Russian state broadcasters have suggested the Kremlin could unleash a devastating nuclear attack on the UK in response to the arming of Ukraine.
Dmitry Kiselyov, the host of a show on Russia’s main state-controlled broadcaster Channel One, suggested on Sunday night that Britain could be transformed into an uninhabitable wasteland by a nuclear strike from the sea.
In a segment accompanied by on-screen graphics of a hypothetical attack, he suggested Russia could use the unmanned underwater vehicle Poseidon to strike the UK from the sea.
The host claimed: “There’s no way of stopping this underwater drone. The warhead on it has a yield of up to 100 megatonnes. The explosion of this thermonuclear torpedo by Britain’s coastline will cause a giant tsunami wave up to 500m high. Such a barrage alone also carries extreme doses of radiation.”
He added that a strike would turn the UK into a “radioactive desert, unfit for anything for a long time.”
What is a Poseidon warhead?
Poseidon is a new category of weapon separate from other nuclear-capable threats.
One of the newest weapons in Russia’s arsenal, Poseidon is a form of nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed torpedo, launching from what is effectively an unmanned submarine drone.
The Kremlin claims that the unmanned underwater vehicle is capable of delivering nuclear payloads from under the sea to strike at targets.
At least 30 Poseidon crafts are thought to be under construction, with Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, hailing their effectiveness after trials in 2019. Mr Putin claimed that the weapon was capable of destroying enemy infrastructure facilities, aircraft carrier groups and other targets.
In documents, Russia’s Ministry of Defense suggested it could achieve “the defeat of the important economic facilities of the enemy in the area of the coast and causing assured damage to the country through the establishment of zones of extensive radioactive contamination, unsuitable for implementation in these areas of military, economic, business or other activity for a long time.”
Could it be used to attack the UK?
Unlike an air-launched nuclear missile, a Poseidon is effectively restricted to at-sea or targeted targets, meaning it could not be used to strike at many of the UK’s largest population centres.
It is unclear what defense the UK would use against a Poseidon attack, but the Ministry of Defense has invested vast sums in technology to detect and deter both warships and submarines in British waters.
Critically, the weapon is effectively untested in real-life scenarios, meaning there is no way of knowing whether it will remain undetected and whether it will work, and there are few ways for the West to assess whether it poses a real threat.
There are also several strategic reasons why such an attack on the UK is extremely unlikely, despite heightened rhetoric on the issue.
Given the UK is both a nuclear-armed power and a member of the Nato alliance, the Kremlin is well aware that any such move would prompt a major retaliation against its own forces.
Nato’s treaty stipulates that an attack on one member nation is an attack on all 30 Nato members – meaning that an attack on the UK would draw Russia almost immediately into a world war against the superior forces of the US and the other members of the alliance.
While the conflict in Ukraine has brought relations between the West and Russia to their lowest point in decades, so far the Kremlin has not crossed the red line of a direct attack on a Nato state.
Indeed, both Vladimir Putin and Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, have insisted they have no desire to start “World War Three”, citing the possible blowback on Russia and likely the entire world.
Mr Lavrov said last week that Russia did not consider itself to be at war with Nato, though he warned world leaders over their use of war-like “terminology”.