Russia’s top space official, Dmitry Rogozin, recited a well-known children’s poem in a YouTube video commemorating a national holiday last week. When he got to the line, “I love everybody around the world,” the clip took a dark turn, showing footage from the test launch of Russia’s nuke-capable Sarmat ballistic missile, nicknamed “Satan-2.”
Threats of nuclear war are now so trivial to the Kremlin that they’ve become the stuff of jokes.
On Saturday, Rogozin, the director of Russia’s federal space agency Roscosmos, announced the second testing launch of Sarmat—a ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads—which he had called “a present for NATO.” On his weekly show on the state-run TV network Russia-24, Rogozin said he was the one overseeing “increasing demands for this machine that has been agreed with our client, the Ministry of Defense; and of course we have started the serial production of the missiles.” Rogozin added that on Putin’s orders, Roscosmos was planning to assign the first division of Sarmat missiles in the Krasnoyarsk region this year.
While boasting of his Satan-2 monstrosity, Rogozin also doubled down on Russian threats against NATO member Lithuania for its transit ban on Russian exports.
“From my point of view—and I am the man who led those negotiations in 2003, as the presidential special representative—we should start casting doubt on the entire package of our agreements,” he said, referring to the 1920 peace treaty between Soviet Russia and Lithuania that recognized the country’s sovereignty. “Lithuania has shot itself at its own foot, casting doubt on its own state border.”
It was not the first time Rogozin, who is also Russia’s former ambassador to NATO, threatened the alliance with conflicts or weapons of mass destruction.
“Rogozin is a real hawk, I have known him personally very well for many years, he likes to perform on stage, make jokes, but his recent nuclear saber rattling makes me very worried,” Gennady Gudkov, a former member of Parliament and KGB veteran, told The Daily Beast. “The Kremlin obviously wants him to threaten NATO with nuclear war and that is no joke, since we have seen too many psychopathic orders to kill thousands of civilians in the past few months.”
“I heard from my sources close to the Kremlin back in February that there was a discussion about using... the nuclear weapons, so I moved all my grandchildren out of Russia,” Gudkov added.
Last month, Rogozin said that “in a nuclear war, NATO countries will be destroyed by us in half an hour.” Nobody in the government has disavowed his apocalyptic threats.
“We are not fighting the Nazis in Ukraine, we are liberating Ukraine” of Western influence, he said 11 weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his army “to denazify and demilitarize” Ukraine. By early April, it was obvious that the “operation” would take a lot longer than the Kremlin had anticipated. By mid-April, Ukraine had pushed Russian military forces out of the Kyiv region, and just weeks after that, the first test of the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile was conducted.
“Try to threaten our country, think twice,” Putin warned, just as his state TV propaganda machine declared that “everything will end with a nuclear strike.”
It’s clear that images of the Sarmat were meant to intimidate NATO away from Russia’s borders. Just this week, as the NATO summit kicked off in Madrid, the Russian federal space agency ominously published Sputnik satellite images showing exact coordinates of the summit’s location on Telegram.
“Russian propagandists often begin to believe what they say; there’s obviously something behind their constant threats,” Vasily Gatov, senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center of Communication, told The Daily Beast. “But Rogozin often sounds like a charlatan. He is a classical Putin’s bureaucrat who is good at public relations and who shares murky imperialist ideas.”
But to those in Ukraine getting bombarded by Russian missiles, Rogozin’s Sarmat threats sound serious.
The founder and editor-in-chief of Ukraine’s Zaborona media outlet, Katerina Sergatskova, was sleeping peacefully at home with her husband and their two little children when the first Russian missiles struck Kyiv on Feb. 24. Sergatskova’s apartment block is on the left bank of the Dnieper River, which was attacked six times in the first day of the war.
“We seriously consider an attack by a Russian nuclear ballistic missile, that they would use it to improve their positions in high-stake negotiations,” she told The Daily Beast.
Earlier this month, nuclear talks came to a boiling point when Radoslaw Sikorski, a member of European Parliament, suggested the West “has a right to give Ukraine nuclear warheads.” Another Kremlin ideologist, the Chairman of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, immediately promised Europe would “disappear” if they provided Ukraine with nuclear weapons. “Sikorski is provoking a nuclear conflict in the center of Europe. He neither thinks about the future of Ukraine nor about the future of Poland,” Volodin said.
KGB veteran Gudkov believes Putin has several bunkers to turn to in case of nuclear warfare. “When he says he has a plan, that plan must mean to be hiding 2,500 meters underground together with whomever he considers his closest men. The rest seem to be panicking. Nearly all Russian oligarchs have left the country,” Gudkov told The Daily Beast.
Military experts analyzing the risks of a nuclear war say there are no signs yet that Russia is willing to go that far.
“I am a bit worried about the trivial discussions of a nuclear war. There is a big question: Who is Rogozin?... He is not the president of Russia and as far as we know, he is not [directly] involved in testing Sarmat. It is the Russian Ministry of Defense that does the testing.”
Still, that hasn’t stopped Rogozin from being one of the top Russian voices spreading fear of a catastrophic nuclear meltdown the world over.
“With a nuclear charge, such a crater at an enemy site will be… very large and very deep,” Rogozin said in reference to Sarmat-2 last month. But for now, “It remains only to advise the aggressors to talk more politely with Russia.”