What are the nuclear-capable missiles tested by Russia?

Since February 24, Ukraine has been living under Russian fire and Europe is worried about a flare-up of the nuclear conflict. Indeed, from the first days of the war, Vladimir Putin placed the nuclear deterrent forces on alert and never ceased to remind that he could well use them if the West intervened directly. Last warning shot, the military exercise which took place Wednesday in the enclave of Kaliningrad, during which Russia carried out the simulation of firing of missiles with nuclear capacity. What are these missiles? What is their range, their power? Why is the Kremlin showing that it is preparing to use them? 20 minutes takes stock with Vincent Desportes, professor of strategy at HEC and SciencesPo.

What is an Iskander missile?

In detail, Russia on Wednesday simulated “electronic launches” of nuclear-capable Iskander mobile ballistic missile systems, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Let us take this complex denomination word for word. Clearly, no missile left its launch pad and the fictitious launch was simulated from a distance. Several missiles were involved, with Russia detailing their fictitious targets (airfields, military equipment, etc.). In addition, Iskander missiles are installed on and fired from trucks, hence the name “mobile”.

There remain the two most decisive elements. By its size [plus de 7 mètres de haut et un diamètre proche du mètre], the Iskander can carry either a traditional charge, as it has done so far in Ukraine, but also in Syria, or a small nuclear bomb. Finally, it is a ballistic missile, “which means that it goes up and then down again” following a trajectory calculated in advance, explains to 20 minutes Vincent Desportes, professor of strategy at HEC and SciencesPo. This opposes it, details the former division general of the army, to “direct fire weapons” such as tanks, as well as hypersonic “cruise” missiles, directed by the hand of the man of the start to finish. It should however be noted that the Iskander missile can be guided by GPS.

What is the range of this type of missiles?

“These missiles can be adjusted to fire as far as Paris, that’s precisely why Vladimir Putin installed them as close as possible”, in Kaliningrad, states Vincent Desportes. But unlike a so-called strategic weapon, such as intercontinental missiles “which can destroy New York in a bomb”, the Iskander missile is a tactical weapon, “of battle”, used to destroy specific sites with formidable precision.

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The author of the essay Aim for the top (Ed. Denöel) indicates that the use of this missile is provided for in the employment doctrine of the Russian forces. “If the tanks are blocked, we change the situation by creating a hole in the opposing defense,” he says. But with the nuclear warhead on board, the hole is substantial. “If Putin fires on the Azovstal factory, there is nothing left, you have the same images as in Hiroshima”, clarifies the former general.

Could Vladimir Putin really use a nuclear missile?

“Vladimir Putin will not lose without having used some of the 6,000 nuclear warheads” at his disposal, says Vincent Desportes. The nuclear threat has been present since the beginning of the war, to the point that some no longer wonder if a nuclear missile can be fired, but when. “For two weeks, we have been hearing on television that the nuclear silos should be opened”, even recently alarmed Dimitri Muratov, editor-in-chief of an independent Russian newspaper. State television is gently preparing minds, making this idea acceptable. Yesterday, in parallel with the exercise in Kaliningrad, “plane of the apocalypse” aboard which Vladimir Putin would command Russia in the event of a nuclear conflict, flew over Moscow. A first since 2010, officially in preparation for the May 9 parade.

The whole issue is therefore “that Putin is not cornered to this point”, warns Vincent Desportes. Because beyond the destruction of Mariupol, “unlivable for decades, Severodonetsk and Kramatorsk also probably”, a nuclear strike will have consequences on all of Europe. Because, as the strategy professor reminds us, the radioactive fallout will not stop at the border “as with the Chernobyl cloud”.

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