MOSCOW — A leading anchor on Russian state television on Sunday described Russia as the only country capable of turning the United States into “radioactive ash,” in an incendiary comment at the height of tensions over the Crimea referendum.

“Russia is the only country in the world realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash,” anchor Dmitry Kiselyov said on his weekly news show on state-controlled Rossiya 1 television.

Kiselyov made the comment to support his argument that the United States and President Barack Obama were living in fear of Russia led by President Vladimir Putin amid the Ukraine crisis.

His program was broadcast as the first exit polls were being published showing an overwhelming majority of Crimeans voting to leave Ukraine and join Russia.

He stood in his studio in front of a gigantic image of a mushroom cloud produced after a nuclear attack, with the words “into radioactive ash.”

“Americans themselves consider Putin to be a stronger leader than Obama,” he added, pointing to opinion polls which then popped up on the screen.

“Why is Obama phoning Putin all the time and talking to him for hours on end?” he asked.

Kiselyov has earned a reputation as one of Russia’s most provocative television news hosts, in particularly with his often blatantly homophobic remarks.

But he is also hugely influential with his weekly news show broadcast at Sunday evening prime time.

Putin last year appointed Kiselyov head of the new Russia Today news agency that is to replace the soon to be liquidated RIA Novosti news agency with the aim of better promoting Russia’s official position.

A graphic rendition on Russian TV of a nuclear attack on the US (screen capture: YouTube)

A graphic rendition on Russian TV of a nuclear attack on the US (screen capture: YouTube)

Kiselyov also made great play of Russia’s so-called “dead hand” capability to fire nuclear-capable intercontinental missiles automatically in the case of attack.

The system, also known as Perimeter, was in use during the Cold War but its use in post-Soviet Russia is not officially confirmed.

But Kiselyov appeared to claim it remained active, giving Russia the chance to strike back even if its main command positions were taken out in a strike by the West.

“Even if people in all our command posts after an enemy atomic attack cannot be contacted, the system will automatically fire our missiles from mines and submarines in the right direction,” he added.

The channel’s graphic showed the line of a Russian missile heading towards the Pacific coast and the United States.

Pro-opposition news site slon.ru did not mince its words in describing the implications of Kiselyov’s comments.

“This evening… Dmitry Kiselyov threatened the United States with a nuclear strike if the conflict over Crimea deepens,” it said.

Russia and the United States are reducing their Cold War missile and nuclear warhead arsenals under the terms of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that entered into force in 2011.