Russia has developed "unstoppable" nuclear weapons that can avoid any missile defence systems, and plans to bolster its arsenal with nuclear-powered cruise missiles capable of hitting any point on the globe, President Vladimir Putin claimed in his annual address to lawmakers.
He also warned that Moscow would consider any nuclear attack, of any size, on it or its allies an attack on Russia and would lead to an immediate response - adopting Cold War-style overtones that appeared to ramp up Russia's posturing against the West and its allies.
Putin's speech, which began with a rundown of domestic projects, quickly veered into a harsh rendering of East-West tensions and boasts over purported major advances in Russia's arsenal such as a nuclear-powered cruise missile that could strike anywhere.
Putin did not specify any of Moscow's allies that it would defend or cite any immediate threats. But his remarks could be seen as a message to Washington over souring relations with Moscow, including US investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Putin said the United States had failed to take Russia's nuclear might seriously or to adequately negotiate arms control. US efforts to contain Russia, he said, had failed.
"No one listened to us," Putin said. "Listen to us now."
"We're not threatening anyone," Putin said of the new weapons. "Russia's growing military might is a reliable guarantee of peace on our planet because it ensures the strategic balance in the world."
Putin claimed that late last year, Russia had successfully tested a cruise missile that was propelled by a nuclear-powered engine. The engine gave the cruise missile practically unlimited range, distinguishing it from existing cruise missiles.
The missile would be able to fly close to the ground and follow an unpredictable flight path, rendering existing missile defences "useless", Putin said. Tests of the technology "will allow the development of a complete new type of weapon - a strategic complex of nuclear arms with rockets fitted with a nuclear-propulsion engine".
"This is the start of a new Cold War," said Alexander Golts, a Moscow-based independent analyst of the Russian military. "This is an effort to scare the West."
The biggest surprise, Golts said, was Putin's announcement of a nuclear-powered cruise missile, which he said would represent a major breakthrough. Weapons experts he had spoken to after the speech, Golts said, "were all in shock, like me".
Dmitri Trenin, head of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, tweeted: "Giving half the time in the annual address to the Russian parliament to a graphic description of new weapons' capabilities is a measure of how close the US and Russia have moved towards military collision.
"For the foreseeable future, it looks that the US-Russia agenda will be limited to just one item: war prevention. Good luck to us all."
The nearly two-hour speech to top Russian officials and members of Parliament began with a series of promises to improve domestic living standards and ended with stark warnings to the United States.
Russia, Putin asserted, had responded to US development of missile defense shields by developing weapons impervious to them.
On the big screen behind him, video footage and computer graphics showed off the new weapons. In one animation, a missile launched from Russia was shown flying across the Atlantic, rounding the southern tip of South America, and heading up the Pacific towards the US mainland.
"I hope everything that has been said today will sober any potential aggressor," Putin said.
Thursday's address was Putin's first major policy statement since he formally kicked off his campaign for the presidential elections. Putin, 65, is all but certain to win a fourth and likely final term to extend his rule to 2024. With factions jostling for advantage over the succession, his biggest challenge will be to build a team and a system capable of sustaining Putinism after he leaves office.
His approval ratings have remained consistently above 80 per cent since the 2014 annexation of Crimea, but public discontent is rising amid weak economic growth after the longest recession this century. Many of his promises from his last campaign have remained unfulfilled amid the weak economic performance. Deepening tensions with the West threaten to further isolate the Kremlin.
Putin addressed domestic issues head-on in the speech, pledging to halve the 20-million-strong ranks of Russia's poor by the middle of the next decade and boost incomes across the country. He called for raising spending on roads, health care, pensions, and efforts to reverse the decline in Russia's population. He also called for making "hard decisions" on long-overdue reforms, but didn't spell them out.
"We need to make a decisive breakthrough in the prosperity of our citizens," he said. "Falling behind is the main threat, that's our enemy," he added, targeting a 50 per cent increase in per capita gross domestic product by the middle of the next decade.
Putin had cut back his public campaign appearances in the past two weeks because of what the Kremlin said was a cold. Thursday, he sounded hoarse and coughed as he spoke. He's expected to appear at a major rally of supporters in a Moscow stadium Saturday.
- additional reporting Bloomberg