Russian TV Is Musing About Nuking New York City

Russia successfully tested a RS-28 Sarmat “Satan II” ICBM this week, a missile capable of nuking targets across the entire planet. After the launch, Russian pundits got on TV and openly mused about using the missile to wipe out New York City, England, and other Western targets.

“If this rocket ends up over there in the worst case scenario what kind of objects can it destroy? What size of a territory?” a host asks former Russian Lt. General turned pundit Evgeny Buzhinskiy on Russia-1, a state media channel, while footage of the test plays on a giant screen in the background.

“If 7.5 megatons will be delivered to the territory of our so-called partner, then objects like the city of New York, a good city, but it would be gone. Completely gone,” Buzhinskiy responds.

A 7.5 megaton nuclear weapon dropped in the middle of New York City would, indeed, destroy Manhattan. The fireball alone from such a blast would stretch from the Hudson to the East River. It was not the only Western target openly discussed on Russian TV. 

In another segment on state-owned Channel One, Russian member of parliament Yuri Shvytkin discussed the nuke. “The warheads in the missile are indeed capable of hitting enemy targets,” he said. “So you understand, there would be virtually no New York left, there would be virtually no England left. From a single missile.”

It’s disturbing to see this kind of rhetoric on Russian TV while it wages a war in Ukraine while the U.S. and its allies funnel money and weapons into the embattled nation. It’s also par for the course for nuclear discourse. Putin announced the RS-28 Sarmat to the world with a video of it destroying Mar-a-Lago in 2018. Days after the Kremlin’s push into Ukraine, Putin announced that he’d put Russia’s nuclear forces on a “special regime of duty.”

There is a point to all this sturm und drang. Nuclear deterrence only works, the theorists say, if people are afraid to attack you. Russia is leaning so heavily on nuclear weapons right now as a means of reminding the world not to attack it, to stay back while it goes to war in Ukraine. “Deterrence is the art of producing, in the mind of the enemy, the fear to attack,” as Doctor Strangelove once said.

It’s shocking to imagine the situation reversed: American pundits openly discussing the destruction of Moscow on live TV. But similar things have happened and have happened in recent memory. During the run-up to the 2016 election, Ted Cruz promised to find “if sand glows in the dark,” a coded threat to nuke parts of the Middle East. Trump warned North Korea about the size of his button and “fire and fury” in 2017. At the beginning of the Cold War, American pop culture was littered with songs and stories that made it clear the U.S. was willing to drop the bomb on Russia. 

Now it’s largely Russia who is threatening nuclear war, and it’s been that way since its initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014. A month ago, Russian cable news pundits were threatening to nuke the west if it didn’t alleviate sanctions. A Russian news report in 2016 warned citizens to learn the route to the nearest fallout shelter.

Nuclear rhetoric isn’t anything new, but it’s always scary and it’s impossible to know if and when the bombs will actually fall. Despite all this TV news noise, the chances of a nuclear conflict remain low but unfortunately not zero.

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