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Russian TV touts missile targets in U.S. for hypothetical "vengeance," but does Russia want an arms race?

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Presenter Dmitry Kiselyov is seen on the set of his show "Vesti Nedeli," on Russian state-controlled TV channel Rossia 1, with a map showing sites in the U.S. that he said Russia would target in "vengeance" over a hypothetical U.S. nuclear strike on Russia. Kiselyov's weekly show is one of the most watched news programs in Russia.

Moscow -- Russia dialled up its military rhetoric this week with state television naming U.S. military facilities that Moscow would target in response to a hypothetical U.S. nuclear strike. The segment on a flagship Sunday news show -- first of this kind since March 2014, when the same show stated that Russia was capable of "turning the U.S. into radioactive ashes" -- came on the heels of the two countries suspending a 1980s nuclear arms control treaty and President Vladimir Putin announcing work on a new hypersonic nuclear missile.

The anchor of the show, Dmitry Kiselyov, known for its vehement pro-Kremlin and anti-American stance, showed a map of the U.S. with targets that included the Pentagon and the presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland. He explained that a hypersonic missile that Russia is developing would be able to hit them in less than five minutes.

"Vengeance on the U.S. territory is (a matter of) principle to us," he said.

Kiselyov's weekly show, "Vesti Nedeli," is one of the most watched news programs in Russia. It is broadcast on Rossia 1, a state-owned and state-funded TV channel, the editorial policies of which are reportedly coordinated directly with the Kremlin. The edition of the show in question was aired just days after Putin said Moscow was prepared to respond if the U.S. were to deploy more missiles in Europe.

"Just scare tactics"

In spite of the dire warnings from Putin and the Russian media he controls, defense and foreign affairs analysts in the country have dismissed the threats as propaganda and said the Kremlin is not ready for or interested in a new full-on arms race with the U.S. 

"It's just scare tactics, attempts to throw the opponent off," Pavel Luzin, a defense industry expert at Russia's Perm State University, told CBS News in a phone interview. "The Kremlin is once again trying to make the West take it seriously and recognize its power, and the only leverage it has is military threats."

Earlier this month the Trump administration announced its decision to pull out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The White House said it was a response to "years of Russian violations," something Moscow denied. The Kremlin responded in kind, and immediately announced that it was developing a new hypersonic nuclear missile, the Tsirkon (Zircon), capable of travelling up to 620 miles -- a distance in excess of the maximum permitted under the INF treaty. 

During the annual State of the Nation address, Putin said Russia would be forced to place the new missiles on submarines near U.S. waters if the U.S. were to deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe. 

Putin warns U.S. against putting missiles in Europe

"This is a very serious threat to us. We would have to take asymmetric retaliatory measures," Putin said. 

Kiselyov presumed in his television segment that the missiles would be placed about 500 miles from the target sites and would be able to reach them within 4 minutes and 36 seconds. "For now, we're not threatening anyone," he said, "but if such a deployment takes place, our response will be instant." 

Rhetoric versus reality

The U.S. insists it has no immediate plans to deploy such missiles in Europe, and the Trump administration has also been dismissive of Putin's warnings. The U.S. does not currently have ground-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles that it could place in Europe, as they were banned under the INF.

As Luzin pointed out, right now Russia doesn't have a hypersonic nuclear missile -- typically deemed to be any rocket that travels at least five-times the speed of sound -- that can travel as far as 600 miles either, and he said the country was still "10 years away" from such a capability. 

Deploying sea-based missiles close to U.S. waters could be problematic for the Russian Navy, given the United States' naval superiority, adds foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov. 

He also noted that the strategic sites listed by Kiselyov on Russian TV have been part of Soviet and Russian nuclear target sets for decades. "It's something we have been living with for the past 40 years," Frolov told CBS News. "Putin's promise to target decision-making centers in the U.S. with sea-based hypersonic missiles does not add much to the existing threat level." 

U.S. pulls out of Cold War-era deal with Russia

While the breakdown of the INF treaty does free up Russia to work on new missile systems, a new full-blown arms race is unlikely, said Andrei Baklitsky, a military expert at the Moscow-based PIR Center think-tank.

"Russia isn't interested in one. It has other domestic problems to deal with and money to spend on. If (in 2017) more than 30 percent of Putin's State of the Nation address was dedicated to missiles, this year only 14 percent of it touched upon foreign affairs and defence policies. The country's multiplying social issues took up much more room this time," Baklitsky noted in an interview with CBS News. 

So while both sides may develop new missile systems to show off to each other, to "demonstrate what is possible and not let the opponent gain any significant advantage," that will likely be it, Baklitsky said.  

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