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Russia

Overview

Last Updated: May, 2018

The collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 left the Russian Federation in possession of the vast majority of the USSR's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) complex. Since then, Russia has implemented arms control agreements and participated in threat reduction programs that have dismantled and downsized substantial parts of its arsenals and made inventory numbers more transparent. At present, Russia is modernizing and recapitalizing its entire arsenal of strategic nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Although the retirement of aging Soviet-era capabilities provides much of the impetus for these efforts, Russia also views modernization as a means to counteract the conventional superiority of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as well as a way to retain its status as a major military power. Given its extensive WMD capabilities, Russia's active participation in nonproliferation, arms control, and disarmament efforts is a prerequisite to their global success.

Nuclear

The Soviet nuclear weapons program began during World War II and culminated in a successful nuclear test in 1949. Russia, as the successor of the Soviet Union, is a nuclear weapon state party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and one of the three NPT depository states. [1] According to estimates by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), by 1991 the Soviet Union had approximately 35,000 nuclear weapons in its stockpile, down from a peak in 1986 of approximately 45,000. [2]

Under the provisions of the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT, also known as the Moscow Treaty), and the New START Treaty, Russia and the United States will be limited to 1,550 strategic warheads by 2018. According to the latest biannual exchange of data required under the New START Treaty, both the United States and Russia have met that goal. Russia has 1,444 warheads on 527 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM), and warheads designated for heavy bombers. [3] However, Moscow's current total stockpile of deployed and non-deployed strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, including those awaiting dismantlement, is approximately 7,000 warheads. [4]

Russia inherited a massive nuclear weapons production complex and large stocks of weapons-grade fissile material after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is estimated that Russia currently has 679 ± 120 metric tons of weapons grade-equivalent highly enriched uranium (HEU) and approximately 128 ± 8 tons metric tons of military-use plutonium. [5] In the early 1990s, the United States and Russia partnered through the Cooperative Threat Reduction (Nunn-Lugar) Program to secure Russian stockpiles of HEU and plutonium as well as to dismantle Soviet-era delivery systems and chemical weapons. However, since June 2013 the Russian government has allowed many of these cooperative agreements to expire, due in part to deteriorating relations with the United States. [6]

Biological

The Soviet Union began field trials with biological weapons agents in the mid-1920s, and launched a full-scale offensive biological warfare (BW) program in 1928. [7] The Soviet Union signed the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in 1972 and ratified it in 1975 as one of the treaty's three depository states. [8] However, the Soviet Union immediately violated the terms of the BTWC by reorganizing, greatly expanding, and modernizing its existing offensive BW program. The post-1973 Soviet offensive anti-personnel BW program, codenamed Ferment, sought to employ genetic engineering techniques to develop enhanced pathogens for use against humans. [9] Soviet BW scientists also continued to research, develop, and produce anti-crop and anti-livestock agents under a program codenamed Ekologiya. [10]

The USSR developed anti-personnel type-classified weapons around numerous pathogens, namely the causative agents of anthrax, brucellosis, glanders, Marburg fever, melioidosis, plague, Q fever, smallpox, tularemia, and Venezuelan Equine encephalitis. [11] The associated delivery systems included cluster submunitions for aerial cluster bombs and airplane spray tanks. [12]

Although Russia admitted the existence of the Soviet offensive BW program in 1992, the program’s full extent was never disclosed, and it remains unclear whether Russia fulfilled its obligations under Article I of the BTWC to fully eliminate or convert to peaceful use all of its components. [13]

Chemical

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union developed the world's largest arsenal of chemical weapons, including artillery shells, bombs, and missiles that contained choking agents (phosgene); nerve-agents (sarin, soman, and VX); and blister agents (mustard, Lewisite, and mustard-lewisite mixture). [14] There have been allegations that the Soviet Union developed a new class of nerve agents (Novichok), estimated to be between 5 and 10 times more toxic than VX. [15]

Russia inherited the declared Soviet stockpile of 40,000 metric tons of CW munitions and agents stored in bulk. [16] In November 1997 Russia ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), but financial and other difficulties impeded to the timely destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile. In September 2017 the OPCW announced that Russia had completed the full destruction of its CW stockpile. [17] Despite this declaration, Russia has been implicated in the March 2018 attempted assassination of former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the United Kingdom, which an OPCW-accredited lab in the UK determined involved a Novichok-class nerve agent. [18]

Missile

Russia has one of the most robust and advanced missile programs in the world, and maintains the capability to produce highly sophisticated liquid- and solid-propelled missiles of all ranges. Russia is a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC).

According to the latest New START data exchange, Russia deploys its 1,444 warheads on 527 strategic nuclear delivery systems. [19] Soviet legacy missile systems comprise 34% of the Russian missile arsenal. [20] Current modernization plans call for the elimination of these legacy missile systems by 2026; however, Russia’s current economic problems may affect this timeline. [21] For the land based leg of the nuclear triad Russia currently only produces the RS-24 Yars (NATO: SS-29) road mobile ICBM. Russia is currently developing two new ICBMs: a road mobile ICBM, the RS-26 Rubezh and a heavy liquid-fueled ICBM, called Sarmat. Development of a third, rail-mobile ICBM, called Barguzin, was suspended in December 2017 in order to focus resources on the Sarmat and Rubezh programs. [22] The RS-26’s entry into force has faced repeated delays and Sarmat is scheduled to enter service in 2019-2020. [23] The RS-26 has raised concerns within the United States and among its NATO allies given the fact Russia has flight tested the missile to ranges within those proscribed by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. [24] However, Russia did test the RS-26 beyond INF-prohibited ranges in May 2012, qualifying the missile as an ICBM counted under New START and therefore not subject to the INF. [25]

For its sea-based deterrent Russia currently deploys 12 submarines of 3 different classes, each carrying a different model of submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). To replace the oldest submarines, Russia is building new Borey-class submarines. [26] Three of these submarines have entered service, and five more are under construction. [27] The SLBM carried by the Borey-class, the R-30 Bulava (NATO: SS-NX-30), suffered a difficult and protracted development period, with problems surfacing even after its de facto entry into service in 2012. Recent tests, however, have been generally successful. [28]

Russia's air-launched strategic nuclear weapons are the Kh-55 (NATO: AS-15 'Kent') and KH-102 air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM), deployed on Tu-95MS (Bear H) and Tu-160 (Blackjack) bombers. [29] Russia is currently designing a new long-range bomber, called the PAK-DA, which will eventually take over the roles of the Tu-95MS, the Tu-160 and the Tu-22 non-strategic bomber. The PAK-DA's first flight was scheduled for 2019, with entry into service in 2023, but Russia has announced its intention to restart Tu-160 production, with the PAK-DA's first flight slipping to 2021 and production starting several years later. [30]

Russia has also developed, and possibly deployed, a controversial ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM), reportedly named the 9M729. [31] In its annual Compliance Report released in July 2014, the U.S. State Department determined Russia had tested a GLCM in violation of the INF Treaty, which obligates the United States and Russia "not to possess, produce, or flight-test" missiles with maximum ranges between 500 and 5,500 km. [32] This claim has been reiterated in subsequent annual reports. [33] U.S. officials raised the issue both publicly and privately with their Russian counterparts, and called for a meeting of the INF's Special Verification Commission (SVC) in 2016. This SVC meeting, the first since 2003, was held in November 2016; no information is available regarding what was discussed, and it is not known if the issue was resolved. [34] On 8 December 2017, the United States announced that Russia was in violation of the INF Treaty, and that new sanctions will be put in place against the Russian companies that assisted in production of the new missiles that were reportedly deployed in February. [35]

During his State of the Nation address on 1 March 2018, Vladimir Putin revealed a variety of developmental weapons programs, including new strategic nuclear delivery systems, such as a nuclear-powered intercontinental cruise missile, a nuclear-capable underwater drone, and a hypersonic boost-glide vehicle. [36]

Sources:
[1] The United States and the United Kingdom are the other two NPT depository states.
[2] Robert S. Norris and Thomas B. Cochran, U.S.-USSR/Russian Strategic Offensive Nuclear Forces, 1945-1996 (Washington, DC: National Resources Defense Council, 1997), p. 43.
[3] U.S. Department of State, "New START Treaty Aggregate Numbers of Strategic Offensive Arms," Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, 22 February 2018, www.state.gov.
[4] Hans Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, "Russian nuclear forces, 2017," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 73.2 (2017) p. 115.
[5] "Global Fissile Material Report 2015," International Panel on Fissile Materials, December 2015, www.fissilematerials.org, pp. 12, 25.
[6] David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, "U.S.-Russia Nuclear Deal Stalls as Tensions over Ukraine Rise," The New York Times, 2 August 2014, www.nytimes.com.
Bryan Bender, "Russia ends US nuclear security alliance," The Boston Globe, 19 January 2015, www.bostonglobe.com.
Dmitry Solovyov and Christian Lowe, "Putin suspends nuclear pact, raising stakes in row with Washington," Reuters, 3 October 2016, www.reuters.com.
Lidia Kelly, "Russia suspends nuclear agreement, ends uranium research pact with United States," Reuters, 5 October 2016, www.reuters.com.
[7] Valentin Bojtzov, Erhard Geissler, "Military Biology in the USSR, 1920-45," in Biological and Toxin Weapons: Research, Development, and Use from the Middle Ages to 1945, eds. Erhard Geissler, John Ellis van Courtland Moon (Oxford University Press: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 1999): p. 153-166.
[8] Jeanne Guillemin, Biological Weapons (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), p. 132.
[9] Milton Leitenberg and Raymond A. Zilinskas, The Soviet Biological Weapons Program: A History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012), p. 699.
[10] Gulbarshyn Bozheyeva, Yerlan Kunakbayev and Dastan Yeleukenov, "Former Soviet Biological Weapons Facilities in Kazakhstan: Past, Present, and Future," CNS Occasional Paper, No. 1, June 1999, p. 11.
[11] Milton Leitenberg and Raymond A. Zilinskas, The Soviet Biological Weapons Program: A History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012), p. 46, 288.
[12] Christopher J. Davis, "Nuclear Blindness: An Overview of the Biological Weapons Programs of the Former Soviet Union and Iraq," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 1999, www.cdc.gov.
Milton Leitenberg and Raymond A. Zilinskas, The Soviet Biological Weapons Program: A History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012), p. 303, 634.
[13] United States Department of State, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, "2016 Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments," 11 April 2016, www.state.gov.
[14] "Key Facts, Chemical, Russian Federation," Jane's CBRN Assessments, 8 September 2009, www.janes.com.
[15] David E. Hoffman, The Dead Hand (New York: Doubleday, 2009), p. 310.
[16] U.S. Department of State, "Compliance with the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, Condition (10)(C) Report," April 2016, p. 8. www.state.gov.
[17] OPCW Director-General Commends Major Milestone as Russia Completes Destruction of Chemical Weapons Stockpile under OPCW Verification,” The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, 27 September 2017, www.opcw.org.
[18] United Nations, Security Council, 8203rd Meeting (S/PV.8203), 17 March 2018, pg 10.
[19] U.S. Department of State, "New START Treaty Aggregate Numbers of Strategic Offensive Arms," Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, 1 April 2017, www.state.gov.
[20] “На ракетные комплексы «Ярс» перевооружены за пять лет 12 полков РФ,” Izvestia, 7 November 2017, www.iz.ru.
[21] “В РВСН заявили о перевооружении всех ракетных дивизий на комплекс "Ярс" до 2026 года,” TASS, 12 November 2017, www.tass.ru;
"Russia's Economic Woes to Delay Delivery of Ballistic Missile Launchers," Moscow Times, 10 January 2017, www.themoscowtimes.com.
[22] “Russia excludes rail-mobile ICBM system from armament, focuses on Sarmat missile,” Tass, 6 December 2017, www.tass.com.
[23] Pavel Podvig, "RS-26 deployment postponed until 2016," Russian Nuclear Forces, 25 December 2014, www.russianforces.org;
"Russia's Economic Woes to Delay Delivery of Ballistic Missile Launchers," Moscow Times, 10 January 2017, www.themoscowtimes.com; 
Alexander Golts, “Russia’s Rubezh Ballistic Missile Disappears off the Radar,” The Jamestown Foundation, 27 September 2017, www. jamestown.org; 
“Шойгу обсудил разработку новой стратегической ракеты,” [Shoygu discussed the development of a new strategic missile] RIA Novosti, 5 December 2017, www.ria.ru.
[24] Jeffrey Lewis, "An Intercontinental Ballistic Missile by any Other Name," Foreign Policy, 25 April 2014, www.foreignpolicy.com.
[25] Jeffrey Lewis, "An Intercontinental Ballistic Missile by any Other Name," Foreign Policy, 25 April 2014, www.foreignpolicy.com.
[26] Pavel Podvig, "Strategic fleet," Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, 8 April 2016, www.russianforces.org.
[27] “Fourth Borei-class submarine to be floated out in November,” Tass, 30 October  2017, www.tass.com.
[28] Yuri Gavrilov, "ВМФ принял "Булаву" на вооружение," [The Navy has accepted the Bulava into service] Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 25 June 2012, www.rg.ru;
Pavel Podvig, "Salvo Bulava launch from Vladimir Monomakh - second attempt expected in June," Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, 11 March 2016, www.russianforces.org.
[29] Hans Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, "Russia Nuclear Forces, 2017," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 73.2, (2017) p. 121-122.
[30] Hans Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, "Russia Nuclear Forces, 2017," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 73.2 (2017), p. 122;
"ОПК планирует начать испытания средств связи для обновленных Ту-160 в 2017 году," [United Instrument Manufacturing Corporation plans to start testing communications equipment for refurbished Tu-160's in 2017] TASS, 22 December 2016, www.tass.ru.
[31] Hans M. Kristensen, "Russia Declared In Violation of INF Treaty: New Cruise Missile May Be Deploying," FAS Strategic Security Blog, 30 July 2014; Jeffrey Lewis, "Russian Cruise Missiles Revisited," Arms Control Wonk, 27 October 2015, www.armscontrolwonk.com.
[32] "Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments," U.S. State Department, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, July 2014.
[33] "Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments," U.S. State Department, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, May 2015;
"Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments," U.S. State Department, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, April 2016.
[34] Michael R. Gordon, "Russia Is Moving Ahead With Missile Program That Violates Treaty, U.S. Officials Say," New York Times, 19 October 2016, www. nytimes.com;
"Thirtieth Session of the Special Verification Commission under the Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF Treaty)," U.S. Department of State, Press Release, 16 November 2016, www.state.gov.
[35] Hellman, Gregory, “Trump approves new Russia sanctions for violating Cold War arms pact,” Politico, 8 December 2017, politico.com.
[36] “Putin announces Russia possesses hypersonic weapons,” Tass, 1 March 2018, www.tass.com.

Get the Facts on Russia
  • 8,500 to 10,000 nuclear warheads, including approximately 3,000 awaiting dismantlement
  • Pursued a covert biological weapons program during the Soviet era while a state party to the BTWC
  • Scheduled to complete destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile by December 2020

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2018.