August 23, 2019 No.

Russia This Week – Focus On Defense – August 22, 2019

Russia This Week is a weekly review by the MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project, covering the latest Russia-related news and analysis from media in Russia, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe.

Photo Of The Week

(Source: U.S. Defense Department)

In The News:

  • Radioactive Explosion In The Arkhangelsk Region
  • Hypersonic Cruise Missiles
  • Pentagon Tests Previously Banned Missile
  • Further Readings: Short Letter vs. Long Telegram: US Ambassador Huntsman Departs Moscow
  • News In Brief: Oil And Gold; Russia-China Relations; Drills; First Caspian Economic Forum; International Army Games in Iran; 'Foreign Interference' In Russia's Domestic Affairs; Russia Is Imposing New Restrictions On Communication With Foreign Researchers

Radioactive Explosion In The Arkhangelsk Region

Severodvinsk (Source:

Commenting on the radioactive explosion in the Arkhangelsk region on August 8, the Communications Department of Rosatom stated that the fire and explosion during missile tests near Severodvinsk occurred on the offshore platform. The company said that after the incident, people were thrown into the sea, their deaths were not reported while hope remained of finding survivors. Only after all hope was gone, the deaths of five Rosatom employees who were involved in work related to the "radioisotope power source that was part of the rocket" were announced.

"The rocket tests took place on an offshore platform. After the tests were completed, rocket fuel ignited, that was followed by a detonation," the Rosatom Communications Department stated.

(, August 10, 2019)

Rosatom: We Are Talking About Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators

Rosatom explained that the explosion in the Arkhangelsk region involved a "nuclear battery." An expert from Moscow's Institute for Nuclear Research, Boris Zhuikov, said: "We are talking about radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs)", which, he claims, are unsuitable for use in missiles.

(, August 15, 2019)

Ecologist From Severodvinsk: 'This Is The Petrel Project ' – 'Rosatom Has Committed A Crime'

Six days after the incident the Hydro-meteorological Center of Russia reported that on the test day (August 8), an excess gamma-radiation – 16 times higher than normal – was recorded.

Local authorities say nothing serious has happened, and residents are complaining about the information vacuum. Residents of the village of Nenoksa, which is located next to the training ground where the explosion occurred, were advised to leave the locality on that day.

An ecologist from Severodvinsk, Alexey Klimov, answered the media outlet's questions:

Q: "Tell us what is up with the sea, is it possible to collect sea kale or to fish there?"

Klimov: "I, as a public ecologist of Severodvinsk, tell everyone: don’t go fishing in the Dvina Bay of the White Sea. You can pick mushrooms and berries. I take this responsibility on myself, because the local media, the Ministry of Emergency Situations do not give us accurate information. Unfortunately that is the case."

Q: "It is clear what isotopes got into the atmosphere?"

Klimov: "Yes, now it is already clear. This is the 'Petrel' [an intercontinental cruise missile powered by a nuclear reactor] project, these are isotopes that got into the atmosphere. That is, these are not the isotopes that pollute the territory, these are the isotopes that temporarily increase the radioactive emission."

Q: "You stated in one of your interviews that such tests should be stopped altogether. Why?"

Klimov: "We have gorgeous training grounds in the Kara Sea, in the Barents Sea – there let them do it. But not 30 kilometers from the city of Severodvinsk. Rosatom has committed a crime."

(, August 14, 2019)

Novaya Gazeta: The 'Scythian' Rocket May Have Exploded in the Arkhangelsk Region

Presumably, the "Scythian" container. (Source: kuleshovoleg / Livejournal)

Novaya Gazeta published an article, by Russian expert Valery Shiryaev, listing the hypotheses of what happened and what could have exploded in the Arkhangelsk region.

First, we list the circumstances that are beyond doubt. There are three in all:

• Crash site (a training ground where weapons strictly associated with the navy are being tested),

• The work place of the perished scientists and engineers (a scientific center that primarily creates sources for nuclear propulsion),

• Short-term and non-life-threatening increase in the radiation level at the training ground vicinity.

Facts officially recognized by the Russian Ministry of Defense and Rosatom are also sparse:

• The explosion occurred aboard a ship

• A new "special product" was tested

• A liquid propulsion system was tested

• A radioisotope power source was installed on the product


According to Jeff Terry, an energy specialist, and professor of physics at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the Williams F107 turbofan engine that drives the Tomahawk cruise missile (remember that Putin compared Petrel with it) gives 3.1 kilonewtons of. For the Tomahawk to reach a cruising speed of 890 km/h, about 766 kW of thermal energy is required, which falls into the potential power range of a modern generation compact nuclear reactor.

Thus, a radioisotope energy source is unable to lift a cruise missile into the air. In the argument system we have adopted, "Petrel" must be excluded from consideration

"3M22 Zircon"

The type of engine is unknown. We can take it either as a liquid rocket, or as a solid fuel. We can consider it jet propulsion or gas turbine.

Why is a radioisotope generator needed in a rocket with such engines using a common combustion reaction? All energy requirements of cruise missiles are covered by small-sized generators operating from an onboard turbine. Liquid and solid fuel rockets that develop hypersonic speeds fly from a few minutes to half an hour before they hit the target. Well-tested batteries or especially capacitors are quite enough for them. And suddenly, engineers from Sarov [two soldiers and five engineers from a nuclear research center in Sarov died on August 8 in the explosion in the Arkhangelsk region] installed an expensive device in a rocket that can work for 30 years. What for?


As for the heavy torpedo with the Kanyon thermonuclear warhead, the radioisotope power generator is also not capable of developing enough power to ensure that this heavy thing, for the transportation of which a special submarine was required, would accelerate to the speed that Putin promised at the presentation to the enemies of the Fatherland. Here, a small-sized reactor is still needed.


There remains the only one project that very quickly disappeared from the versions of all experts and amateurs. But it is the one which meets all the given conditions.

Our sources confirmed that the product was assigned the [Russian Defense Ministry] GRAU index, described the main tasks and general characteristics of the project, however, in the future I will use only the data that can be found in open sources.

I’m talking about the seabed-based ballistic missile project "Scythian".

In May 2013, long before the start of the war in Donbass and the militaristic hysteria that followed, which became a familiar backdrop for our media, "Izvestia" reported that they had received a confirmation at the Makeev State Rocket Center that this missile was under development. In November 2017, shortly after being discharged from the post of commander of Russia's Aerospace Forces, Doctor of Technical Sciences and freshly baked Senator Viktor Bondarev told TASS that "Scythian" was part of the Russian Armed Forces arsenal.


The "Scythian" project in its nuclear version is a direct violation of the Seabed Treaty adopted by the United Nations in 1970. And if the US does not extend the START-3 treaty, Russia will have a secret temptation to quietly place the "Scythian" close to its shores.

Three oceans are suitable for this - the Pacific, the Arctic and even the northern part of the Atlantic, where our submarines constantly go. Both options are a political catastrophe. But the way of thinking of many representatives of our establishment, the stupid intransigence with which Russia sometimes acts in completely harmless situations, compels me to consider such an outcome.

(, August 18, 2019) Many Experts Believe A Skyfall Missile Exploded wrote:

"Russia has two projects now in research and development that allegedly use compact nuclear reactors: the 'Skyfall' cruise missile and the 'Poseidon' underwater drone. The reactors in both these devices, however, should be far more powerful than the Kilopower.

"Many experts believe a Skyfall missile exploded in the White Sea, which is what U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on August 12, saying that America has “similar, though more advanced, technology.”

"Most of what we know about this weapon comes directly from Vladimir Putin’s speech to the Federal Assembly in 2018. Describing several new types of weapons that are supposedly capable of overpowering NATO’s missile defenses, Putin announced a nuclear-powered missile 'with almost unlimited range'…

"The only proof is still circumstantial, but in addition to mounting evidence of raised radiation emissions that are hard to connect to any other kind of missile, there are some specific reasons to suspect the Skyfall…"

(, August 13, 2019; read the full article)

Hypersonic Cruise Missiles

Russian Director of the Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control Yermakov: "Linking The Question Of Hypothetically Extending The New START Treaty With Certain Weapons Systems That Do Not Fit Into The Aforementioned Categories Is Absolutely Unacceptable"

In an interview with Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency, Russian Director of the Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control Vladimir Yermakov answered questions about the incidents in the Arkhangelsk Region:

Question: "Can you comment on statements by representatives of the US administration that appeared in Western media that the purported Russian hypersonic cruise missiles that were allegedly tested in the Arkhangelsk Region puts into doubt the extension of the New START Treaty? Is this linkage possible in principle, and are not such statements meant to provoke?"

Vladimir Yermakov: "If we want to really comprehend the core of the matter, then, first of all, it should be noted that the New START Treaty covers specific categories of strategic arms, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, heavy bombers and ICBM and SLBM launchers. The Treaty does not cover any other weapons systems. This also concerns the relevant research and development projects. Therefore, linking the question of hypothetically extending the New START Treaty with certain weapons systems that do not fit into the aforementioned categories is absolutely unacceptable.

"However, the statements of our US colleagues no longer cause surprise. As of late, we have been hearing US officials express doubts more and more often as to whether extending the New START Treaty makes sense. It is hard to perceive this as anything other than a conscious effort to lay the required media groundwork and to invent pretexts for declining to extend the agreement after it expires in February 2021 and to obtain absolute freedom to build up the US nuclear arsenal, even to the detriment of strategic stability and international security.

"For its part, the Russian Federation has repeatedly voiced its readiness, including at the highest level, to seriously address all matters linked with the possible extension of the New START Treaty. We believe that, in current conditions, this would be a reasonable and responsible step, making it possible to prevent a complete breakdown in the area of strategic stability, and this would also provide extra time to consider joint approaches towards new weapons systems that are currently emerging and possible new arms control treaties.

"At the same time, we cannot forget that in order to extend the New START Treaty, it is necessary to first resolve a problem created by the US, namely, its illegitimate decision to exempt 100 units of US strategic arms from the Treaty's provisions. The US has flippantly described these strategic arms as 're-equipped', although Russian inspectors are unable to verify the results of the re-equipping under the procedure stipulated by the Treaty. As such, the various linkages and doubts surrounding the extension of the New START Treaty only highlight the US reluctance to fully honor its treaty obligations. Nevertheless, we will continue to make sure that the Americans fulfill all their commitments in full.

"Notably, this also has special significance in the context of preparations for the Review Conference for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Unfortunately, the United States is so far unable to propose any positive agenda for any aspect of this work. On the contrary, the United States is undermining all the core elements of the NPT. It is trying to block a conference to deal with a nuclear-free zone for the Middle East, it has undermined the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, refused to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, withdrawn from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, retains its nuclear arsenals in non-nuclear European states and continues to train its non-nuclear allies how to use nuclear weapons. One gets the impression that Washington has already recklessly undermined everything that can be undermined. How will the United States break free of this vicious circle? It's a good question."

(, August 16, 2019)

Bolton: Russia Stole US Nuclear Technology To Make Nuclear Advances

Commenting on the radioactive explosion in the Arkhangelsk region on August 8, US National Security Advisor said in an interview with radio "Voice of America":

"But this is an example of Russia trying to make technological advances in their ability to deliver nuclear weapons. Something obviously has gone badly wrong here, but it demonstrates that although Russia's economy is roughly the size of the Netherlands, it's still spending enough on defense to not only modernize their nuclear arsenal to build new kinds of delivery vehicles, hypersonic glide vehicles, hypersonic cruise missiles, largely stolen from American technology. So dealing with this capability and the possibility that other countries would get it too, remains a real challenge for the United States and its allies. No doubt about it."

(, August 15, 2019)


Russian MFA Spokesperson Zakharova: Who Stole Russia's Diplomatic Property, Mr. Bolton?

Answering to Bolton Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated in her Facebook page: "It will be interesting to do the math on how many and which innovations the United States has stolen from various countries around the world. That's what I will do in my spare time. Send me interesting historical facts and contemporary data, and we will sum them up."

She then added: "Since the issue of theft popped into John Bolton's head, then I'll remind him that Washington stole the buildings of the Russian Consulate General and the residence of Russia's Consul General in San Francisco, the Russian trade mission in Washington, the residence of the Russian Consul General in Seattle, along with two Russian diplomatic facilities in Maryland and New York." The diplomat then concluded: "However, what is way more significant, it kidnapped a large number of Russian citizens from third countries. Or is that not theft, Mr. Bolton? Then give them back."

(, August 16, 2019)


Read More:

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the recent emergency in the Arkhangelsk Region and called upon journalists to rely on statements by Russian organizations, and not remarks by US President Donald Trump. Earlier, Trump tweeted that the United States realized a lot after the emergency in the Arkhangelsk Region, bearing in mind that the US had similar missiles. (, August 13, 2019; read the full article)

Pentagon Tests Previously Banned Missile

On August 19, the Pentagon reported that the United States tested a land-based cruise missile capable of hitting its target after flying more than 500 kilometers for the first time after Washington's exit from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Russian FM Lavrov: This Had Been Prepared Since Long, Long Before August 2

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told journalists:

"This had been prepared since long, long before August 2, when the legal obligations of the sides under the INF Treaty expired formally. We learned about it in October last year, when [US National Security Advisor] John Bolton came for a visit…

"And he told us, I think that I have already mentioned this to our journalists that statements by [US President Donald] Trump about the need to withdraw from the treaty were not an invitation for a dialogue, it was the final decision.

"Apparently back then, or may be even earlier, they began preparations for the launches that have taken place and that violate parameters of the INF Treaty."

(, August 20, 2019)

Russian Deputy FM Ryabkov: There Can Be No Clearer Confirmation Of The Fact That The United States Has Been Developing Such Systems For A Long Time

Commenting on the test, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told TASS:

"It is noteworthy that the test of an advanced Tomahawk-type missile was conducted just 16 days after the US withdrew from INF, and the treaty was terminated. Perhaps, there can be no clearer and more explicit confirmation of the fact that the United States has been developing such systems for a long time, and preparations for quitting the agreement included, in particular, the relevant research and development."

Ryabkov also said: "The missile had been fired using the Mk41 vertical launching system. That's a universal launching system that is suitable for both firing SM-3 interceptor missiles and ground-to-ground and surface-to-surface cruise missiles."

Ryabkov then added: "All that is regrettable. The United States has evidently set a course for fomenting military tensions… We do not give into provocations. As Russian President [Vladimir Putin] said in France yesterday, we reiterate our commitment to a unilateral moratorium on deploying land-based intermediate-range systems until the US deploys such systems in some part of the world."

(, August 20, 2019)

Further Readings

Short Letter vs. [George Kennan's Famous] Long Telegram: US Ambassador Huntsman Departs Moscow. Russian expert Ivan Timofeev wrote in the Valdai Discussion club website: "The resignation of US ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman is a good occasion to take stock of one of the most difficult periods of Russia-US relations. His appointment came during peak frenzy over the investigation into Russia's alleged interference in the US election and Donald Trump's "ties" to Russia. The rift between the countries was deepened by other serious disagreements, from Ukraine to Venezuela, which essentially paralyzed relations between Moscow and Washington. At no other time in the history of our bilateral relations have frictions over foreign policy issues coincided with the kind of unprecedented negativity towards Russia on display in US politics. Embassies on both sides became little less than besieged fortresses, the room for diplomatic maneuver narrowed sharply, and there was little reason to expect any breakthroughs. Such periods are often considered lost for diplomacy. Nevertheless, Jon Huntsman can hardly be considered a caretaker ambassador. Despite being seriously constrained by objective political conditions, Huntsman definitely played a role in minimizing the fallout from the crisis." (, August 15, 2019; read the full article)

It is worth noting that US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan may be appointed as the next US ambassador to Russia, US President Donald Trump said at a meeting with Romania's President Kalus Iohannis. (, August 20, 2019)

News In Brief

Oil And Gold

  • Over a barrel: Trump's oil sanctions make Russian crude exporters $1 billion richer. US economic pressure on Iran and Venezuela has deprived world oil markets of two large exporters. However, this gap has been filled by Russian supplies, earning its oil firms at least $905 million in cash. (, August 16, 2091; read the full article)
  • Russia will continue to boost its foreign exchange and gold reserves, adding more than $70 billion to its coffers in two years, Fitch Ratings predicted as it raised the country's credit rating to the highest level since 2014. (, August 12, 2091; read the full article)
  • For the first time in eight years, Russia can overtake Saudi Arabia as the fourth biggest holder of foreign currency reserves, precious metal, and other securities… Russian gold and foreign exchange reserves are set to outstrip those of Saudi Arabia, allowing Moscow to "leapfrog" Riyadh in international rankings, while the top spots are held by China, Japan, and Switzerland. The steadily growing stockpile would likely provide Russia with increased influence within OPEC and stabilize its national currency, the ruble, even in the event of plummeting oil prices. (, August 18, 2019; read the full article)

Russia-China Relations

  • New Chinese Ambassador to Russia Zhang Hanhui has arrived in Moscow. (, August 10, 2019; read the full article)
  • Beijing is planning to work on raising the level of its relations with Russia, China's new Ambassador to Russia Zhang Hanhui told reporters. "We should open a new page. We will mark the anniversary [of bilateral relations] soon. In the future, we will cultivate our relations at a higher level," the ambassador said. (, August 14, 2019; read the full article)
  • Moscow and Beijing have set the target of boosting trade turnover to $200 bln by 2024, China's new Ambassador to Russia Zhang Hanhui told reporters. (, August 14, 2019; read the full article)
  • Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology Dmitry Kobylkin said that due illegal woods cut, Russia may prohibit exporting wood to China. Kobylkin said: "China has to understand, that if they not join us in solving this problem, we won't have any other choice but to fully ban export of wood to China." In 2018, ecology activists exposed that illegal wood cuts are taking place in 47 Russian regions. The wood is then illegally sold to China – without registering the deals with official state agency. (, August 15, 2019; read the full article in Russian)


  • Russian S-400 teams go on high alert to repel enemy missile strike in Baltic Fleet drills. Air defense troops of Russia's Baltic Fleet have started drills in the westernmost Kaliningrad Region to repel a missile strike against military and civilian facilities, the Fleet's press office reported. (, August 19, 2019; read the full article)
  • A pair of Russia's Tupolev Tu-95MS strategic missile-carrying bombers has performed a scheduled flight over the Barents, Norwegian and North Seas, the Defense Ministry of Russia reported. (, August 12, 2019; read the full article)
  • The crews of Su-30SM fighters and Su-24M bombers of the Baltic Fleet's naval aviation destroyed a notional enemy's naval taskforce during scheduled maneuvers, the Fleet's press office reported. (, August 12, 2019; read the full article)
  • The Northern Fleet's warships have deployed to the boundary of the Barents and Norwegian Seas in naval maneuvers to search for a notional enemy's submarines, the Fleet's press office reported. (, August 9, 2019; read the full article)

First Caspian Economic Forum

  • Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev took part in the International Conference "Caspian Sea: Benefits of Developing International Economic Cooperation," which was held on August 11-12 in Awaza on the Caspian coast of Turkmenistan. (, August 12, 2019; read Medvedev's remarks)
  • Caspian Economic Forum Is More Useful Than It Might Seem. (, August 14, 2019; read the full article)

Eurasian Intergovernmental Council

  • On August 9, 2019, the meeting of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council of the EAEU took place in Cholpon-Ata, in Kyrgyzstan. Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev commented: "Our common goal is to accelerate integration processes within the Eurasian Economic Union, encourage business activity and improve the living standards for the citizens of our countries. There are currently more than 180 million consumers on our common market, and economic indicators are quite robust. In 2018, the aggregate GDP increased by 2.5 percent to $420 billion." (, August 9, 2019; read the full article)
  • The meeting of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council of the EAEU marked the 5th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union and the 25th anniversary of the conceptualization of Eurasian integration. (, August 9, 2019; read the full article)

International Army Games in Iran

  • The Russian Navy's team has won the Depth multi-discipline diving competition at the 2019 International Army Games in Iran. (, August 12, 2091; read the full article)

'Foreign Interference' In Russia's Domestic Affairs

  • Some Western countries' position and actions in relation to anti-government protests in Moscow may be considered as interference in Russia's domestic affairs, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang said at a briefing. "We support the position of Russia's authorities," he said. "It is an example of interference in Russia's domestic politics, which points to [the West's] hegemonic claims," the Chinese diplomat pointed out. (, August 20, 2019; read the full article)
  • The Russian State Duma Council has decided to set up a commission to investigate foreign interference in Russia's domestic affairs, a source who participated in the State Duma Council's meeting told TASS on August 19, adding that the commission was expected to meet later in the week. (, August 19, 2019; read the full article)
  • Washington is persistently trying to intervene in Russia's domestic affairs but it is bound to fail, Chairman of the Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Leonid Slutsky said, responding to a statement by US House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer over the opposition rallies in Moscow. (, August 13, 2019; read the full article)
  • Foreign forces used YouTube to manipulate protesters in Moscow - the chairman of the Federation Council's temporary commission for the protection of state sovereignty and prevention of interference in Russia's internal affairs, Andrei Klimov, said in a statement. (, August 11, 2019; read the full article)
  • Foreign media outlets interfering in Russia's affairs particularly through publications concerning the recent unauthorized rallies in Moscow may be barred from working in the country, Head of the United Russia party's parliamentary faction and State Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Neverov said. (, August 9, 2019; read the full article)

Russia Is Imposing New Restrictions On Communication With Foreign Researchers

  • In July 2019, Russia's Science and Education Ministry sent a list of what it later said were "recommendations" to the institutions it controls, which deal predominantly with the natural sciences but span a range of other fields as well. The ministry's recommendations placed new limits on communication between Russian scholars and colleagues or organizations from outside the country. They also included new rules for Russian scholars who receive foreign visitors. The popular science publication Troitsky Variant published scans of the order on August 13. (, August 14, 2019; read the full article)