Moscow is still having serious teething problemsBulava Launch with their new sea-launched nuclear missiles:

On September 6th Russia tested another of its Bulava (also known as R-30 3M30 and SS-NX-30) SLBMs (Sea Launched Ballistic Missile) and after about a minute of flight the Bulava failed and had to be destroyed. This was supposed to be a final test for Bulava, as well as for the second and third of the new Borei class SSBNs (ballistic missile nuclear subs or “boomers”). The Defense Ministry promptly ordered five more Bulava tests and delayed commissioning of the two new Boreis. This is but the latest in a decade of failures in developing a new SLBM for a new generation of SSBNs.

There’s talk of going back to the tried-and-true liquid-fueled Sineva SLBM, but that would cost billions to refit the Boreis and cause years of delays in putting them out on deterrence patrols.

Russia has a big problem here, bigger than missiles that don’t fly or submarines with the wrong-size missile tubes.

The only thing protecting Russia’s territorial integrity from grab-happy foreigners is their nuclear deterrent. The Russian Army simply isn’t up to fighting a well-organized and well-trained foe. They’re barely competent at shelling terrorists out of their hidey holes, even when given permission to reduce entire cities to rubble (cough, Grozny, cough). Decades of neglect and some historically awful training methods have taken their toll. But Russia still has plenty of nukes, and nobody doubts Putin’s willingness to let them fly in self-defense.

But a credible nuclear deterrent requires a credible second-strike capability. That is, if somebody (cough, China, cough) were to launch a first strike and take out Russia’s land-based ICBMs, they still have hidden submarines sneaking around with the ability to unleash some nuclear whoop-ass in retaliation. That’s why Russia’s problems with Bulava could prove to be a real threat to the general peace of East Asia.

Eliminate the nuclear threat, and China could probably take Vladivostok and Russia’s Far Eastern Maritime Province (Primorsky Krai) without too much trouble. Moscow would have a difficult time supporting much fighting, given the distances involved and the shoddy-to-non-existent infrastructure through Siberia. Give the Chinese another decade or two to modernize, and they could probably develop the operational reach to take everything east of Irkutsk. That’s a lot of mineral wealth and lebensraum the Chinese could exploit much better than the Russians.

There’s just the tiny matter of a nuclear first strike, followed by an ugly general war.

That’s the kind of thing nightmares are made of. So while I detest Putin and I’m thoroughly embarrassed by the way he’s pwned our President, I do very much hope he’s able to get the Bulava working, reliable, and at the ready.