“Nobody wanted to talk to us,” Mr. Putin complained in the speech. “Now listen to us.”
He and others have talked about Russia’s plans for the “Poseidon” in a nod to the Doomsday Machine parodied in the 1964 classic “Dr. Strangelove,” which could hit the West Coast even if Moscow and Russia’s military centers were already destroyed in a nuclear strike. While fictional, the movie was based on a real Soviet plan, a demonstration of how long Soviet and Russian leaders have entertained the idea.
The “Poseidon” undersea drone still appears to be years away. But for Mr. Putin, the most promising weapon has been the nuclear-propelled cruise missile, which he advertised to be able to fly an unlimited range — an answer to American “global strike” weapons that are designed to reach any corner of the earth, with a non-nuclear warhead.
A little more than a year ago, Russia’s Ministry of Defense produced a carefully-edited YouTube video that showed the missile heading aloft, and left the impression, wrongly, that it was already working.
The Russian admission that the accident centered on an “isotope power source” followed a series of anonymous statements, run on Tass and other Russian news sites, that seemed to mix fact, rumor and some disinformation. But satellite images offer some clues.
An Aug. 8 image released by Planet Labs, a firm that launches small satellites, appears to show the Serebryanka, a ship that carries nuclear fuel and waste, offshore from the Nenoksa Missile Test Site. Its presence, Jeffrey Lewis, a scholar at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute, wrote on Twitter, “may be related to the testing of a nuclear-powered cruise missile.”
That vessel, which can safely collect nuclear waste, was also seen at another test of the 9M730 Burevestnick. Other facilities examined by Mr. Lewis’ experts seemed to show testing facilities consistent with those previously shown in Russian reports on past tests.
On Sunday, Mr. Lewis said that given the string of other suspected failures in tests of the missile’s propulsion system, “we think they are having troubles getting the reactor to light” and create the heat to fuel the missile. The images on the Russian YouTube video “doesn’t show you enough to prove it’s working,’’ he said.