Villagers were asked to leave Nyonoksa on Wednesday morning, Aug. 14 due to planned military activities, RIA reported Tuesday, citing Ksenia Yudina, head of the press service of the Severodvinsk administration.
Local news portal tv29.ru reported that Nyonoksa would be evacuated by train between 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. Wednesday. The settlement is approximately 30 miles from the port city of Severodvinsk.
A local correspondent for the independent investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta said military officials told residents the evacuation of Nyonoksa was not connected to Thursday’s explosion, which claimed the lives of five Russian nuclear specialists.
Earlier Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to confirm widespread international speculation that the accident involved a nuclear-powered cruise missile known as the Burevestnik or Skyfall.
“Accidents, unfortunately, happen. They are tragedies. But in this particular case, it is important for us to remember those heroes who lost their lives in this accident,” he told reporters on a conference call.
An Unusual Component
While the Russian Ministry of Defense admitted something went wrong, informed observers immediately raised questions about what, exactly, had been going on at the test range.
Jeffrey Lewis, an arms-control expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, was one of the first to suggest that missile accident had an unusual component.
On Twitter, Lewis linked to an Aug. 8 picture captured by satellite imaging company Planet Labs, showing the Serebryanka, a nuclear fuel carrier, near the missile test site in Russia where the explosion and fire broke out.
An August 8 image from @planetlabs showing the Serebryanka, a nuclear fuel carrier, near a missile test site in Russia, where an explosion and fire broke out earlier. The ship’s presence may be related to the testing of a nuclear-powered cruise missile. pic.twitter.com/QhdxuDC91w
— Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) August 9, 2019
The ship’s presence, he speculated, might have been related to the testing of a nuclear-powered cruise missile.
The Serebrynka, Lewis noted, was the same ship used to recover a nuclear propulsion unit from a failed nuclear-powered cruise missile test last summer off Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean.
“We are skeptical of the claim that what was being tested was a liquid propellant jet engine,” Lewis told CNN, referring to last week’s explosion. “We think it was a nuclear-powered cruise missile that they call Burevestnik.” The same missile is known by NATO members as SCC-X-Skyfall.
President Donald Trump also made the connection, writing on Twitter Monday: “The Russian ‘Skyfall’ explosion has people worried about the air and around the facility, and far beyond. Not good!”
The United States is learning much from the failed missile explosion in Russia. We have similar, though more advanced, technology. The Russian “Skyfall” explosion has people worried about the air around the facility, and far beyond. Not good!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2019
Little public information is available about the Burevestnik/Skyfall. But last year, Putin boasted of new weaponry that he claimed would render U.S. missile defenses obsolete. Showing a video, he said, “As the range is unlimited, the missile can maneuver for as long as necessary.”
According to the local website 29.ru, officials have shut down the Dvina Bay in the White Sea for swimming for a month.