Russia and weapons of mass destruction

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Soviet Union
Russian Federation
Location of Soviet UnionRussian Federation
Nuclear program start date 1943[1]
First nuclear weapon test August 29, 1949
First fusion weapon test August 12, 1953
Last nuclear test October 24, 1990
Largest yield test 50 Mt (210 PJ) (October 30, 1961)
Total tests 715 detonations
Peak stockpile 45,000 warheads (1988)
Current stockpile (usable and not) 7,300
Current strategic arsenal 4,500[2]
Cumulative strategic arsenal in megatonnage 663.5-801.5 (2016.est)
(Variability occurs because of uncertainty about SS-18 yields) [3]
Maximum missile range Intercontinental up to 16,000 kilometers
NPT party Yes (1968, one of five recognized powers)

According to the Federation of American Scientists, an organization that assesses nuclear weapon stockpiles, as of 2017, the Russian Federation possesses 7,300 total nuclear warheads, of which 4,500 are strategically operational.[2] This is in large part due to the special bomber counting rules allowed by the treaty which counts each strategic nuclear bomber as one warhead irrespective of the number of warheads—gravity bombs and/or cruise missiles carried by the aircraft. The figures are, by necessity, only estimates because "the exact number of nuclear weapons in each country's possession is a closely held national secret."[4] In addition to nuclear weapons, Russia declared an arsenal of 39,967 tons of chemical weapons in 1997.[5][6] The Soviet Union ratified the Geneva Protocol on April 5, 1928 with reservations. The reservations were later dropped on January 18, 2001. Russia is also party to the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Soviet Union had a peak stockpile of 45,000 nuclear warheads in 1986.[7] It is estimated that from 1949 to 1991 the Soviet Union produced approximately 55,000 nuclear warheads.[8]

Nuclear weapons


Soviet era

Post-Soviet era

At the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Soviet nuclear weapons were deployed in four of the new republics: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. In May 1992, these four states signed the Lisbon Protocol, agreeing to join the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, with Russia the successor state to the Soviet Union as a nuclear state, and the other three states joining as non-nuclear states.

Ukraine agreed to give up its weapons to Russia, in exchange for guarantees of Ukrainian territory from Russia, the UK and the USA, known as the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. China and France also made statements in support of the memorandum.[9]

Nuclear arsenal of Russia

The exact number of nuclear warheads is a state secret and is therefore a matter of guesswork. The Federation of American Scientists estimates that Russia possesses 4,300 nuclear warheads, while the U.S. has 4,000; Russia has 1,950 active strategic nuclear warheads, compared with the U.S. having 1,650.[2] On the other hand, Russia is estimated to have roughly 1,500 tactical nuclear weapons, all of which are declared to be in central storage.[10]

The RS-28 Sarmat[11] (Russian: РС-28 Сармат; NATO reporting name: SATAN 2), is a Russian liquid-fueled, MIRV-equipped, super-heavy thermonuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missile in development by the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau[11] from 2009,[12] intended to replace the previous R-36 missile. Its large payload would allow for up to 10 heavy warheads or 15 lighter ones or up to 24 hypersonic glide vehicles Yu-71,[13][14] or a combination of warheads and massive amounts of countermeasures designed to defeat anti-missile systems;[15][16] it was heralded by the Russian military as a response to the U.S. Prompt Global Strike.[17]

In 2015, information emerged that Russia may be developing a new nuclear torpedo, up to 100 megatons[18] , the Status-6 Ocean Multipurpose System,[19][20][21] codenamed “Kanyon” by Pentagon officials.[22][23] This weapon is designed to create a tsunami wave up to 500m tall that will radioactively contaminate a wide area on an enemy coasts with cobalt-60, and to be immune to anti-missile defense systems such as laser weapons and railguns that might disable an ICBM.[20][21][23][24][25] Two potential carrier submarines, the Project 09852 Belgorod, and the Project 09851 Khabarovsk, are new boats laid down in 2012 and 2014 respectively.[22][23][26][27] Status 6 appears to be a deterrent weapon of last resort.[25][26][27] It appears to be a torpedo-shaped robotic mini-submarine, that can travel at speeds of 185 km/h (100 kn).[25][26][28] More recent information suggests a top speed of 100 km/h (54 kn), with a range of 10,000 km (6,200 mi) and a depth maximum of 1,000 m (3,300 ft).[29] This underwater drone is cloaked by stealth technology to elude acoustic tracking devices.[20][26]

Nuclear weapons in Russian military doctrine

According to a Russian military doctrine stated in 2010, nuclear weapons could be used by Russia "in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it or its allies, and also in case of aggression against Russia with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is threatened".[30]

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."[31]

Russia is one of the five "Nuclear Weapons States" (NWS) under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (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 Soviet Union had approximately 45,000 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.[32] Indeed, several US politicians have expressed worries and promised legislation addressing the threat.[33]

In 2002, the United States and Russia agreed to reduce their stockpiles to not more than 2,700 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.[34]

There were allegations that Russia contributed to North Korean nuclear program, selling it the equipment for the safe storage and transportation of nuclear materials.[35] Nevertheless, Russia condemned Korean nuclear tests since then.[36]

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.[37]

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 (23 kg - 27 kg). 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.”.[38]

Lunev was personally looking for hiding places for weapons caches in the Shenandoah Valley area.[38] 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.[38] 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.[39]

Biological weapons

Soviet program of biological weapons was initially developed by the Ministry of Defense of the Soviet Union (between 1945 and 1973).[40]

The Soviet Union signed the Biological Weapons Convention on April 10, 1972 and ratified the treaty on March 26, 1975. However, it subsequently augmented its biowarfare programs. After 1975, 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.[40]

According to Ken Alibek, who was deputy-director of Biopreparat, the Soviet biological weapons agency, and who defected to the United States 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.[40]

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) 1,500 km (930 mi) 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.[40]

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:

Ratification was followed by three years of inaction on chemical weapons destruction because of the August 1998 Russian financial crisis.

Russia met its treaty obligations by destroying 1% of its chemical agents by the Chemical Weapons Convention's 2002 deadline,[41] 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) was not met.[42] As of October 2011, Russia has destroyed 57% of its stockpile. Russia also destroyed all of its declared Category 2 (10,616 MTs) and Category 3 chemicals.[6]

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%).[5]

On 27 September 2017, Russia announced that it had destroyed its entire chemical weapons stockpile.[43][44]

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, some of which are one order of magnitude more lethal (based on LD50 exposure testing) than VX (the agent with the lowest LD50 in the US arsenal).[45] The agents are termed Novichok (newcomer) agents.

Disposal facilities

Russia has a number of factories for destruction of its chemical weapons arsenal: Gorny in Saratov Oblast, Kambarka in Udmurtia, Leonidovka Penza Oblast, Maradykovsky in Kirov Oblast, Shchuchye in Kurgan Oblast and the latest one Pochep in the Bryansk Oblast 70 km from the border with Ukraine, built with funds from Italy in accordance with the agreement signed between the two countries.[46][47] The last Russian chemical disposal facility in Kizner, Udmurtia, was opened on December 2013.[48]

See also


  1. ^ Sublette, Carey (12 December 1997). "The Soviet Nuclear Weapons Program". nuclearweaponarchives. Retrieved 20 April 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^ Kristensen, Hans M.; Norris, Robert S. (May 3, 2016). "Russian nuclear forces, 2016". 72 (3): 125–134. doi:10.1080/00963402.2016.1170359 – via Taylor and Francis+NEJM. 
  4. ^ "Federation of American Scientists :: Status of World Nuclear Forces". 
  5. ^ a b "Russia profile". 2009. Retrieved 2010-09-17. 
  6. ^ a b "Opening Statement by the Director-General to the Conference of the States Parties at its Sixteenth Session". OPCW. 28 November 2011. Retrieved 1 May 2012. 
  7. ^ Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, "Global nuclear stockpiles, 1945-2006," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 62, no. 4 (July/August 2006), 64-66.
  8. ^ "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists". Retrieved October 24, 2014. 
  9. ^ "The Budapest Memorandum and Crimea". VOA. Retrieved October 24, 2014. 
  10. ^ Kristensen, Hans M.; Norris, Robert S. "Russian nuclear forces, 2016". 72 (3): 125–134. doi:10.1080/00963402.2016.1170359. 
  11. ^ a b Новую тяжелую ракету "Сармат" будут делать в Красноярске Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 2 Feb 2015.
  12. ^ "РС-28 / ОКР Сармат, ракета 15А28 - SS-X-30 (проект) - MilitaryRussia.Ru — отечественная военная техника (после 1945г.)". 
  13. ^ Batchelor, Tom (June 15, 2016). "Russia testing hypersonic nuclear glider that holds 24 warheads and travels at 7,000mph". 
  14. ^ Sputnik. "Russian Top Secret Hypersonic Glider Can Penetrate Any Missile Defense". 
  15. ^ "SS-30 ?? / R-X-? Sarmat New Heavy ICBM". Retrieved 17 January 2015. 
  16. ^ "Russia plans new ICBM to replace Cold War 'Satan' missile". Reuters. 17 Dec 2013. Retrieved 17 January 2015. 
  17. ^ "Минобороны рассказало о тяжелой баллистической ракете - неуязвимом для ПРО ответе США". 
  18. ^ "'Secret' Russian nuclear torpedo blueprint leaked". November 12, 2015. 
  19. ^ John Pike. "Status-6 Ocean Multipurpose System". 
  20. ^ a b c Why A Russian Super-Radioactive Atomic Torpedo Isn’t The News You Think It Is [1]
  21. ^ a b Russia reveals giant nuclear torpedo in state TV 'leak' - BBC News
  22. ^ a b Revealed: Russia’s Top Secret Nuclear Torpedo. The Diplomat
  23. ^ a b c Russian Mystery Submarine Likely Deployment Vehicle for New Nuclear Torpedo. USNI News. [2]
  24. ^ What Is The Purpose Of Russia's Deadly Status-6 Torpedo
  25. ^ a b c Cite error: The named reference Pifer20151118 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  26. ^ a b c d Oliphant R. Secret Russian radioactive doomsday torpedo leaked on television. Telegraph. 13 Nov 2015 [3]
  27. ^ a b ‘Assured unacceptable damage’: Russian TV accidentally leaks secret ‘nuclear torpedo’ design — RT News [4]
  28. ^ Lockie, Alex (December 24, 2016). "Trump questions the US's nuclear arsenal: Here's how the US's nukes compare to Russia's". 
  29. ^ "Pentagon Confirms Russia's Thermonuclear Submarine Bomb Is Real". December 8, 2016. 
  30. ^ Russian military doctrine (in Russian)
  31. ^ Tyrants and the Bomb - by Ion Mihai Pacepa, National Review, October 17, 2006
  32. ^ "Russian Officials Deny Claims Of Missing Nuclear Weapons". Retrieved October 24, 2014. 
  33. ^ "Nuclear Dangers: Fear Increases of Terrorists Getting Hands on 'Loose' Warheads as Security Slips". October 19, 1997. Retrieved October 24, 2014. 
  34. ^ Russia's Nuclear Policy in the 21st Century Environment - analysis by Dmitri Trenin, IFRI Proliferation Papers n°13, 2005
  35. ^ Russia secretly offered North Korea nuclear technology - by a Special Correspondent in Pyongyang and Michael Hirst, Telegraph, September 7, 2006.
  36. ^ "Russia expresses serious concern over DPRK nuke issue". Retrieved October 24, 2014. 
  37. ^ 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.
  38. ^ 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.
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ 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
  41. ^ News Archived April 6, 2004, at the Wayback Machine.
  42. ^ Global Campaign to Destroy Chemical Weapons Passes 60 Percent Mark. OPCW. 8 July 2010 (Accessed 19 August 2010)
  43. ^ US long overdue destroying its chemical weapons, Putin says as Russia completes disposal
  44. ^ "Путин поучаствовал в уничтожении последнего в России килограмма химоружия". РБК. Retrieved 2018-01-15. 
  45. ^ Tucker, J. B.; War of Nerves; Anchor Books; New York; 2006; pp 232-233.
  46. ^ ""Russia opens new chemical weapons destruction plant", RIA Novosti, November 2010". RIA Novosti. Retrieved October 24, 2014. 
  47. ^ "Italy to help Russia destroy chemical weapons". RIA Novosti. Retrieved October 24, 2014. 
  48. ^ "New Chemical Weapons Destruction Facility Opens at Kizner in the Russian Federation". 

External links

  • Video archive of the Soviet Union's Nuclear Testing at
  • Abolishing Weapons of Mass Destruction: Addressing Cold War and Other Wartime Legacies in the Twenty-First Century By Mikhail S. Gorbachev
  • Russia's Nuclear Policy in the 21st Century Environment - analysis by Dmitri Trenin, IFRI Proliferation Papers n°13, 2005
  • Nuclear Threat Initiative on Russia by National Journal
  • Nuclear stockpile estimate
  • Nuclear Notebook: Russian nuclear forces, 2006, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March/April 2006.
  • Nuclear Current information on nuclear stockpiles in Russia
  • Chemical Weapons in Russia: History, Ecology, Politics by Lev Fedorov, Moscow, Center of Ecological Policy of Russia, 27 July 1994
  • History of the Russian Nuclear Weapons Program
  • The Arsenals of Nuclear Weapons Powers
  • Nuclear pursuits, 2012
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