An unarmed Russian intercontinental ballistic missile self-destructed Wednesday as it veered off course shortly after its launch from the Barents Sea on Wednesday, in a second blow to the country’s nuclear forces in two days.
The missile was destroyed 98 seconds into its launch from an underwater nuclear submarine in the Arctic waters, Russia’s Northern Fleet said in a statement.
It did not explain why the missile veered off course, saying only that an investigation into the accident was underway.
The incident occurred just one day after Russia’s navy scrapped two similar tests because of a reported malfunction, an embarrassing setback since President Vladimir Putin set sail into the Barents Sea to personally witness the launches.
The missiles were supposed to hit a target in the Far East Kamchatka peninsula.
The launches were part of weeks-long military exercises that include most branches of the Russian armed forces, in what the media is billing as the biggest war games staged here since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
They come just ahead of the March 14 presidential election in which Putin — who has made army reforms one his top priorities and relies heavily on the support of Russian patriotic forces — is expected to easily win re-election for a second term.
There was no immediate reaction from Putin or his Kremlin staff to the ICBM explosion.
But the setback in the Barents Sea the day before was not covered by state-controlled television while navy officials tried to explain that an actual launch was never planned for that day.
The Kommersant business daily said Tuesday’s launch went wrong when the first of two ICBMs failed to completely leave its launching pad. The second launch was then called off as a security precaution.
Navy commander Vladimir Kuroyedov told Interfax in response to the Kommersant report that he refused “to comment on gossip.”