The power of Russia’s nuclear arsenal

President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he will deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus is drawing attention to Moscow’s nuclear arsenal.

In a statement in an interview with Rossiya-24 channel on March 25, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia had signed an agreement with Belarus to deploy tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of the neighboring country.

“On April 3, we will start training operational teams, and on July 1, we will complete the construction of a special tactical nuclear weapons depot on the territory of Belarus.” President Putin said.

The Russian leader also affirmed that this would not violate the non-proliferation agreement and said that this move of Moscow is similar to the US deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe. “The US has been doing this for decades. They have placed tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of allied countries, NATO countries, in Europe for a long time,” he stressed.

According to the Russian leader, the agreement with Belarus came after Britain announced to send depleted uranium ammunition to Ukraine, which is related to nuclear technology.

The announcement of President Putin is drawing attention to Russia’s huge nuclear arsenal. Many questions arise such as: how big is Russia’s nuclear arsenal and who controls it?

Tactical nuclear weapons are small nuclear warheads and launch systems for use on the battlefield or for a limited strike. They are designed to destroy a target in a specific area without causing the fallout to spread.

The power of Russia’s nuclear arsenal

Russia, the heir to the Soviet nuclear arsenal, has the largest stockpile of nuclear warheads in the world. According to the Federation of American Scientists, Moscow currently possesses about 5,977 such warheads as of 2022, compared with 5,428 for Washington.

There are an estimated 1,500 “retired” warheads, 2,889 reserve warheads, and 1,588 deployed strategic warheads. Nuclear scientists say Russia has 812 land-deployed ballistic missiles, 576 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and about 200 missiles at heavy bomber bases.

Meanwhile, the US has 1,644 deployed strategic nuclear warheads. China has a total of 350 warheads, France 290, and Britain 225, according to the Federation of American Scientists. During the Cold War, the Soviet arsenal peaked at about 40,000 nuclear warheads while America’s peaked at about 30,000.

Russia also appears to have about 400 nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles, which atomic scientists estimate could carry up to 1,185 warheads. Moscow also operates 10 nuclear-armed nuclear submarines that can carry up to 800 warheads and have 60 to 70 nuclear bombers.

In the report “Nuclear Situation 2022”, the US said that Russia and China are expanding and modernizing their nuclear forces, while Washington will pursue an arms control-based approach to preventing costly arms races.

Meanwhile, President Putin said he has information that the US is developing new types of nuclear weapons. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, only a handful of countries have tested nuclear weapons, according to the Arms Control Association, the US last tested it in 1992, China and France in 1996, India and Pakistan in 1998, and North Korea in 2017. And the Soviet Union last tested it in 1990.

The President of Russia is the ultimate decision-maker regarding the use of nuclear weapons, both strategic and non-strategic, according to Russian nuclear doctrine. The so-called “nuclear suitcase” or “Cheget” (named after Mount Cheget in the Caucasus Mountains), always follows the Russian President wherever he is.

According to the Russian Constitution, the president is also the commander-in-chief of the army, but in the event that the president is unable to perform the duties of his powers, all the duties of the president rest with the prime minister. However, the Russian prime minister is not equipped with a nuclear suitcase, instead the Defense Minister and the Chief of the General Staff possess the device. So, the Russian Defense Minister, now Sergey Shoigu, and the Chief of the General Staff, now Valery Gerasimov, are said to have such briefcases.

Essentially, the three nuclear suitcases are connected to a backup command network, called the Caucasus, consisting of signal cables, radio transmitters, and satellites. If the Russian President decides to launch a nuclear attack, the order will go from the nuclear suitcase to the receiving device called Baksan, located at the headquarters of the General Staff, missile forces, navy, and air force through a communication network known as Kazbek.

Footage aired by Russia’s Zvezda TV channel in 2019 revealed for the first time the contents of the famous nuclear suitcase and also how the power item was described as “a briefcase of mass this button”.

In the section called “command”, there are two buttons, the “activate” button is white and the “cancel” button is red. According to Zvezda, the briefcase is activated by a special flashcard. The card would contain the individual’s information and would be used as a key to activate the nuclear suitcase before it could be used to order an attack.

If Russia thinks it faces a strategic nuclear attack, the president, via briefcases, will send launch orders directly to the General Staff Command and reserve command units, kernel code holder.

Such orders are quickly routed down to various communications systems and to strategic missile force units, where nuclear weapons are then activated on targets.

To prepare for such an attack, the Russian president could consult senior leaders from the Security Council before giving orders. At that time, the entire nuclear state of Russia will change: Subs will go to sea, missile forces will be put on the highest alert and strategic bombers will appear at bases and ready to take off immediately.

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