Russia has deployed the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missiles that President Vladimir Putin once said would make the world “think twice” for combat, its Roscosmos space agency said Friday.
“The Sarmat strategic complex has been put on combat duty,” Roscosmos general director Yuri Borisov said, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported, according to the Moscow Times.
Putin first announced Sarmat, also called “Satan II,” in 2018. The ballistic missile system is capable of carrying at least 10 nuclear warheads and is intended to replace the R-36 ICBMs that are known by the NATO reporting name of Satan.
“Putin is clearly strategic messaging to the United States and NATO that nuclear option in Ukraine remains on the table,” Rebekah Koffler, president of Doctrine & Strategy Consulting and a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer, told Fox News Digital.
She added that Putin “placed Russia’s nuclear forces on a special combat regime shortly after he invaded Ukraine out of the fear that the US and NATO may intervene on behalf of Ukraine. So the fallback option is the so-called escalate to de-escalate strategy, which envisions a detonation of a tactical (small yield) nuclear warhead on the battlefield, to deter US/NATO intervention.”
Sarmat is a “strategic weapon, reserved for strategic targets, like the United States,” Koffler, who wrote the book “Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America” and has briefed the Pentagon, the White House, National Security Council and NATO on Russia’s nuclear doctrine, explained.
“But Putin would never attack the US homeland kinetically, especially with nuclear weapons, unless of course, Russia detects signs that we attack them first. So this Sarmat move is for deterrence purposes,” she added.
After Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Putin claimed Sarmat would “reliably ensure the security of Russia from external threats and make those who, in the heat of aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten our country, think twice,” she said.
Koffler said that much of Russia’s media, including RIA Novosti, Gazeta and Young Moscow Communist, has published an English article translated into Russian claiming that Sarmat could wipe out London in six minutes.
“So the deterrence message appears to be directed at the UK in this case, which is of course a committed supporter of Ukraine,”Koffler noted. “Again, Putin will not attack London or any NATO country, unless Russian intelligence concludes that Russia is about to be attacked by NATO.”
She said the fear of “unintended escalation” is what keeps her and other national security professionals “up at night.”
“In other words, when a kinetic strike is authorized by mistake because of a flawed assessment by intelligence services and conflict spirals out of control,” she explained. “That is what wargaming conducted by the US intelligence community has revealed. A local or regional conflict such as the one between Russia and Ukraine now spills out because of miscalculation or misunderstanding, dragging in the US and NATO. At that point, it has to go nuclear, in Russia’s view because of its conventional inferiority vis-à-vis NATO. This is why nuclear weapons have always been the centerpiece of Russia’s war-fighting doctrine. The longer this conflict drags on, the higher the risk of a direct war between Russia and the U.S.”
She added, “At the same time, Putin knows that Washington and especially the Biden Administration fear such a war with Russia, so he plays up the nuclear card. It’s a conundrum for us.”
On Friday, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters he couldn’t confirm the Russian reports.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.