A look at Russia’s nuclear arsenal as Moscow to place nuke arms in Belarus


Belarus is a landlocked country, bordered by Russia to the east and northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. While Belarus’s neighbouring countries are part of NATO and EU group, Belarus has remained tightly under Russia’s influence.

Also Read: Mint Explainer: Why Belarus holds a key position for Russia?

Putin said work would be completed on building storage units for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus on July 1, a move he likened to US nuclear deployments in Europe. “Tactical” nuclear weapons refer to those used for specific gains on a battlefield rather than those with the capacity to wipe out cities. 

Speaking on this, the senior US administration official noted that Russia and Belarus had been speaking about the transfer of nuclear weapons for some time. “We have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. We remain committed to the collective defence of the NATO alliance,” the official said.

As the country prepares for a nuclear station in Belarus, let’s look at Russia’s nuclear arsenal:

Russia has the world’s biggest stockpile of nuclear warheads. As of 2022, Putin controls about 5,977 such warheads as compared with 5,428 controlled by US, a report by Aljazeera has stated citing the Federation of American Scientists. Of these 5,977, an estimated 1,500 of warheads are retired but still intact, 2,889 in reserve while 1,588 are deployed strategic warheads. About 812 are deployed on land-based ballistic missiles, about 576 on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and around 200 at heavy bomber bases, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Reuters has also reported that Russia operates 10 nuclear-armed nuclear submarines which could carry a maximum of 800 warheads. It has around 60 to 70 nuclear bombers.

The report stated that during the Cold War, Russia’s nuclear arsenal reached a peak of about 40,000 nuclear warheads while of the US it was about 30,000.

As of 2022, The United States has around 1644 deployed strategic nuclear warheads. Countries like China, France, UK has 350, 290 and 225 warheads respectively, Reuters has reported citing the Federation of American Scientists. The United States has said the world faces the gravest nuclear danger since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis because of remarks by Putin during the Ukraine conflict, but Moscow says its position has been misinterpreted.

The United States said in its 2022 Nuclear Posture Review that Russia and China were expanding and modernising their nuclear forces, and that Washington would pursue an approach based on arms control to head off costly arms races. Putin said he had information that the United States was developing new types of nuclear weapons. Russia has been modernising its nuclear weapons. Since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, only a few countries have tested nuclear weapons, according to the Arms Control Association: The United States last in 1992, China and France last in 1996, India and Pakistan in 1998, and North Korea last in 2017. The Soviet Union last tested in 1990.

What are the tactical Nuclear Weapons? 

Academics and arms control negotiators have spent years arguing about how to define tactical nuclear weapons (TNW). The clue is in the name: they are nuclear weapons used for specific tactical gains on the battlefield, rather than, say, destroying the biggest cities of the United States or Russia. Few people know exactly how many TNW Russia has because it is an area still shrouded in traditions of Cold War secrecy.

Russia has a huge numerical superiority over the United States and the transatlantic NATO military alliance when it comes to TNW: the United States believes Russia has around 2,000 such working tactical warheads, 10 times more than Washington.

These warheads can be delivered via a variety of missiles, torpedoes and gravity bombs from naval, air or ground forces. They could even be simply driven into an area and detonated.

The United States has around 200 such weapons, half of which are at bases in Europe. These 12-ft B61 nuclear bombs, with different yields of 0.3 to 170 kilotons, are deployed at six air bases across Italy, Germany, Turkey, Belgium and the Netherlands. The atomic bomb dropped by the United States on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945 was about 15 kilotons.

Who is ultimate decision maker to using Russian nuclear weapons?

The president is the ultimate decision maker when it comes to using Russian nuclear weapons, both strategic and non-strategic, Reuters has reported citing Russia’s nuclear doctrine. To prepare a TNW strike, it is likely that Putin would consult with senior allies from the Russian Security Council before ordering, via the general staff, that a warhead be joined with a delivery vehicle and prepared for a potential launch order.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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