By Guy Faulconbridge
MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia's new strategic nuclear submarine, the Imperator Alexander III, has successfully tested a Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile, the Russian defence ministry said on Sunday.
The missile, which the Federation of American Scientists says is designed to carry up to six nuclear warheads, was launched from an underwater position in the White Sea off Russia's northern coast and hit a target thousands of kilometres away on the Kamchatka peninsula in the Russian Far East, the defence ministry said.
"Firing a ballistic missile is the final element of state tests, after which a decision will be made to accept the cruiser into the Navy," a ministry statement said.
The Imperator Alexander III is the seventh of the Russian Project 955 Borei (Arctic Wind) class nuclear submarines and the fourth of the modernised Borei-A variant, according to Russian sources.
They are known in NATO as the Dolgoruky class of submarines, after the first boat - the Yuri Dolgoruky - became the first new generation of nuclear submarine launched by Russia since the Cold War.
The Borei class submarine is armed with 16 Bulava missiles. The 12-metre (40-foot) missile has a range of about 8,000 km (5,000 miles).
Since rising to power in 1999, President Vladimir Putin has increased military spending and sought to rebuild Russia's nuclear and conventional forces after the chaos that accompanied the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.
The Ukraine war has triggered the worst crisis in Moscow's relations with the West since the depths the Cold War and Putin last month said he was not ready to say whether or not Russia should resume nuclear testing.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview aired on Sunday that relations with the United States were below zero.
"Relations are at zero - or I would say below zero," Peskov said, though he added that at some point the leaders of Russia and the United States would have to resume contact.
"Putin has repeatedly stated that he is ready for any contacts," Peskov said.
Russia aims to build a total of 10 to 12 Borei-class submarines to be divided between the Northern and Pacific fleets, according to the current plans disclosed by Russian media.
Three more Borei-class submarines are being built: the Knyaz Pozharsky, the Dmitry Donskoy and the Knyaz Potemkin. Two additional boats are also planned, according to Russian media.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne and Guy Faulconbridge in MoscowEditing by William Mallard and David Goodman)