In sum: Russia has leaked the news that it now has a cobalt-salted super-nuclear torpedo that threatens the world. However, it just might be that the “news” has more to do with sending a coded message to Post-Trump America than with any real military threat




1. Superweapon

A few mornings back, I was sort of surprised to find on the CNN site the story, “US says Russia 'developing' undersea nuclear-armed torpedo.” The Russians, said the report, are building the “Status 6,” a robot submarine equipped with a huge “salted” nuclear weapon (up to 100 megatons, or four times the size of the largest thermonuclear bomb the US has ever developed). It would, in theory, be able to slip into the coastal waters of enemy nations (i.e. us) and then blow itself up, destroying anything near-by, and driving a huge wave of radioactive water far inland.

It would, in short, be a super-weapon, a radiological bomb (see "Background: Radiological Weapons" below) that could destroy whole states in a matter of moments…

A dramatic story…and decidedly worth a headline. But, I say I was surprised to see it because this is, well, very old news.

Reports of the weapon have been (no pun intended) floating around for years. Way back in 2015, the CIA revealed that the Russians were working on the device (see Russia Building Nuclear-Armed Drone Submarine by Bill Gertz in The Washington Free Beacon). And, since then, Status-6 stories have appeared every other month or so. (One of the best I’ve seen so far is Robert Farley’s Russia's Status-6: The Ultimate Nuclear Weapon or an Old Idea That Won't Die? in the National Interest. It casts an educated, and sometimes skeptical eye on the tale.)

In short, the whole thing’s on the stale side. Definitely under the fold material. But the headlines keep coming. It kind of looks like somebody is periodically juicing up the tale with a leak here, and a revelation there, just enough new info to make sure Status-6 doesn’t quite sink (again, no pun) below the public awareness.

Now, who would do that, I wonder…

We can make a pretty good guess. All you have to do is recall that Russia itself made the device more or less public via an “accidental” (i.e., deliberate) leak on TV.

It was sort of comedy, actually. The Russian government-linked NTV network just happened to run footage of some high ranking officers, and one of them just happened to be holding diagrams of the machine in his hands…and the camera shot just happened to be crystal clear.

By why on Earth would the Russians be pushing this tale of their invincible super-weapon? Why are they so eager to remind Americans that a nuclear war would be horrifically destructive?

There are all sorts of answers to that question. But the one I favor is that it has to do with Trump…or rather, the world after Trump.


2. Nervous Russians

To explain, let me mention the German media company Deutsche Welle ran a rather interesting piece on its website. “US sanctions: Nervous Russian elite 'realize Putin made a serious mistake,” an interview with Former US diplomat Daniel Fried. In it, Fried says that Russian oligarchs and other members of the power elite are beginning to get the cold sweats. They backed Trump in the belief that he would be a malleable tool and that he would soon lift sanctions against Russia.

But, it hasn’t worked out quite that way. In spite of Trump, Washington has kept a lot of sanctions in place, and seems to be working to impose a whole lot more—specifically on the oligarchs themselves. That is to say, their own wealth and well-being have been targeted.

Trump may or may not be able to prevent those additional sanctions, but he is a short-term phenomenon. Even if, heaven forbid, he is elected for a second term, he will eventually be replaced by someone who may be far less friendly to the Russian Elite’s interests than he’s been.

Okay, so, DW says the Russian elite is scared of the economic consequences of Trump, and of the post-Trump world. Let’s take it another step. Let’s extrapolate. Let’s see where the Russian Elite’s logic might lead them.

First, (the Elite would think) Russia manipulated the American election to put a hopeless puppet in place. And the American people know that. It has been heavily reported, and the FBI is actually investigating Russian-Trump connections.

Second, Trump has alienated larger and larger numbers of American voters. A third of them voted against him, a third of them didn’t vote (but they seem to have learned their lesson), and a third of them did vote for him… but the pro-Trump bloc seems to be slowly evaporating as the effects of his policies impact their lives.

Third, that means that a growing number of American people are furious at Trump…and at the people who put him into office.

Fourth, someday Trump isn’t going to be in office to protect Russian interests. One way or another, he will be gone. Either he will be removed from office, or he will serve out his term, but eventually, it will happen.

Conclusion: when that happens, there could all too easily be a day or reckoning. The American people, now free of Trump, might well decide to punish those individuals who aided his rise with foreign gold and twitter bots.

And that thought might be a little concerning to someone in the Kremlin right now.


3. The World Beyond Trump.

My point? Simply this. It may be that the Russians are preparing for a world after Trump. The story of the super-bomb submarine may, indeed, be a sign of weakness rather than strength—a signal to the American people and to the American government to come that vengeance, while sweet, would be costly.

Which means they expect Trump to fall. Maybe sooner rather than later. And let’s face it. The Russians have very good political analysts. They have done rather well at those kind of predictions in the past.

All of which leads me, at least, think that the Russian fable of nuclear holocaust …while alarming and serious…is not quite what it seems to be. And, further, that the American people, for whom the reports seem to be meant, are not the ones who should really worry.

But Trump? And those around him? The men and women of an illicit regime created by a foreign power? A foreign power which now seems to be abandoning them to their fate?

They should worry.

They should, in fact, know terror.




Background: Radiological Weapons

One of the reasons, oddly enough, to discount Status-6 as a genuine military option is that it is a radiological weapon. In this case, that means a thermonuclear bomb that has been “salted” with some material (for example, cobalt) which, when exposed to the neutron burst of the weapon’s detonation becomes itself highly radioactive. This material then spreads away from the point of detonation, potentially killing millions of people downwind.

It is perfectly possible. It is also an old idea. Indeed, people have speculated about such devices since the beginning of the nuclear age. (They even play a role in Stanley Kubrick's 1964 black comedy, Dr. Strangelove.)

Several nations may have built such devices (it is an easy task, once you have the thermonuclear weapon on hand). What is not clear is how many, if any, have actually been positioned for use. In fact, it isn’t certain that radiological devices are even viable weapons.

Like biological agents, a radiological weapon is almost as dangerous to the user as the victim. Once released into the atmosphere, radioactive dusts or mists will float pretty much where they want to go. It is entirely possible that the “victor” of a war fought with cobalt bombs would find its own population as threatened as that of the vanquished foe.

As such, devices like Status-6 have been traditionally regarded as weapons of last resort. That is, the assumption is that they’d only be used by a nation if it were in such dire straights that a few more million deaths around the world wouldn’t matter particularly. Which means, in turn, that radiological weapons’ real use is not to be used at all, but rather presented as a threat to anyone who might be in a position to successfully defeat them. The analogy that springs to mind is the desperate man with a grenade, threatening to pull the pin if his enemies don’t back away slowly.

Thus, Status-6, whatever it is, should probably be taken with a grain of (non-radioactive) salt.

Which is not to suggest that the Russian threat should be discounted. After all, Russian bots on twitter proved almost as virulent as any plague. And the most successful, high profile use of a radiological weapon to date was Russian, albeit not as an instrument of mass destruction. Rather, it was the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko with polonium-210.