An image of priests blessing a weapon went viral on social media in May 2022 amid the war in Ukraine with claims that the weapon pictured is called a ‘Satan’ nuclear missile. The image is not recent, however, and dates to at least May 2015. The weapon pictured is also not a ‘Satan’ missile, as claimed, an expert told Reuters.
One user uploaded the image to Twitter on May 13, 2022, with a caption that reads: “I don't think you'll ever see a bigger weirdness: Russian Orthodox Church leaders blessing a rocket called Satan” (here).
The tweet gathered more than 90,000 likes at the time of writing. An archived version of the tweet can be seen (archive.ph/MoY21).
Many users shared the image as if the photograph was taken following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. One user who shared the claim on Facebook said: “Before the Ukraine war, I'd find this funny. But now, it is a truly terrifying abuse of religion for the service of the state....” (here).
The photograph isn’t recent and was captured prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
The photograph featured in a series of images published on May 6, 2015, by a Russian news agency, Mskagency (Moscow Municipal News Agency) (here).
The English translation of the description of the image reads: “Ritual of blessing the participants of the Victory Parade and the consecration of launchers on the Khodynka field (bit.ly/3lMD33T).
A geolocation also confirms that the photographs were taken in Khodynka field, north-west of Moscow, consistent with the details published by Moscow City News Agency in 2015 (bit.ly/3lMD33T).
A reverse image search reveals that the image was subsequently published in the outlet Euromaidan in 2017 (here).
The weapon seen in the photograph does not show a ‘Satan’ missile, as claimed in the viral posts, Mariana Budjeryn, Research Associate at the Project on Managing the Atom at the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center told Reuters.
The SS-18 “Satan”, which is a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) designation, “is an old Soviet-time silo-based liquid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM),” Budjeryn said (here). Although the weapon is still deployed in Russia, “it is being phased out, not least because it was actually produced in Dnipro, Ukraine, at Pivdenmash,” she said. She added that plans are to replace it with the “RS-28 “Sarmat.”
When asked what weaponry is viewable in the image circulating online, Budjeryn said that the weapon is likely an SS-27 "Yars" (here), "a solid-fueled mobile ICBM, mobile meaning that it’s deployed not in a stationary silo but on a TEL (transporter-erector-launcher), basically a large truck that can be seen in the picture." An SS-27 Topol-M, which is an earlier version of the SS-27 Yars, is also currently deployed in Russia in road-mobile and silo variants, Budieryn said (here).
Reuters has previously reported on Russian priests appearing in images sprinkling holy water on submarines, ballistic missiles, Soyuz space rockets and other pieces of hardware as part of rituals to bless them (here).
Miscaptioned. An image of priests blessing a weapon was not captured following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, but dates back to 2015 and does not show the “Satan” missile.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.