(CNSNews.com) – Authorities in Russia are saying little about a deadly explosion off the northern Russian coast five days ago, but President Trump on his Twitter account Monday signaled that the U.S. has linked it to a cutting-edge new cruise missile, which President Vladimir Putin has been touting.
Trump’s tweet indicated that the U.S. believes the source of the blast was Russia’s new “Skyfall” missile, and at the same time suggested that Moscow’s evaluation of the vaunted weapon’s sophistication is overblown.
“The United States is learning much from the failed missile explosion in Russia,” the president said. “We have similar, though more advanced, technology. The Russian ‘Skyfall’ explosion has people worried about the air around the facility, and far beyond. Not good!”
First announced by Putin in a state of the nation speech in March last year, the projectile called Burevestnik in Russia (designated SSC-X-9 Skyfall by NATO) is a nuclear-capable and nuclear-powered cruise missile, which Putin claimed boasts “almost unlimited range, unpredictable trajectory, and ability to bypass” Western missile defenses.
Last Thursday’s explosion occurred at the Nyonoksa military testing range in the White Sea, off Severodvinsk in the Arkhangelsk region.
The Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, which monitors possible nuclear explosions around the globe, subsequently confirmed that four of its monitoring stations had detected the explosion.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said initially two people had died in the accident involving a liquid-fuel jet engine, but on Saturday Rosatom, the state nuclear power agency, confirmed the nuclear nature of the incident, clarifying that five of its employees had been killed and three hospitalized with injuries.
It described the incident as “a tragic accident that took place during tests on a liquid propulsion system involving isotopes at a military facility in Arkhangelsk region.”
A Rosatom representative told the TASS news agency missile tests had been underway on a sea-based platform when missile fuel had ignited and exploded, pitching several staff members into the sea.
A memorial service was held on Monday for the five nuclear scientists, who were based at a Rosatom nuclear weapons facility in Sarov, a “closed city” 250 miles east of Moscow. The Sarov city administration said the five men had been working on a “task of national importance” when they were killed.
Poor record of openness
According to local reports cited in national media outlets, the explosion caused radiation levels in nearby towns to rise to around 20 times the normal reading, sparking a rush on iodine, which is used to reduce the effects of exposure to radiation.
Officials at the facility in Sarov acknowledged on Sunday that radiation levels near the site of the explosion had risen, but only to twice the normal level and only for an hour.
Russia has a poor record of transparency when it comes to nuclear-related accidents. The most infamous example is the 1986 explosion at the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union.
The reactor blew up, sending radioactive particles across a huge area, affecting the lives and health of hundreds of thousands of people. Moscow was accused of releasing delayed and severely inadequate information about what is still the worst nuclear accident in history, feeding confusion and public distrust.
In 1957, an explosion at a nuclear plant in Mayak, Russia led to at least 200 deaths from radiation sickness. It was largely covered up until the fall of the Soviet Union.
Reacting to last week’s explosion, the Bellona Foundation, a Norwegian environmental body specializing in Russian nuclear issues, offered advice to locals in the absence of information from Russian officials.
“There are few ways to shield oneself from acute contamination, but those that exists are in short supply,” said Oskar Njaa, Bellona’s general manager for international affairs.
“Shut your windows and doors, and make sure you have iodine from your local pharmacy at home that you can take to avoid absorbing radioactive iodine yourself. For these measures to be taken at the right time, people need to be informed about any ongoing release of radioactivity and its potential fallout – the earlier, the better.”
In his March 2018 speech, Putin unveiled new weapons Russia was developing in response to what he called “unfriendly steps” by the U.S. such as deploying missile defenses in Europe.
They included the nuclear cruise missile later named as Burevestnik/Skyfall; a heavy ICBM which he said would be capable of reaching targets via both the North and South poles; a ground-based laser weapon; a hypersonic air-borne ballistic missile; a submarine-launched hypersonic missile; and fast, unmanned submersible vehicles able to carry conventional or nuclear warheads, boasting “unlimited range.”
In his next state of the nation address, last February, Putin again touted the weaponry, this time linking their development with the planned U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
The INF Treaty’s demise, which following a long dispute over Russia’s deployment of a ground-launched cruise missile whose type and range was prohibited under the Cold War-era agreement, took effect late last month
Putin Warns US to ‘Calculate the Range and Speed’ of Planned Russian Weaponry Before Exiting INF Treaty (Feb. 21, 2019)