In just one day, the suggestions have been pouring in: “Kraken” for a new underwater drone capable of blasting coastlines with a powerful nuclear explosion, “Balalaika” for a futuristic nuclear-powered cruise missile capable of circling the globe. Russians are showering the defense ministry with proposed names for the country’s new nuclear weapons, relishing the online contest announced by President Vladimir Putin in his state-of-the-nation address on Thursday.
Many of the entries on Friday reflected the wry dark humor Russians are known for. Someone suggested calling the missile “Sanction,” an apparent reference to Western economic sanctions against Russia for its support of separatists in Ukraine. Another proposed calling it “Thaw,” adding in a note of sarcasm that it would finally help warm the ties between Russia and the U.S.
The kraken — a fictional gigantic Arctic sea monster that was made popular by the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film series — seemed to reflect the nature of the nuclear-powered drone intended to sneak close to the shore unnoticed and slam a heavy nuclear warhead into the coast. And naming the stealth atomic-powered cruise missile after a Russian folk musical instrument tapped into a long Russian tradition of giving innocuous names to some of the deadliest weapons.
There were quite a few four-letter entries as well. Many others were driven by patriotic feelings, suggesting that the weapons be named after legendary Russian warriors or Putin himself.
The regional leader of the province of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, proposed calling the nuclear-powered cruise missile “Palmyra,” after the historic heritage site in Syria that was taken back from the Islamic State group under the Russian air cover. The site suffered extensive damage in the fighting. “The missile’s name should honor our guys who died in Syria,” Kadyrov said. “The Russian victory in Palmyra marked a turning point in the fight against the IS.”
Russian diplomats have sought to spread the contest beyond Russia’s borders, with the Russian Embassy in Washington tweeting a link to the defense ministry’s web site.
Speaking on Friday at a public forum in Kaliningrad, Putin again boasted about the new weapons, saying that the still-anonymous underwater drone, the nuclear-powered cruise missile and the intercontinental hypersonic strike vehicle called Avangard border on science fiction. He said the underwater drone “goes faster than any surface ship that exists today, I wouldn’t even tell you the speed, it’s incredible.” The hypersonic vehicle “flies at a speed 20 times the speed of sound … and it can maneuver thousands of kilometers up and down and right to left,” Putin said, gesticulating energetically. “It’s like science fiction.”
He said the Avangard’s development had become possible thanks to the creation of new materials. “We have been working on them for quite a long time,” he said. “Other countries also have tried, but apparently, so far have failed to make them, and we succeeded thanks to new materials.”
As the weapon name contest went on, Russian officials and lawmakers insisted that Putin’s speech wasn’t an announcement of a new arms race but a warning to Washington to treat Russia as an equal partner.
“Russia has no intention of entering an arms race,” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday, adding that the weapons presented by the Russian leader aimed to maintain a “strategic parity, which is essential for maintaining peace and stability.”
The Pentagon, on Thursday, dismissed Putin’s boasts about developing a new array of nuclear weapons, saying America’s missile defense is ready to protect the nation but is not directed at Russia.