Russia has begun building new nuclear submarines capable of carrying intercontinental ballistic missiles as part of a wide-reaching military modernization effort amid rising tensions with the United States and other Western powers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin personally announced the new construction, delivering orders via a video call Monday for two ICBM-armed nuclear submarines, as well as two diesel-powered subs and two corvettes at shipyards in Severodvinsk, St. Petersburg and Komsomolsk-on-Amur.
“We will continue to boost the potential of the Russian navy, develop its bases and infrastructure, arm it with state-of-the-art weapons,” the Russian president said.
“A strong and sovereign Russia needs a powerful and well-balanced navy,” he said.
There was no immediate reaction from the Biden administration, although Mr. Putin‘s statements coincide with rising concern in Washington over Russia‘s futuristic weapons development.
The concerns are undergirded by warnings from U.S. officials about growing great power competition with both Russia and China.
A Congressional Research Service report published this month underscored how “the emergence of great power competition with China and Russia has profoundly changed the conversation about U.S. defense issues from what it was during the post-Cold War era.”
The report suggested that the dominant theme in discussion on U.S. defense priorities has shifted in recent years from counterterrorist operations to such issues as “maintaining U.S. superiority in conventional weapon technologies” over Moscow and Beijing.
“Russia‘s reassertion of its status as a major world power has included, among other things, recurring references by Russian officials to Russia‘s nuclear weapons capabilities and Russia‘s status as a major nuclear weapon power,” the report said.
The situation has been vexing for the Biden administration. One of his first moves as president in February was a five-year extension of the then-expiring START nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, despite outcry from critics who said the move ignores China’s emergence as a major nuclear power and cedes leverage to Moscow over future negotiations.
On a separate front, U.S. military officials sought to draw attention to the increased Russian military activity in the Arctic.
In April, CNN reported that new imagery had revealed a major Russian build-up in the Arctic and claimed Moscow had begun actively testing new weapons in the region, parts of which are freshly ice-free due to changing climate patterns.
Moscow’s apparent goal is to secure its northern coast and dominate a key shipping route from Asia to Europe.
The April CNN report cited weapons experts and Western officials expressing particular concern about one Russian “super-weapon” — the unmanned Poseidon 2M39 torpedo, a stealth projectile powered by a nuclear reactor and intended by Russian designers to sneak past coastal defenses on the seafloor.
The Kremlin has made military modernization a top priority as relations with the West have plunged to post-Cold War lows after Russia‘s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea. Moscow has sought to reestablish a regular naval presence in parts of the world that the Soviet Union had during the Cold War.
The Russian navy already has a major presence in the Mediterranean Sea, with a naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus. It has expanded and modified the Tartus base, the only such facility that Russia currently has outside the former Soviet Union.
“We will continue to show the Russian flag in strategically important ocean areas,” Mr. Putin said Monday.
Monday’s ceremony for the new ships was part of the Army-2021 show intended to showcase military might and attract foreign customers for Russia‘s arms industries. The weeklong show features aircraft, tanks, missiles and other weapons.
“Many of our weapons have capabilities that have no analogues in the world, and some will remain unrivaled for a long time to come,” the Russian president said.
• This story is based in part on wire service reports.