sarmat is a new heavy intercontinental ballistic missile that Moscow is expected to deploy with 10 or more warheads, according to the US Congressional Research Service.

Launching the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Mr Putin made a pointed reference to Russia’s nuclear forces and warned the West that any attempt to get in its way would “lead you to such consequences that you have never encountered in your history”.

Days later, he ordered Russia’s nuclear forces to be put on high alert.

“The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on March 14.

In a statement, Russia’s defence ministry said the Sarmat was fired from a silo launcher at 3.12pm Moscow time (12.12pm UTC), and that the training warheads reached a test range on Kamchatka in the Pacific, a distance of nearly 6,000 kilometres.

“Sarmat is the most powerful missile with the longest-range of destruction of targets in the world, which will significantly increase the combat power of our country’s strategic nuclear forces,” it said.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon said Russia had notified Washington of the test beforehand.

It said the launch was routine and was not being treated as a threat to the US.

Updated: April 21, 2022, 4:08 AM