Why Putin's nuclear weapons claims are unlikely to spark an arms race

Putin announces nuclear weapons announcement

Russian president Vladimir Putin announced Thursday a new generation of nuclear weapons in a saber-rattling speech, raising concerns about a Cold War-style arms race. Putin's threats came in his annual state of the nation address and in both language and tone recalled the chilliest days of the Cold War. 

The showpiece was a new missile that was nuclear powered, he claimed, and had unlimited range. In an interview with NBC the Russian president was asked to confirm if this new missile was actually operational, to which he responded: All of those tests were successful. It's just each of these weapons systems are at a different stage of readiness, reports CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer.

Western analysts doubt there is anything revolutionary in the Russian arsenal. Anyway, Western intelligence agencies are keeping a close eye on Russia's weapons development.

"We're not surprised by the statements and the American people should rest assured that we are fully prepared," said Pentagon spokesman Dana White.

Russia has long had a fearsome arsenal, but it's old and needs updating. The innovations Putin mentioned in his speech – like an unmanned submarine that could eventually fire a nuclear warhead – are part of a modernization program, but not the start of a dangerous new arms race.

"It's natural to be worried about that, I don't see it as a sort of on the edge of our seats in terms of a potential nuclear conflict in any way shape or form, but we do need to be vigilant about this," said former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, James Winnefeld.

One other thing to keep in mind: Putin is facing a presidential election in less than three weeks. Looking and talking tough goes down very well with Russian voters.