Last week, Reuters reported that a Russian television broadcast had identified five targets in the United States that Moscow would strike if nuclear war broke out. Although a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin denied naming specific sites, the broadcast appeared on Russian state TV and included a video narrated by Dmitry Kiselyov, who anchors the weekly news show “Vesti Nedeli.” (Click to remove the ad in the video above and view the English subtitles.) It aired just a few days after Putin announced that Moscow was prepared for another Cuban Missile Crisis if the United States sought one.
As Reuters noted, the broadcast was unusual “even by the sometimes bellicose standards of Russian state TV.” With the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in tatters, perhaps it is not surprising that Russia is pushing back against the possibility of US missile deployments in Europe. If that were to happen, Putin has said Russia would respond by deploying hypersonic Zircon nuclear missiles on submarines near US waters.
Russia claims its Zircon missiles can travel fast enough to hit targets in the US interior within five minutes of launch, and that each submarine can carry 40 of these missiles. In the Russian news video, Kiselyov used a map to show how Russian submarines would be positioned 250 miles off US coasts. But when he described Russia’s “unparalleled” Zircon missile, the video in fact showed an image that looks virtually identical to the US’ X-51A hypersonic flight test demonstrator developed by Boeing a decade ago.
If the purpose of the video was to frighten the Trump administration, the choice of targets was puzzling. The Pentagon and the Camp David presidential retreat would be on any Russian short list, of course. A case can also be made for Jim Creek, a little-known naval radio station about 60 miles from Seattle that provides communications for the US Pacific submarine fleet. But why did Kiselyov point to McClellan Air Force Base in California, which was deactivated in 2001 and is now home to a business park? And why Fort Ritchie in Maryland, a military training center that closed in 1998?
One theory is that Fort Ritchie made it onto the map because it is near Camp David and only a few miles across the state border from the Raven Rock Mountain Complex (also known as Site R), a Pennsylvania nuclear bunker to which the Pentagon can “relocate” in case of emergency.
And McClellan? The Russian video claims strategic offensive forces are managed there, but the only military unit currently based at McClellan is a Coast Guard air station that does patrol and search-and-rescue missions. There are plenty of other targets that would seem to have far greater military value but did not make it into the video.
Maybe the Pentagon’s merry-go-round of military base realignments, consolidations, and closures has left Russian intelligence officers’ heads spinning.