This is your regular reminder that, first, Russia can't afford any of its super weapons, and second, the weapons are often pretty dumb anyway. And so it is with a bellyful of laughter that we heard Vladimir Putin claim, again, to have a game-changing nuclear cruise missile.
Of course, if true, we are now facing a global crisis. A Russian, nuclear-powered cruise missile threatens all human and even multicellular life on earth. No country can hope to defeat Russian nuclear attacks, and Russia can strike with almost impunity. The technological overmatch is simply too strong. Quiver in the face of your new overlord!
But Putin is usually full of crap. So go ahead and keep saving for that big, holiday trip. His missile is no threat to you or any big plans you have. (Unless you live in Ukraine, in which case, we're so sorry. Please keep killing that dude's orcs. Slava Ukraini!)
Everything Putin says should come with salt
Before we discuss the problems with "Burevestnik," let's start, instead, with the problems with Putin. First of all, the Russian economy is an oligarchy. Rampant corruption robs away what gross domestic progress there actually is. The people struggle, Putin builds weird little towns, and the Ministry of Defense has to make up weapons and training progress.
And Russia regularly reports economic data. A number of outside researchers have found evidence that Russian economic growth is a lie. So, between than smaller-than-reported economy and the rampant theft, there is little money left over for defense development.
Especially when Ural crude is selling so slowly, Russia cut exports to boost the oil price floor (which, to be fair, worked) and recently announced deeper cuts to exports, ostensibly to lower inflation by keeping more oil and byproducts in domestic markets. And it might keep output at low levels through the end of the year.
So Putin has little money for weapons. And all of the military budget is currently needed since Russia started a massive land war. Also, its people don't really want to fight in it unless they get large bonuses. Oh, also, it needs to buy crap artillery at inflated prices.
Meanwhile, Putin regularly lies about weapon programs, progress and readiness. Most importantly, he previously claimed this exact missile was ready to fly, only to test it and have the missile shake itself apart in 2019.
So Russia is short funds, Putin has a history of lying, and he has every reason to lie again since a lot of Western media just prints whatever Putin says.
The Russian nuclear cruise missile's own problems
Now, what about the missile itself? After all, "Burevestnik" isn't an impossible weapon design. America pursued nuclear-powered rockets for space exploration. And it had a nuclear-powered bomber prototype, a tank, and more.
And nuclear power allows a lot of range for just a little fuel.
So, yeah, in theory, Russia could create a nuclear-powered missile. And maybe they really have. But for all of its flashy headlines, a nuclear-powered cruise missile wouldn't significantly change the balance of nuclear power.
Russia's submarines are supposed to be pretty good. And they have plenty of missiles with nuclear warheads on top. So the U.S. already acknowledges that a nuclear strike against Russia would almost certainly sacrifice multiple American cities.
Meanwhile, a nuclear-powered missile is terrible for anyone near it during a launch. And since Russia can't really deploy the missiles forward, even Belarus wouldn't want that much radiation on its territory; it would almost certainly be Russians who got the bulk of the radiation.
Basically, it's not clear that Burevestnik would make America more vulnerable during a nuclear exchange, but it would guarantee that more Russians would die during one. And that's assuming it works.
So rest assured that, if the world ends tomorrow, it'll be thanks to the dedicated work of thousands of submariners, the same people threatening human extinction for decades.
If that isn't reassuring, sorry. We promised that the new weapon was dumb, not that nuclear armageddon was impossible.