Jeffrey Lewis in Prospect:
In January 2018, Russia secretly launched a cruise missile powered by a small nuclear reactor at a military testing range in the northern region of Arkhangelsk. The test of this bizarre doomsday weapon was a failure—it landed in the sea just a few kilometres from the launch site. The test would have remained a secret, but in August 2019 Russian scientists attempted to lift the wreckage off the Arctic seafloor. There was an explosion—one powerful enough to be detected by monitoring stations in Finland, Norway and Sweden. Five scientists were killed and a brief spike of radiation was detected in the nearby city of Severodvinsk. Images on social media showed emergency service workers responding in Hazmat suits. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban treaty Organisation, the body charged with detecting nuclear explosions, predicted that any plume of radionuclides from the accident would soon drift over monitoring stations in central Russia. Then those stations mysteriously stopped working. Viewers of the drama series Chernobyl might not have been surprised.
The story of how modern Russia found itself in a Soviet-style effort to suppress information about a nuclear accident is a story about the collapse of the post-Cold War peace. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is resurrecting Soviet-era nuclear weapons programmes, and covering them up with Soviet-era disinformation because Russia and the US are drifting back into the logic of the Cold War. Even worse, they are drifting towards the free-for-all of the early Cold War, before there were any restrictions on the terrifying competition of the arms race.