Vladimir Putin has found a new bestie in American media.
The Russian president, fresh off a state of the nation address that featured digital renderings of an “invincible” nuclear weapon targeting the state of Florida, sat down for the second time in less than a year with NBC’s Megyn Kelly on Thursday. In the interview, Putin denied that the creation of a warhead “invincible in the face of all existing and future systems of both missile defense and air defense” in any way fomented the beginnings of a new cold war.
“The individuals who have said that a new cold war has started are not really analysts—they do propaganda,” Putin told Kelly when asked if Russia had started an arms race. “If you were to speak about arms race, than an arms race began at exactly the time and moment when the U.S. opted out of the anti-ballistic missile treaty.”
When pressed, however, Putin did not directly refute claims by some analysts that the weapon had not, in fact, been fully tested.
“Every single weapons system that I have discussed today easily surpasses and avoids a missile defense system,” Putin said. Some, though, “still have to be fine-tuned and worked on. Others are already available to the troops and battle-ready.”
Some intelligence analysts pointed to Putin’s use of a digital rendering of the weapon’s flight as evidence that a successful test flight had not been conducted—a charge Putin dismissed.
“All of those tests were successful,” Putin said. “It’s just each of these weapons systems are at a different stage of readiness. One of them is already on combat duty. It’s available to the troops.”
Details regarding the missile, dubbed the RS-28 Sarmat, have been scarce, although Russian state-owned news site Sputnik has described it as a two-stage rocket with a mass of 100 tons and a range of 6,200 miles. A Russian government-owned TV network has claimed that the new missile, which features a payload of 12 independent warheads, can wipe out an area “the size of Texas or France.”
Putin’s sitdown with Kelly comes 17 days before an election in which he is widely expected to win a fourth term as Russia’s president—and eight months after another interview with Kelly, in which the newly minted NBC News host was widely lambasted as ill-prepared. In that interview, Putin went largely unchallenged as he dismissed allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, and implied that American intelligence services assassinated John F. Kennedy.
Kelly’s full interview with Putin will be aired by NBC “in the coming days,” according to NBC News anchor Lester Holt.