In theory, a nuclear-powered engine gives the Burevestnik unlimited range. It is designed to be able to hit targets thousands of miles away, so that in the event of a nuclear exchange, Russian submarines or bombers would not have to come within so many miles of the U.S. to launch conventionally powered nuclear weapons. It could be launched from anywhere: a true end-of-the-world weapon system.

Khodorkovskiy’s worst predictions seem to have come to pass. And Moscow’s explanation is nearly as feckless as the immediate reaction to the infamous 1985 nuclear reactor meltdown in Ukraine.

“Calling this huge explosion from what is clearly a nuclear weapon system test the consequence of a ‘nuclear battery’ is as ridiculous as what the people were told after the Chernobyl disaster,” said a retired military officer in Kiev. “Back then we were all told that ‘there has a been an event.’ No adequate, truthful explanation to warn people properly of the danger they were in. A ridiculously unconscionable, misleading warning designed to try and hide the full scope of what had happened from higher-ups in the Communist Party. Now these people in a small, northern Russian village are being told the same kind of fairy tale, that radiation levels are off the scale because of a ‘battery failure.’ Where have we seen this before?”

That no one in Russian leadership wants to own up to the potential disaster this weapon presents is unsurprising given the country’s history. But it also has to do with Putin’s mindset.