People in northern Russia posted photos and videos of a giant ball of light in the sky on Thursday night, sparking rumours of the “end of the world” or an “alien invasion”.
The sightings coincided with Putin’s launch of four intercontinental ballistic missiles as part of wide-ranging exercises to test the coordination of Russia’s nuclear triad of ground-based missiles, submarines and strategic aviation.
At the time local media and officials believed the phenomenon, later attributed to the missile launches, was possibly connected to the Northern Lights.
A video released by the Russian defence ministry showed a mobile launcher firing a Topol intercontinental ballistic missile from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northwestern Russia on Thursday night.
The missile travelled across almost the entire country, hitting its target at a testing range in Kamchatka in the far east.
A nuclear submarine fired a missile from the Barents Sea near Norway that made impact at the same testing range.
Another submarine in the Sea of Okhotsk north of Japan fired two missiles across Russia in the other direction, hitting targets at a testing range in the Arkhangelsk region.
A Tu-160 supersonic bomber also launched cruise missiles at targets in Russia and Kazakhstan.
Russia’s defence ministry said: “In accordance with the Armed Forces Training Plan the Russian Federation conducted training on the management of Russia’s Strategic Nuclear Forces.
“To participate in the training, forces and means of the ground, sea and aviation component of the Strategic Nuclear Forces of the Russian Federation were involved.
“From the State Plesetsk cosmodrome, the combat calculation of the Strategic Missile Forces launched the launch of the intercontinental ballistic missile Topol on the Kura test range.”
Thousands of Russian troops marched into Europe for the Zapad Exercises, which some neighbouring countries believed was preparation for an invasion.
Poland warned of a “risk” of an “aggressive scenario” during the week-long drills, which began on September 14.
Polish Deputy Defence Minister Michal Dworczyk had said he was fearful of violent incidents, warning: “Operations on this scale always run this risk.”
It comes as the Kremlin hit out at possible new US sanctions against Russia which officials described as a cause for concern and a reflection of Washington’s unfriendly and even hostile attitude towards Moscow.
The US State Department said yesterday it had belatedly begun informing Congress and others about groups associated with the Russian intelligence and defence sectors as required under a 2017 law tightening sanctions on Russia.