Some lights in the night sky over Norway caused a bit of confusion earlier today. Despite excited suggestions a UFO or Santa Claus himself might have been to blame, the truth is a bit less thrilling. It was the latest failed test of Russia's new nuclear missile system, the Bulava.
It's thought to be the 13th time the missile's failed to work. To say this is embarrassing for the country's leaders in the Kremlin is putting it mildly. Russia has invested a fortune in the Bulava in recent years as it strives to update its ageing Soviet-era military hardware. The Russians are also working on a new fleet of nuclear submarines to carry the Bulava. So, it has to work.
But the Bulava's success isn't just a matter of getting value for the Kremlin's money. It's more a question of Russian national prestige. The reputation of the Russian military took a big hit almost a decade ago when the decrepit Kursk submarine sank with all hands. Since then, Russia's President (and now Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin has tried to win popularity at home and gain respect (and concessions) abroad by building up Russia's strength in various ways reminiscent of how the USSR used to behave. The Bulava project is part of the military aspect of that strategy. Unless it can be made to work soon, both the Kremlin and Mr Putin personally, will start to look pretty foolish, and that's something they're desperate to avoid.