MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin oversaw a test Wednesday of a new hypersonic glide vehicle, declaring that the weapon is impossible to intercept and will ensure Russia’s security for decades to come.
Speaking to Russia’s top military brass after watching the live feed of the launch of the Avangard vehicle from the Defense Ministry’s control room, Putin said the successful test was a “great success” and an “excellent New Year’s gift to the nation.”
The test comes amid bitter tensions in Russia-U.S. relations, which have sunk to their lowest level since the Cold War times over the conflict in Ukraine, the war in Syria and the allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
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Putin's hopes for repairing ties with Washington under President Donald Trump have fizzled amid investigations into allegations of Trump's campaign ties with Russia, and tensions have escalated as the U.S. administration slapped Russia with new waves of sanctions.
The Avangard was among the array of new nuclear weapons that Putin presented in March, saying that Russia had to develop them in response to the development of the U.S. missile defense system that could erode Russia’s nuclear deterrent.
In Wednesday's test, the weapon was launched from the Dombarovskiy missile base in the southern Ural Mountains. The Kremlin said it successfully hit a designated practice target on the Kura shooting range on Kamchatka, 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) away.
"The Avangard is invulnerable to intercept by any existing and prospective missile defense means of the potential adversary," Putin said after the test, adding that the new weapon will enter service next year with the military's Strategic Missile Forces.
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The Russian president denies the U.S. claim it is developing a land-based cruise missile.
When first presenting the Avangard in March, the Russian leader said the new system has an intercontinental range and can fly in the atmosphere at 20 times the speed of sound, bypassing the enemy's missile defense.
He emphasized that no other country currently has hypersonic weapons.
Putin has said that Avangard is designed using new composite materials to withstand temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees Celsius (3,632 degrees Fahrenheit) that come from a flight through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds.