Russia’s weekly news show Vesti Nedeli focused Sunday on presenting its viewers with a map of the United States that identified targets Russia would attack with ostensibly unstoppable hypersonic missiles in the event of a conflict with the United States. The target list included the Pentagon and the presidential retreat at Camp David.
On Monday, Reuters described the broadcast as “unusual even by the sometimes bellicose standards of Russian state TV.” It was also remarkably sloppy: the map that strongly pro-Kremlin host Dmitry Kiselyov presented put crosshairs on several “presidential or military command centers” that have not been used in decades, including the Fort Ritchie, Maryland, training center and California’s McClellan Air Force Base.
Hitting McClellan with a futuristic nuclear missile would deprive the United States of a museum and profoundly frustrate the people who have spent the past 15 years cleaning up the mess that was left behind after it was decommissioned, but it would have little effect on U.S. command and control.
The target list was presumably chosen in a rush to lure Russian television viewers into believing their government is ready to wipe out targets across the United States with a weapon Russia does not actually have yet, further supporting the notion that President Vladimir Putin’s blustery missile threats are primarily intended to shore up his flagging popularity among hawkish Russian voters.
“For now, we’re not threatening anyone, but if such a deployment takes place, our response will be instant,” Kiselyov assured his audience in an effort to appear high-minded. Even this claim is inaccurate, as Russia is a long way away from being able to strike the continental United States with hypersonic missiles.
The Tsirkon-class missile about which Putin has been boasting has a maximum range of 620 miles and only barely qualifies as “hypersonic.” Russian admirals have been talking about loading dozens of these missiles onto Russian ships and submarines so they could hit the U.S., but there is not yet an inventory of such missiles to load, and it has not been test-launched from surface vessels. The first naval launch tests are expected sometime in 2019.