Russia has unveiled chilling pictures of its largest ever nuclear missile, capable of destroying an area the size of France.

The RS-28 Sarmat missile, dubbed Satan 2 by Nato, has a top speed of 4.3 miles (7km) per second and has been designed to outfox anti-missile shield systems.

The new Sarmat missile could deliver warheads of 40 megatons – 2,000 times as powerful as the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is reportedly planning to replace the country’s older SS-18 Satan weapons with the new missiles amid a string of recent disagreements with the West.

The pictures were revealed online by chief designers from the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau.

A message posted alongside the picture said: ‘In accordance with the Decree of the Russian Government ‘On the State Defense Order for 2010 and the planning period 2012-2013’, the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau was instructed to start design and development work on the Sarmat. ‘

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The RS-28 Sarmat missile is said to contain 16 nuclear warheads and is capable of destroying an area the size of France or Texas, according to Russian news network Zvezda, which is owned by Russia’s ministry of defence.

The weapon is also able to evade radar.

It is expected to have a range of 6,213 miles (10,000 km), which would allow Moscow to attack London and other European cities as well as reaching cities on America’s west and east coasts.

Igor Sutyagin, an expert in Russian nuclear capability at the Royal United Services Institute in London, told MailOnline: ‘The SS-18 is more than 30 years old. It is past its sell-by date.

‘So even if you had the warmest relations in the world with Nato you would want to update your missiles.

‘But (President) Putin of course is happy for it to be portrayed as an aggressive move. He wants to stress his unpredictability and his importance.’

Dr Sutyagin points out that the SS-18 missiles which the Russians currently rely on were designed in 1988 during the Soviet Union and were built at a factory in Dnipropetrovsk, in what is now the Ukraine.

He said the Russians cannot totally rely on the Ukraine-based maintenance engineers and he said Sarmat were designed and built by Russians at the Khrunichev plant just outside Moscow.

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Dr Sutyagin they would be no match for Nato systems like Aegis Ashore, the controversial missile defence shield which the US is deploying to Romania.

He said: ‘Not only are they too fast but they have got rid of the predictable flight path.

‘It manouevres all the way so it is terribly difficult for any missile defence system to shoot it down.’

The Russian Defence Ministry plans to put the Sarmat into service in late 2018 and remove the last SS-18 by 2020.

The Sarmat has been in development since 2009 and is scheduled to start replacing the old ICBMs in 2018.

The new missile is said to be undergoing testing near Miass in Russia.

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Last week, the Royal Navy was forced to deploy its vessels as Russian warships chugged through the English Channel on their way to the Mediterranean.

The fleet is heading for Syria could be used to target civilians in the besieged city of Aleppo, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned on Tuesday, calling on Moscow to implement a lasting ceasefire.

NATO is monitoring the movement of the eight-strong carrier battle group from northern Russia towards Gibraltar en route to the eastern Mediterranean, where alliance officials fear it will launch fighter bombers to hit northwestern Syria early in November.

‘The battle group may be used to increase Russia’s ability to take part in combat operations over Syria and to conduct even more air strikes against Aleppo,’ Stoltenberg said.

‘The concern is that the carrier group can be used as a platform for increased air strikes against civilians in Aleppo,’ he told a news conference, calling for a halt to all bombings.

The naval group, which passed through the English Channel on Friday, is made up of Russia’s only aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, as well as a nuclear-powered battle cruiser, two anti-submarine warships and four support vessels, likely escorted by submarines, NATO officials said.

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The naval deployment, a rare sight since the end of the Soviet Union, is carrying dozens of fighter bombers and helicopters and is expected to join around 10 other Russian vessels already off the Syrian coast, diplomats said.

The White House and the Kremlin have been at loggerheads for weeks over the Syrian civil war with the US backing rebel groups attempting to overthrow the government and Putin supporting President Assad.

Both have accused each other of air strikes on aid convoys and civilians.

Though the Russian military said Tuesday the weeklong halt of Russian and Syrian air strikes on the besieged city of Aleppo will continue and humanitarian corridors will remain open even as the Syrian army has unleashed a new offensive on the rebel-held neighborhoods.

As well as a bulging stock of nuclear missiles in Russia itself, Putin is looking to flex his muscles around the world.

Russia is considering reopening military bases in Vietnam and Cuba as Putin looks to assert his army’s presence around the world.

Bases in those countries served as pivots of the Soviet global military power during the Cold War.

Now, the Kremlin looks set to plot a return Russian news agencies quoted Russian Deputy Defence Minister Nikolai Pankov.

Egypt too is said to have accepted Russian military bases.

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