This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Russia’s Defense Ministry says it has informed President Vladimir Putin that the controversial new hypersonic, intercontinental-range Avangard missile system has been put into service.
The announcement is the latest public sign of Russian high-tech weapons-delivery efforts amid frayed diplomatic relations and discarded or threatened nuclear and other arms agreements with the West.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu informed Putin of the entry into combat duty of the first Avangard missile unit, the Defense Ministry said on December 27, and congratulated Russia’s Strategic Missile Force on “this remarkable event,” according to TASS.
The Avangard could further complicate already tricky efforts to extend the historic New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between the United States and Russia that is set to expire in February 2021, with Washington pressing to include China in a sweeping new deal to limit deployed strategic and nuclear warheads and bombs.
New START is now the last remaining nuclear-arms agreement between Russia and the United States after Washington withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in August over accusations that Russia developed a weapon banned by the agreement.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has expressed concern about extending New START beyond 2021 considering Russian efforts to develop new nuclear systems that are not covered by the treaty.
The Avangard system was one of several advanced weapons systems Putin presented to the Russian public in March 2018 as a response to Washington’s efforts to develop missile-defense capabilities.
Putin predicted it would be “invulnerable to interception by any existing and prospective missile-defense means of the potential adversary” and has compared its development to satellite breakthroughs in the 1950s.
Interfax quoted Russian Strategic Missile Troops commander Sergei Karakayev as saying the first regiment armed with the Avangard was in the Orenberg region.