On Sunday, a Russian state TV channel threatened to destroy the United Kingdom with nuclear superweapons.
The segment focused on the use of new Sarmat missiles and Poseidon torpedoes to turn the U.K. into a “radioactive desert.”
It contained numerous factual errors, and the alleged U.K. threat was actually invented by other Russian state media sources.
A Russian state television agency has openly threatened to wipe the United Kingdom off the map with nuclear weapons, likely in response to a manufactured threat made up by another arm of the Kremlin’s media empire. The news segment depicted the use of a single Sarmat superheavy intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or Poseidon nuclear torpedo to destroy the U.K. The entire segment was apparently based on a threat that the U.K. never actually made.
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Russian Channel One’s popular anchor Dmitry Kiselyov manufactured the threat on his popular Sunday evening television news program. Kiselyov, known as “Russia’s Spin Doctor,” is a popular news personality who in 2014 boasted his country could turn the U.S. into “nuclear ash.” In 2019, Kiselyov listed a number of targets in the continental United States that would be hit in the event of a nuclear war.
This week, Kiselyov turned his attention to the United Kingdom. Kiselyov stated that President Vladimir Putin has put Russian nuclear forces on “high combat alert,” and then turned his attention to allegations that U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson could conduct “retaliatory strikes,” presumably on Russia. Kiselyov then stated that the U.K. could be destroyed with a Sarmat ICBM or Poseidon torpedo.
In his segment, Kiselyov described the U.K. as so small it could be destroyed with a single Sarmat missile, each of which carries up to ten thermonuclear warheads. Sarmat, which Russia first tested last week, is likely the world’s largest ICBM. While Sarmat can theoretically strike up to ten separate targets, the distance between cities such as London, England and Edinburgh, Scotland is likely too great for a single missile to cover. A real strike on the U.K. would require multiple Sarmat missiles.
Kiselyov also warned that a Poseidon nuclear torpedo could detonate its 100-megaton thermonuclear warhead in the North Atlantic, swamping the entire British Isles with a 1,600-foot-tall tsunami that would leave what remained a “radioactive desert.” Finally, he warned that the explosion would create a tremendous amount of radioactive fallout. As he explained this, the map pulled back to Europe—as if to suggest that the radioactivity would become the entire continent’s problem.
There are a number of problems with this depiction of Poseidon. The segment, as naval analyst H.I. Sutton points out, uses the correct submarine mothership, the Belgorod, but other aspects are flat-out incorrect. Poseidon was originally thought to carry a 100-megaton bomb, but that number has been re-assessed to a much smaller two megatons. A two-megaton bomb, the equivalent of two million tons of TNT, would not create the apocalyptic waves Kiselyov seemingly craves.
The segment also shows Belgorod launching a Poseidon from side-mounted torpedo tubes, which is incorrect. Poseidon is a very fast nuclear torpedo, but it is not, contrary to Kiselyov’s assertion, unstoppable. Finally, it seems unlikely that a 1,600-foot-tall tsunami could submerge all of the United Kingdom in radioactive seawater, especially the mountains of the Scottish Highlands.
There’s also a problem with Kiselyov’s premise. The Russian news reporter seems to claim that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made some sort of nuclear threat to Russia; according to Newsweek, the prime minister has made no such threat. It’s likely that this “threat” may actually be based on “a discussion about a hypothetical U.K. nuclear strike by Russian state TV presenter Vladimir Solovyov,” per Newsweek.
Kiselyov’s threat describes Russia’s attack as in response to a “retaliatory strike” by the U.K.—implying that Russia strikes first, then the U.K. retaliates, and then his scenario comes into play. An alternative theory is that Kiselyov is suggesting the U.K. would strike after some sort of false-flag attempt to blame Russia. (The news anchor uses air quotes with his fingers as he says “retaliatory.”) It is not quite clear why the U.K., which has only 225 nuclear weapons, with just a fraction of that available for immediate use at any given time, would launch a first strike on a country with more than 1,500 nuclear weapons.
The segment is disturbing, but is probably meant for domestic consumption. It is wildly inaccurate and seems to simply be an exercise in venting Russian frustrations against the United Kingdom. The U.K. is a major donor of military aid to Ukraine, sending the country advanced weapons including the highly effective NLAW anti-tank rocket. While weapons like Sarmat and Poseidon do exist, the logic of nuclear deterrence still holds: any nuclear strike by Russia on the U.K. would result in a counterstrike of equal or greater devastation.
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