Russia and weapons of mass destruction
|Soviet Union/Russian Federation|
|First nuclear weapon test||August 29, 1949|
|First fusion weapon test||August 12, 1953|
|Last nuclear test||October 24, 1990|
|Largest yield test||58 Mt (240 PJ) (October 30, 1961)|
|Total tests||715 detonations|
|Peak stockpile||45,000 warheads (1988)|
|Current stockpile (usable and not)||4,500|
|Current strategic arsenal||2,600|
|Cumulative strategic arsenal in megatonnage||
(Variability occurs because of uncertainty about SS-18 yields)
|Maximum missile range||Intercontinental up to 16,000 kilometers|
|NPT party||Yes (1968, one of five recognized powers)|
|Weapons of mass destruction|
According to the Federation of American Scientists, an organization that assesses nuclear weapon stockpiles, as of 2016, Russia possesses 7,300 total nuclear warheads, of which 1,790 are strategically operational. 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." In addition to nuclear weapons, Russia declared an arsenal of 39,967 tons of chemical weapons in 1997, of which 57% have been destroyed. 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 1988. It is estimated that from 1949 to 1991 the Soviet Union produced approximately 55,000 nuclear warheads.
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 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.
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 4,490 nuclear warheads, while the U.S. has 4,500; Russia has 1,790 active strategic nuclear warheads, compared with the U.S. having 1,750. According to 2016 data from the New START Treaty Aggregate Numbers of Strategic Offensive Arms facts sheet, the United States has fewer operationally deployed strategic warheads than Russia. 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.
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".
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."
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. 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. Indeed, several US politicians have expressed worries and promised legislation addressing the threat.
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.
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. Nevertheless, Russia condemned Korean nuclear tests since then.
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.”.
Lunev was personally looking for hiding places for weapons caches in the Shenandoah Valley area. 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. US Congressman Curt Weldon supported claims by Lunev, but "Weldon said later the FBI discredited Lunev, saying that he exaggerated things." 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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. 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.
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%).
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). The agents are termed Novichok (newcomer) agents.
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. The last Russian chemical disposal facility in Kizner, Udmurtia, was opened on December 2013.
- Father of all bombs
- United States and weapons of mass destruction
- Nuclear weapons and the United States
- List of Russian weaponry makers
- Defence industry of Russia
- Military doctrine of Russia
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