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Russia Seen Under Pressure to Disclose Arsenal Details

(May. 5) -A soldier stands guard near a mock Russian Topol ICBM during a training exercise last month. The Obama administration's disclosure of details on the U.S. nuclear arsenal this week could pressure the Kremlin to release more information on Russian nuclear weapons, according to analysts (Natalia Kolesnikova/Getty Images). (May. 5) -A soldier stands guard near a mock Russian Topol ICBM during a training exercise last month. The Obama administration's disclosure of details on the U.S. nuclear arsenal this week could pressure the Kremlin to release more information on Russian nuclear weapons, according to analysts (Natalia Kolesnikova/Getty Images).

The United States' announcement this week of the number of warheads in its nuclear arsenal could push Russia toward making a similar disclosure, but the Kremlin's greater reliance on nuclear weapons as a tool of security and authority makes such a gesture improbable, the Christian Science Monitor yesterday quoted experts as saying (see GSN, May 4).

The U.S. Defense Department's release of details on the nation's 5,113-warhead deterrent was "a big PR victory for [President Barack Obama], and a very strong signal that his talk of a nuclear weapons-free world is not just empty rhetoric," said Alexander Konovalov, head of the Moscow-based Institute for Strategic Assessments. "But for Russia it's not so easy to match this step, due to differences in our security doctrine and the role of nuclear weapons in our defenses."

Monday's disclosure "ends years of unnecessary and counterproductive secrecy" surrounding the U.S. nuclear arsenal, the Federation of American Scientists stated.

"Disclosing the size of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile puts pressure on other nuclear-weapon states to reciprocate," the organization said. "Russia, whose arsenal is more difficult to track and assess, should respond by divulging comparable information about the size and status of its nuclear stockpile."

The organization, which previously gave an estimate of the U.S. warhead count that was only off by 13 weapons, believes Russia holds roughly 2,600 launch-ready strategic nuclear warheads. The group also judged Moscow to possess around 2,050 tactical bombs, which are typically less powerful and placed on shorter-range missiles than their strategic counterparts (see related GSN story, today).

The United States has been a stronger proponent of nuclear disarmament than Russia because Washington is confident that its conventional forces could meet any military need, according to Russian experts.

"There is not the slightest possibility that Russia will reveal the number of tactical nuclear weapons it holds," former Russian Deputy Defense Minister Vitaly Shlykov said.

"The main thing that justifies Russia's claim to be a major regional power is its nuclear arsenal, and there is considerable leeway in our nuclear doctrine to use tactical nuclear weapons in an emergency," Shlykov said

(see GSN, Feb. 9). "The mystique surrounding these weapons -- that is, their numbers and the conditions under which Russia might employ them -- is considered a very important advantage. I don't believe Russian leaders would contemplate giving this up."

"Russia would be very interested in negotiating a treaty covering tactical nuclear weapons, so why would we reveal the figures in advance?" added Gennady Chufrin, an arms control analyst at Russia's official Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

Another expert gave a different assessment.

"If we don't respond, it'll hurt Russia's image," said Yevgeny Bazhanov, vice rector of the official Diplomatic Academy in Moscow, a training center for Russian diplomatic officials.

"If Obama was strong enough to overcome the resistance of his military establishment and take this dramatic step, our leaders cannot do otherwise," Bazhanov said. "It's a matter of honor for them" (Fred Weir, Christian Science Monitor, May 4).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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