Russia and weapons of mass destruction

Russia and weapons of mass destruction

Russia possesses the largest stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in the world.[1] The country declared an arsenal of 39,967 tons of chemical weapons in 1997,[2] of which 48% have been destroyed.[3] The Federation of American Scientists, a renowned organization for assessing nuclear weapon stockpiles, claims that Russia has 4,650 active nuclear warheads, while the U.S. has 2,468.[4] Other sources however say that the U.S. has more nuclear warheads and the actual numbers remain a subject of estimations and ongoing constant discussion depending on their respective source. Alexander Khramchikhin, an analyst at the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, for instance said Russia has 3,100 nuclear warheads while the U.S. has some 5,700.[5] The Soviet Union ratified the Geneva Protocol on January 22, 1975 with reservations. The reservations were later dropped on January 18, 2001. According to 2011 data from the New START Treaty Aggregate Numbers of Strategic Offensive Arms facts sheet, the United States has the largest number of deployed nuclear weapons in the world, 300 more than Russia.[6]


Nuclear weapons


Nuclear arsenal of Russia

Mid-2007 Russia was estimated to have around 3,281 active strategic nuclear warheads in its arsenal.[7] Russia also has a large but unknown number of tactical nuclear weapons.[8] Strategic nuclear forces of Russia include:[7]

  1. Land based Strategic Rocket Forces: 489 missiles carrying up to 1,788 warheads; they employ immobile (silos), like SS-18 Satan, and mobile delivery systems, like SS-27 Topol M.
  2. Sea based Strategic Fleet: 12 submarines carrying up to 609 warheads; they should be able to employ, in a near future, delivery systems like SS-N-30 Bulava.
  3. Strategic Aviation: 79 bombers carrying up to 884 cruise missiles.

As of July 2009, Russia's strategic arsenal reportedly shrunk to 2,723 warheads, indluding: 367 ICBMs with 1,248 warheads, 13 SSBNs with 591 warheads and 76 bombers with 884 warheads.[9]

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics/Russian Federation
Location of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics/Russian Federation
First nuclear weapon test August 29, 1949
First fusion weapon test August 12, 1953
Last nuclear test 24 October 1990
Largest yield test 50 Mt (210 PJ) (30 October 1961)
Total tests 715 detonations
Peak stockpile 45,000 warheads (1986)
Current stockpile 12,000 total (2010 est.)[4]
Maximum missile range Intercontinental up to 16.000 kilometers
NPT signatory Yes (1968, one of five recognized powers)

Doctrine of limited nuclear war

According to a Russian military doctrine stated in 2003, tactical nuclear weapons of the Strategic Deterrence Forces could be used to "prevent political pressure against Russia and her allies (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan)." Thus, the Russian leadership "is officially contemplating a limited nuclear war".[10]

Nuclear proliferation

After the Korean War, the Soviet Union transferred nuclear technology and weapons to the People's Republic of China as an adversary of the United States and NATO. According to Ion Mihai Pacepa, "Khrushchev’s nuclear-proliferation process started with Communist China in April 1955, when the new ruler in the Kremlin consented to supply Beijing a sample atomic bomb and to help with its mass production. Subsequently, the Soviet Union built all the essentials of China’s new military nuclear industry."[11]

Russia is one of the five "Nuclear Weapons States" (NWS) under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Russia ratified (as the Soviet Union) in 1968.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, a number of Soviet-era nuclear warheads remained on the territories of Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. Under the terms of the Lisbon Protocol to the NPT, and following the 1995 Trilateral Agreement between Russia, Belarus, and the USA, these were transferred to Russia, leaving Russia as the sole inheritor of the Soviet nuclear arsenal. It is estimated that the USSR had approximately 30,000 nuclear weapons stockpiled at the time of its collapse.

The collapse of the Soviet Union allowed for a warming of relations with NATO. Fears of a nuclear holocaust lessened. In September 1997, the former secretary of the Russian Security Council Alexander Lebed claimed 100 "suitcase sized" nuclear weapons were unaccounted for. He said he was attempting to inventory the weapons when he was fired by President Boris Yeltsin in October 1996.[12] In 2005, Sergey Sinchenko, a legislator from the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, said 250 nuclear weapons were unaccounted for. When comparing documents of nuclear weapons transferred from Ukraine to weapons received by Russia, there was a 250-weapon discrepancy.[13] Indeed, several US politicians have expressed worries and promised legislation addressing the threat.[14]

In 2002, the United States and Russia agreed to reduce their stockpiles to not more than 2,200 warheads each in the SORT treaty. In 2003, the US rejected Russian proposals to further reduce each nation's nuclear stockpiles to 1,500. Russia, in turn, refused to discuss reduction of tactical nuclear weapons.[10]

Russia is actively producing and developing new nuclear weapons. Since 1997 it manufactures Topol-M (SS-27) ICBMs.

There were allegations that Russia contributed to North Korean nuclear program, selling it the equipment for the safe storage and transportation of nuclear materials.[15] Nevertheless, Russia condemned Korean nuclear tests since then.[16]

According to high-ranking Russian SVR defector Sergei Tretyakov, a businessman told him that he keeps his own nuclear bomb at his dacha outside Moscow.[17]

Nuclear sabotage allegations from Russia

The highest-ranking GRU defector Stanislav Lunev described alleged Soviet plans for using tactical nuclear weapons for sabotage against the United States in the event of war. He described Soviet-made suitcase nukes identified as RA-115s (or RA-115-01s for submersible weapons) which weigh from fifty to sixty pounds. These portable bombs can last for many years if wired to an electric source. “In case there is a loss of power, there is a battery backup. If the battery runs low, the weapon has a transmitter that sends a coded message – either by satellite or directly to a GRU post at a Russian embassy or consulate.”.[18]

Lunev was personally looking for hiding places for weapons caches in the Shenandoah Valley area.[18] He said that "it is surprisingly easy to smuggle nuclear weapons into the US" either across the Mexican border or using a small transport missile that can slip though undetected when launched from a Russian airplane.[18] US Congressman Curt Weldon supported claims by Lunev, but "Weldon said later the FBI discredited Lunev, saying that he exaggerated things." [19] Searches of the areas identified by Lunev – who admits he never planted any weapons in the US – have been conducted, "but law-enforcement officials have never found such weapons caches, with or without portable nuclear weapons." in the US.[20]

Biological weapons

Soviet program of biological weapons was initially developed by the Ministry of Defense of the USSR (between 1945 and 1973).[21]

The USSR signed the Biological Weapons Convention on April 10, 1972 and ratified the treaty on March 26, 1975. Since then, the program of Biological weapons was run primarily by the "civilian" Biopreparat agency, although it also included numerous facilities run by the Soviet Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Chemical Industry, Ministry of Health, and Soviet Academy of Sciences.[21]

According to Ken Alibek, who was deputy-director of Biopreparat, the Soviet biological weapons agency, and who defected to the USA in 1992, weapons were developed in labs in isolated areas of the Soviet Union including mobilization facilities at Omutininsk, Penza and Pokrov and research facilities at Moscow, Stirzhi and Vladimir. These weapons were tested at several facilities most often at "Rebirth Island" (Vozrozhdeniya) in the Aral Sea by firing the weapons into the air above monkeys tied to posts, the monkeys would then be monitored to determine the effects. According to Alibek, although Soviet offensive program was officially ended in 1992, Russia may be still involved in the activities prohibited by BWC.[21]

In 1993, the story about the Sverdlovsk anthrax leak was published in Russia. The incident occurred when spores of anthrax were accidentally released from a military facility in the city of Sverdlovsk (formerly, and now again, Yekaterinburg) 900 miles east of Moscow on April 2, 1979. The ensuing outbreak of the disease resulted in 94 people becoming infected, 64 of whom died over a period of six weeks.[21]

Chemical weapons

Russia signed the Chemical Weapons Convention on January 13, 1993, and ratified it on November 5, 1997. Russia declared an arsenal of 39,967 tons of chemical weapons in 1997 consisting of:

Russia met its treaty obligations by destroying 1% of its chemical agents by the Chemical Weapons Convention's 2002 deadline,[22] but requested technical and financial assistance and extensions on the deadlines of 2004 and 2007 due to the environmental challenges of chemical disposal. This extension procedure spelled out in the treaty has been utilized by other countries, including the United States. The extended deadline for complete destruction (April 2012) will not be met.[3] As of July 2010, Russia has destroyed 48% of its stockpile.[3]

Russia has stored its chemical weapons (or the required chemicals) which it declared within the CWC at 8 locations: in Gorny (Saratov Oblast) (2.9% of the declared stockpile by mass) and Kambarka (Udmurt Republic) (15.9%) stockpiles already have been destroyed. In Shchuchye (Kurgan Oblast) (13.6%), Maradykovsky (Kirov Oblast) (17.4%) and Leonidovka (Penza Oblast) (17.2%) destruction takes place, while installations are under construction in Pochep (Bryansk Oblast) (18.8%) and Kizner (Udmurt Republic) (14.2%).[2]

Novichok agents

In addition to the chemical weapons declared under the convention, Russia is expected to be in possession of a series of nerve agents developed in the 1970s and 1980s and which are allegedly much more active than VX (one of the USA's most formidable nerve agents).[23] The agents are termed Novichok (newcomer) agents.

See also

Exemple of nuclear weapons



  1. ^ "Status of World Nuclear Forces". Federation of American Scientists. July 16, 2009. Retrieved 23 July 2009. 
  2. ^ a b "Russia profile". 2009. Retrieved 2010-09-17. 
  3. ^ a b c Global Campaign to Destroy Chemical Weapons Passes 60 Percent Mark. OPCW. 8 July 2010 (Accessed 19 August 2010)
  4. ^ a b Federation of American Scientists :: Status of World Nuclear Forces
  5. ^ What the Russian papers say | What Russian papers say | RIA Novosti
  6. ^ "U.S. has 'nuclear superiority' over Russia". RIA Novosti. 2011-10-25. 
  7. ^ a b Russia's nuclear capabilities by Adrian Blomfield, Telegraph, 5 June 2007
  8. ^ Russia profile Nuclear Threat Initiative
  9. ^ Russian strategic nuclear forces (November 2009)
  10. ^ a b Russia's Nuclear Policy in the 21st Century Environment - analysis by Dmitri Trenin, IFRI Proliferation Papers n°13, 2005
  11. ^ Tyrants and the Bomb - by Ion Mihai Pacepa, National Review, October 17, 2006
  12. ^ Russian Officials Deny Claims Of Missing Nuclear Weapons
  13. ^ Russian and Ukrainian Officials Deny New Allegations That Nuclear Warheads Were Lost in the 1990s
  14. ^ Nuclear Dangers: Fear Increases of Terrorists Getting Hands on 'Loose' Warheads as Security Slips
  15. ^ Russia secretly offered North Korea nuclear technology - by a Special Correspondent in Pyongyang and Michael Hirst, Telegraph, September 7, 2006.
  16. ^ Russia expresses serious concern over DPRK nuke issue
  17. ^ Pete Earley, "Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia's Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War", Penguin Books, 2007, ISBN 978-0-399-15439-3, pages 114-121.
  18. ^ a b c Stanislav Lunev. Through the Eyes of the Enemy: The Autobiography of Stanislav Lunev, Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1998. ISBN 0-89526-390-4.
  19. ^ Nicholas Horrock, "FBI focusing on portable nuke threat", UPI (20 December 2001).
  20. ^ Steve Goldstein and Chris Mondics, "Some Weldon-backed allegations unconfirmed; Among them: A plot to crash planes into a reactor, and missing suitcase-size Soviet atomic weapons." Philadelphia Inquirer (15 March 2006) A7.
  21. ^ a b c d Alibek, K. and S. Handelman. Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World– Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran it. Delta (2000) ISBN 0-385-33496-6
  22. ^ News[dead link]
  23. ^ Tucker, J. B.; War of Nerves; Anchor Books; New York; 2006; pp 232-233.

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